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Maori are the "native" people of New Zealand.  New Zealand and the Maori are intimately entwined!  Their history, as far as our exposure is concerned, seems to begin together.  New Zealand is one of the youngest islands in the world, formed by the Pacific plate moving under and pushing up the Indian plate.  As a result, the island of New Zealand has frequent earthquakes and many active volcanoes.  The mountains of the southern island, called the Southern Alps, rise majestically out of the ocean and continue to rise at a rate of 10 cm [~5 inches] per year.  The whole area is like a "mini-western North America!"  The land became forested and inhabited with many species, except mammals.  The only indigenous mammal is a type of bat!  Humans arrived at about 800 AD.  The Polynesian migration is responsible for the arrival of man on New Zealand's shores.  I still don't understand how the first Polynesian's got to those little islands out in the middle of the Pacific!  Nobody really understands why they would build what is essentially a big canoe and head out across thousands of miles of open ocean to find another island they had no way of knowing was even there, but there you have it.  Explorers I guess!  Anyway, it seems the first Polynesian's arrived about 1200 years ago and they were referred to as Moriori, or Moa hunters.  The Moa was a flightless bird standing 3.7m tall [about 12 feet,] that evolved on New Zealand and is now extinct, a sensitive topic for most New Zealander's.


To me, the Moa is like a relative to the ostrich, but I don't claim to know the genealogy that well.

It is now thought that a series of migrations of Polynesians resulted in the sequential population of New Zealand and that the Moriori and Maori are probably decedents from the same people.  They found the lands and climate of New Zealand fertile and friendly and for obvious reasons, populated the land.  With no poisonous plants or animals and no predators, life would be fairly easy.  The first settlers named New Zealand "Aotearoa" which means; "The land of the long white cloud!"  I don't know if this described the snow capped mountains and volcanoes or referred to the cloud formations over the mountains made as the westerly jet streams tumbled over the mountains.  Today, this name is increasingly used and it wouldn't surprise me if the switch to Aotearoa is officially made at some time in the future!


At around 1350, there was some sort of natural disaster on Hawaiki, the island homeland of the Polynesian migration, that precipitated a true massive migration of many canoes!  This new influx of residents promoted more struggle for land and power amongst the many scattered tribes throughout the islands.  The actual island of Hawaiki is unknown and is not Hawaii.  It is felt to be somewhere in the French Polynesian Islands. 

The Maori culture evolves around ancestor worship, positions of leadership being largely hereditary with family and earth being very important.  History is passed from generation to generation verbally and through song and dance.  They have gods representing the sea, sky, mountains, war and agriculture in additions to many others.  Rituals with offerings are common.  Power and prestige are also important to their culture.  The Maori are also a highly developed warrior society.  Battles were fought over territory, revenge and other reasons.  The losers often became slaves or food for the victors!  Eating an enemy was not only considered to be the ultimate insult to them but it was also felt that the enemy's life forces and power would be passed on to the person doing the eating. 

A facial expression often seen in warrior dances is one of wide eyes and the tongue down and out.  This is expressed to an enemy to show the strength of the warrior and also convey to the enemy how appetizing they look!



Maori art evolved around wood carving, extravagant meeting houses, giant war canoes and body tattoos.  Because metals are rare on New Zealand, not much evolved with metals.  But, the Maori made great use of the local greenstone [jade] for both jewelry and weapons.  To this day, the rights of the Maori over ownership of natural jade is still disputed.  If you can carry it, you're free to take any piece of jade you may find on your tramp.  Larger pieces cannot be removed.


The first white man to set foot on New Zealand was Captain Abel Tasman.  He was a Dutch explorer who sailed up the western coast in 1642 while exploring Australia.  He didn't stay long after his only landing attempt resulted in several of his crew being killed and eaten.  He christened the land "Niuew Zeeland", after the Netherlands province of Zealand.

The Dutch were not keen to return to New Zealand  and it was 127 years later when British navigator Captain James Cook sailed around the islands in the Endeavour in 1769!  Cook actually visited New Zealand three times and probably managed to avoid the same fate as the Tasman crew by being fortunate enough to have a Tahitian interpreter along who could communicate with the Maori.  The strait between the north and south islands bears Cook's name.  The sea between Australia and New Zealand is called The Tasman sea.  After Cooks successful interaction with the Maori, the door was open for British colonization!

The Maori are incredibly friendly people!  It seems that they have recently begun to recapture their heritage and their bond is strengthening.  They are getting more influence in national politics.  Language, land and sovereign rights are often in the news.  Colleen is learning Maori language as part of her school curriculum.  Parts of their life seem to touch every Kiwi's life.  The All Blacks Rugby team performs a Haka [Maori for dance] before every game as a tribute to their heritage and, I suspect, to intimidate the opposition.  Cannibalism is no longer practiced!

Check out the All Blacks Haka  website. 

If you like, you can also view the All Blacks Haka video.

[Just click on the underlined bold lettering above!]


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