Brief New Zealand History

Geologically, New Zealand is one of earth’s youngest major islands.  The Maori (MAH-ree) were the first inhabitants and are Polynesian. Between about 3000 and 1000 BC speakers of the Austronesian languages spread through island South-East Asia - almost certainly starting out from Taiwan and stretching toward Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, Hawaii and Easter Islands.  The last islands the Polynesians found were New Zealand around 1200 AD.  Unbelievably, the Polynesians could navigate using the stars and they studied the ocean debris, birdlife and cloud formations to find land.  In comparison, the Vikings first settled Iceland around 875 AD.

The Maori called NZ ‘Aotearoa’, land of the long white cloud, because the high mountains are normally surrounded in clouds.  When the Maori landed there were only birds, reptiles and sea life.  There were no animals on Aoteroa so the Maori lived along the coastline close to their food source.  They rarely ventured inland and their dress is quite different than other Polynesians due to the cold temperatures.  Maori tattooed their bodies extensively, especially their faces (ex-boxer Mike Tyson is an example of Maori tattooing). There was extensive fighting amongst the Maori tribes using clubs as their main weapon.  There was no written language so legends about the land and its gods were developed (legends is a Polynesian term for BS). 

The Dutch sailor, Abel Tasman (Tasman Sea, Tasmania, etc), was the first European to land on New Zealand 1n 1642.  His landing party got their butts kicked several times by the Maori when they landed so they made a hasty departure and Holland never claimed NZ.  In 1769 England was trying to expand its colonization so it sent Captain Cook to claim New Zealand.  Captain Cook had just come from Tahiti and Hawaii and he brought with him a Tahitian that could understand Maori dialect.  The Maoris also attacked Captain Cook but the translator smoothed things over.  Captain Cook claimed NZ for the British Crown.

For the next 100 years the Maori population was decimated by European diseases, which they had no immunity, and fighting.  The Maori fought the English settlers and still fought other Maori tribes but now they used muskets.  With guns the fighting became much deadlier and along with disease, the population dropped by 90%. 

Whaling was popular along the coastline and English settlers cleared the forests and burned the brush.  As a result, NZ farmers now enjoy lush, emerald green valleys and the mountains are tree farms that take about 30 years to mature for harvest.  NZ is now one of the world’s largest lumber and dairy products exporters.  There are now 4.4 million people living in NZ and 60 million sheep.

Peace came to the Maori with the Treaty of Waitangi when about 500 chiefs made peace with the English.  The other chiefs who did not sign the treaty were also bound to the treaty’s conditions.  As in America the natives got screwed.  The English hastily prepared the Waitangi Treaty in English and Maori.  The chiefs signed the Maori version which was far from a perfect translation.  As you can guess, the Maori version was more broad and vague than the English. The English translators only explained their future rights but failed to mention the Crown’s sovereign rights, which includes confiscation of private property.

Throughout NZ there are war memorials honoring their soldiers in the South African War (Boer War), WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia.  NZ paid a heavy price in World War I.  100,000 men and women went to war (total NZ population at that time was 1 million) and 59,000 were killed or wounded.

In the 1980’s NZ began organized protests of France’s nuclear testing in the South Pacific.  The Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, was in NZ and was going to lead a contingent of ships to intrude on an upcoming French nuclear test. To counter the protest, French agents blew up Rainbow Warrior and one crewman was drowned.  This became a huge scandal and the U.S., and other countries, did nothing to protest France’s act of war.  NZ later banned all ships that were nuclear powered from its waters. As a consequence, U.S. warships were now no longer permitted in NZ and U.S./N.Z. relations deteriorated.  U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton recently signed an agreement here in NZ which meant nothing other than pledge to improve the two country’s relations.

Since the 1980’s NZ has become one of the world’s leaders in the “Green” movement.  The people are very conscious of protecting the environment and recycling bins are located almost everywhere.