New Zealand: Land of Legend

The first man to discover New Zealand was the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. He got to Golden Bay with his ships in 1642, but his mission was rather unsuccessful, and tragic. It seems that he and his men tried to establish communications with the locals, but they were not fruitful. After one of their attempts, something went wrong. The sources are not entirely clear of what happened exactly but it seems that miscommunication and poor interpretation of actions turned the situation into a small armed conflict were both the Dutch and the Maori lost men. Because of this, Tasman named Golden Bay as Moordenaers Baij, or Murderer’s Bay. Some time after Tasman’s failed mission, Captain James cook had a rendezvous across the same waters the Dutch had neglected, in 1769. He actually managed to map the location and fulfil exploratory enterprises in the mainland. This basically opened the doors of the territory to new comers.

Since then many seafarers, especially whale hunters, as well as missionaries came to populate the lands of the Maori. At first the contact was easy-going, with both sides profiting considerably from trade. However, from these dealing the Maori acquired the howling devils of western civilisation: muskets fuelled with gunpowder that had no comparison with their native weapons. Due to the new uses of warfare, the pa were improved and adapted themselves to the ways of the men from the west. But these imports stirred up further conflicts amongst the tribes, unleashing a new kind of evil. Thus, the Musket Wars of the 1830s harmed the different tribes with guns carried by their Maori neighbours. The numbers of the first colonists of the Long White Cloud started to decrease. Nonetheless, the conflict did not last too long, as soon most of the tribes had the same equipment and their forces were even once more.

But the new comers were making their way into the new country and started to have an impact that the Maori did not welcome. The deals that originally had been fair, stop being so, the French looked at the territory with gluttonous eyes, and as their world started to turn upside down, the Maori decided to turn to Britain for help. Hence, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 and New Zealand became a British Colony the 6th of February of that very same year. But with time came misunderstandings and different interpretations of the articles determined in the agreement between the two cultures. It seems that the British thought they had absolute control over the island while the Maori believed they were basically free to do as they pleased, as long as the British could get a good deal of their resources. So once more, conflict happened between both parties, and violence frowned the green fields once again. The New Zealand Land Wars had begun. The issue lasted for good twenty years, between the 1840s and 1860s, and although Britain became the eventual victor, the Maori did not let go easy.

The famous battle of Gate Pa (1864) is an example of the strong Maori resistance. What happened there is what I will explain now, very briefly. It seems that the British had sent some troops to Tauranga in order to cut off the stream of supplies for the rebels. And they went their with “big guns” (cannons, mortars, and many muskets) ready to blow up the Maori pa. After several bombardments they managed to get in, perhaps more confident than they should have due to the lack of artillery response on behalf of the Maori. But as they cross the gate, a well organised and very close cross fire starts shooting down British soldiers like they had not expected. They were forced to retreat. The Maori had barely suffered loses, yet the British were not ready for this. Shortly after, in the middle of the night the Maori strategically leave the fortress by night, with the equipment they had stolen from their dead enemies. And that was the end of that: despite all effort, the Maori may have won a battle, but they lost the war, a war that had crippling consequences for their people.

Obviously things are different nowadays, and have been for a while. As an example we have a country with a double educational system, whose Maori baccalaureate increases in numbers every year, and soon will have equal numbers to the standard. But it is funny, in a way the history of new Zealand. Originally it was a land left alone from the influence of mankind for several centuries. And all by sudden more and more people wanted to be part of it. Why? Why New Zealand? I am not entirely sure what is the great attractive of this country; its people, its landscapes…however, it is striking how quickly its history was shaped and transformed. It almost look like a condensed history of Europe but in an amazing flash-forward, somewhere in the Pacific. And that is what makes it legendary: from lonely island to “must go” touristy site in some long 500 years.

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