New Zealand: Polynesian New Found Land

Nowadays New Zealand seems to be one of the top world touristy destinations, with amazing landscapes, peculiar culture and, of course, HOBBIT HOLES!! 😀 The production of the Lord of the Rings movies, as well as the recent The Hobbit (trailer for the new one coming out this week!) make it seem like the country is trendy and has always been so…But, that is not the truth, is it?

In Maori mythology, New Zealand was literally fished out of the ocean by the Polynesian demigod Maui. Also, it had a different name. For them it was called Aotearoa, or the “Land of the long White Cloud”. To our knowledge, New Zealand had no human settlements until the Maori decided to migrate there, sometime in the 13th century most likely. Nevertheless, historians and archaeologists are still debating whether the original settlement happened in an earlier period, or even perhaps a later one. Anyway, what matters is that around the time of our Western European Middle Ages, a man known as Kupe found the new island while voyaging in his waka hourua (a voyaging canoe, in Maori language). According to the tradition, he had departed from his home land in Hawaiki and trace a route southwards. We are not entirely sure where Hawaiki was, but it was probably located in one of the archipelagos of the south pacific ocean.

Since then, the island was populated with settlers coming from this area, which became the Maori. It is difficult to know the exact numbers of the migration, and although it seems that this process was planned and properly organised, it is still a topic of scholarly debate. Anyhow, it is believed that seven waka arrived to the island as the first wave of colonists, and that nowadays the descendants of these people can trace back their origins to these embarkation. The names of the seven waka are Tainiu, Te Arawa, matatua, Kurahaupo, Tokomaru, Aotea and Takitimu.


Thus the Maori started a new life in their “new found land”. The land was rich and fertile. The brought with them new seeds and agricultural techniques. Some of the new ailments they decided to grow in their new home were sweet potatoes, paper mulberry, taro, and yam. However, these crops were only viable in the North island. The South island had a much cooler climate, so fishing and hunting became essential for their daily life, particularly the first one which is still one of the main drives of New Zealand’s economy. It was particularly needed, considering the Maori has managed to extinguish some of the local birds, like the moa, more or less by the year 1500.


The Maori lived in a tribal society, ruled by chieftains. Their settlements were originally undefended and counted several buildings amongst them. These places were known as kainga. There they had their houses, their storing spaces and location for communal food preparation. The most famous kainga can be found in the south island, under the name of Wairayu Bar. But it seems the Maori had a thing for tribal warfare, and thus, soon the settlements started undergo some upgrades. They fortified their lands with palisades and trenches, as well as ditches, and to these new structures they gave them the name of pa. Each pa was dedicated to a tribal god.


But blood covered the land. Internal warfare was a fairly big issue amongst the Maori. It is particularly well-known their confrontation with the Moriori, another Polynesian group that has recently been proven to have some common denominator, or genesis with the Maori. This other group settled peacefully at the Chatham Islands. But the Maori disturbed their peace. There was a severe war outbreak between the two people, with the unfortunate result for the Moriori, who since then became really low in numbers. In fact it is believed that the last proper Moriori must have died in the 1930s.


The green island in the south of Pacific would see the hills tainted with red once more as the Europeans came along to this new corner of the world.

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