New Zealand History

Although there is some uncertainty as to the exact timeframe, archaeological evidence seems to indicate that New Zealand was settled by Polynesians sometime around 1300 AD The first European to come to New Zealand (that we know of) was Dutchman Abel van Tasman who sailed to New Zealand from Australia in 1642. In 1769 Captain Cook claimed New Zealand for Britain. Many of the sealers and whalers who temporarily came to New Zealand to seek game stayed and became the first European settlers.

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Early Settlers
The Treaty Of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6 February 1840 by Captain William Hobson, several English residents and approximately forty-five Mäori chiefs. The Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti O Waitangi) lays the foundation for the way Mäori and other New Zealanders share responsibility for this country and is considered the founding document of the nation of New Zealand.

In the mid-19th century more Europeans arrived seeking more land. Maori resisted the European encroachment and, in the war which broke out in the 1860s, British troops suffered several defeats before overcoming Maori warriors. Settlers hacked farms out of the bush and soon it seemed that the long white cloud that covered New Zealand was made of wool. New Zealand had embarked on its century-long ride upon the sheep's back. Social progress accompanied increasing prosperity. In 1893 New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote. Old-age pensions were introduced in 1898. New Zealand became renowned as a social laboratory.

During World War One New Zealand, a new society with old ties, supported Britain at great cost - one man in three between the ages of 20 and 40 was killed or wounded. The Depression of the 1930s and the collapse of international trade caused much hardship in New Zealand, which has always depended on export income for its livelihood. Responding with reforms that made the New Deal seem no big deal, the Labour government joined together the state and the economy in what was to be a 50 year marriage.

World War Two profoundly changed New Zealand's strategic perspective. While thousands of New Zealanders fought in Africa and Europe, thousands of American troops trained in New Zealand for the Pacific campaign. New Zealanders had been rather oblivious to their Pacific surroundings, but now they were all too obvious. For 25 years after the war New Zealand experienced economic growth so sustained it began to seem a natural right. The benefits of prosperity were widely spread. New Zealand was a comparatively egalitarian country - a society, one historian wrote, with a high floor and a low ceiling. For a generation, full employment was such a constant that it was said the Prime Minister could not just count the jobless, he could name them as well.

In the 1970s New Zealand manifested some separation anxiety as Britain joined the European Community and began to wean itself off the produce of its far-flung farm. But extensive state spending, and borrowing, postponed the inevitable economic reckoning. In the past decade successive administrations in New Zealand have initiated far-reaching reforms intended to make the country more productive and competitive.

New Zealanders are still proud of their fair and decent society, but the experiments in the social laboratory have not been cheap. Ever pragmatic, and not overly sentimental, New Zealanders have been overhauling their economy, sacrificing familiar but tired institutions, and even dissolving an old marriage.

Early Settlers

First Maori were the first inhabitants of Aotearoa/New Zealand (meaning Land of the Long White Cloud). After arriving from their ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki, probably about 1000 years ago, they set up a thriving society based on the iwi (tribe), which flourished for hundreds of years.
According to Maori, the first explorer to reach New Zealand was Kupe. Using the stars and ocean currents as his navigational guides, he ventured across the Pacific on his waka hourua (voyaging canoe) from his ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. It is thought that Kupe made landfall at the Hokianga Harbour in Northland, around 1000 years ago.

Where is Hawaiki?

You will not find Hawaiki on a map, but it is believed Maori came from an island or group of islands in Polynesia in the South Pacific Ocean. It is not known exactly which place, but there are distinct similarities between the Maori language and culture, and others of Polynesia including the Cook Islands, Hawaii, and Tahiti.

Return Journeys

It is now thought that Polynesian migration was planned and deliberate, with many waka hourua making return journeys to Hawaiki. Modern replicas of waka hourua, such as Te Aurere, have successfully journeyed throughout the Pacific, using traditional navigation methods.

Tribal Waka

More waka hourua followed Kupe over the next few hundred years, landing at various parts of New Zealand. Today, many iwi (tribes) can trace their entire origins and whakapapa (genealogy) back to certain waka hourua.

Going Fishing

Maori were expert hunters and fishermen. As mostly coastal dwellers, fishing was vitally important to them. It also played a part in their mythology — the god, Maui, was believed to have ‘fished up’ the North Island. Maori wove fishing nets from harakeke (flax), and carved fish hooks from bone and stone. Maori considered whales as kaitiaki (guardians), and used their flesh for food and their hard, strong bones for weapons. A Maori tradition that remains today is to throw back the first fish caught. This is a way of thanking Tangaroa, god of the sea, for his bounty.

Hunters and Collectors

Maori hunted native birds, including moa, the world’s largest bird, with a range of ingenious traps and snares. Many different species of bird, including kereru and tui, were eaten. [ more about Tui] However, the now-extinct huia was considered tapu (sacred) and was never eaten; though its feathers were highly prized, and worn in the heads of rangatira (chiefs). Penguins and seals were hunted and used as food by Maori, especially in the South Island. Muttonbirds were popular in the far south of the country, and are still a prized food today. They were stored in large bags of bull kelp, and could be preserved for many months.

Grow Your Own

Maori ate native vegetables and also introduced vegetables from Polynesia, including the kumara (sweet potato). Vegetables were planted and harvested with a variety of tools including diggers, spades, and clubs. Maori also ate the roots of ferns, which they pulverised with wooden pounders. Other food included various berries and puha (a spinach-like vegetable). Maori also chewed gum — resin from the giant kauri tree. Weaved flax basket and bags were used to carry food, which was often stored in a pataka — a storehouse raised on stilts.

Scrumptious Earth Oven

Maori had an ingenious way of cooking food that is still popular today, and a must for any visitor to try! The hangi, or umu, is an earth oven built in a large pit. Special stones are placed over a fire of wooden sticks. A layer of green flax is laid above the stones, and then layers of meat and vegetables are placed between more layers of flax. A mat covers the oven. Water is then placed on the hot stones, which steams the food. Slow cooking makes the food extremely tender, while the wood and the flax infuse the food with a beautiful delicate and smoky flavour.

Once Were Warriors

Both before and after the arrival of European, Maori have proved to be excellent warriors. Only men fought, and one of the most highly prized weapons was the spear-like taiaha. This weapon, often beautifully carved, is still used in Maori ceremonies today, and its use has become a highly sophisticated art form. Another fearsome weapon was the mere (club), beautifully carved, with some made out of pounamu (greenstone or jade). A warrior with a full moko (tattoo) on his face, brandishing a taiaha or mere, makes a fearsome sight.


Fighting Fit

In pre-European times, skirmishes between Maori tribes would often occur. To protect themselves from being attacked by other iwi, Maori would construct a pa (fortified village). These pa were often built in strategic locations, such as at the top of hills and on ridges. Most pa were cleverly constructed, with a series of stockades and trenches protecting the inhabitants from intruders. Today, many historic pa sites can be found throughout the country.

Focal Point

The marae (meeting grounds) was a focal point of Maori communities, and still fulfils a crucial role in Maori society today. Wharenui (meeting houses — literally ‘big house’) were large structures at the centre of the marae. [ more about Whare Nui] A wharenui resembles a human body in structure. The front part, called the koruru, represents the head. The maihi are large boards that reach from the ‘head’ down to the ground, and represent arms. The amo are short boards at the front of the wharenui representing legs, while the tahuhu, a large beam running down the length of the roof, represents the spine. Many wharenui contain intricate carvings and panels that refer to the whakapapa (genealogy) of the tribe, and to Maori creation stories.

Image Maori Marai


While Maori lived throughout the North and South Islands, the Moriori, another Polynesian tribe, lived on the Chatham Islands, nearly 900 kilometres east of Christchurch. Moriori are believed to have migrated to the Chathams from the South Island of New Zealand. In the late 18th century, there were about 2000 Moriori living on the Chathams. However, disease and attacks from Maori saw the numbers of this peace-loving tribe become severely depleted. The last full-blooded Moriori is believed to have died in 1933.

The Treaty Of Waitangi

Signed in 1840,the Treaty of Waitangi is an agreement between the British Crown and Maori. It established British law in New Zealand, while at the same time guaranteeing Maori authority over their land and culture. The Treaty is considered New Zealand’s founding document.

Image of Treaty of Waitangi grounds

Declaration of Independence

After Captain Cook’s exploration of New Zealand in the late 18th century, an increasing number of settlers came to New Zealand. By 1839, there were an estimated 2,000 Pakeha (Europeans) living in New Zealand. In 1833, after increasing lawlessness amongst traders and settlers, the British government appointed James Busby as British Resident to protect British trading interests and counter the growing lawlessness.

In 1835, the French were looking to trade and settle in New Zealand and had started to buy land. In response to this, the British Crown signed a Declaration of Independence with 34 northern Maori Chiefs. This declared New Zealand an independent state under British rule. It also stated that ‘no claim could be made on New Zealand without Maori agreement’.

Despite Busby’s presence, lawlessness, and the number of dubious land sales to Pakeha, increased. The British Government decided there was a need for some effective rule in New Zealand. In 1840, they sent Captain William Hobson there as Lieutenant-Governor. His mission was to acquire the Sovereignty of New Zealand, by way of a treaty with the native Maori Chiefs.

Treaty of Waitangi

A treaty was drawn up and translated. After a day of debate, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840, at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. Forty-three Northland Chiefs signed the treaty on that day. Over 500 Maori Chiefs signed it as it was taken around the country during the next eight months.

The grounds and building where the treaty was signed have been preserved. Today, the Waitangi Historic Reserve is a popular tourist attraction. There is a large Maori meeting house, the colonial mission house, an historic flagstaff, as well as a very long waka taua (Maori war canoe).

Open to Interpretation

While most treaties and contracts signed by Britain and her colonies during these times have been forgotten, the Treaty of Waitangi remains central to New Zealand law and society. It is considered by many to be the country’s founding document. However, ever since its signing, the Treaty of Waitangi has presented many problems of interpretation.

The English and Maori versions of the treaty both contain three articles. However, as the Treaty was written and translated by people with little or no legal experience, the Maori translation differs widely in interpretation from the English version.The first article covers sovereignty. The English version states that Maori give up their ‘kawanatanga’ (governorship or sovereignty) to the British Crown. However, while the English version describes a complete transference of power to the Crown, the Maori version implies a sharing of power.

The second article concerns ‘tino rangatiratanga’ or chieftainship. The Maori version promises much broader rights for Maori in regard to possession of their existing ‘taonga’ (treasures). The English version gives Maori control over their lands, forests, fisheries, and other properties. But the Maori version, with its use of the word ‘taonga’, implies possession and protection of things such as language and culture. The third Article promises Maori the rights of all British subjects, while protecting traditional and customary rights.

The Waitangi Tribunal

Although it is referred to as New Zealand’s ‘founding document’, many of the rights guaranteed to Maori in the document have been ignored. Despite the protection offered in the Treaty of Waitangi, Maori lost considerable amounts of land through the 19th and 20th centuries. The manner in which the land was lost was often questionable, and led to considerable protest from Maori.

In 1975, the government established the Waitangi Tribunal. This tribunal was established to honour the treaty as a relevant and living document. Since then, the Waitangi Tribunal has ruled on a number of claims brought by Maori iwi (tribes). In many cases, compensation, often in the form of financial payments and land, has been granted. In the last ten years, some particularly large settlements have been made between the Government and major iwi, including Tainui of the Waikato, and Ngai Tahu of the South Island. Much of the compensation has been invested in order to provide educational and health services for members of the iwi.

Which translation of the Treaty of Waitangi is the right one? Both. Because both versions are signed, the Waitangi Tribunal is instructed to have regard to both texts when making decisions.

English Text of the Treaty

The Treaty of Waitangi 1840

Her Majesty Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, regarding with Her Royal Favour the Native Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand, and anxious to protect their just Rights and Property, and to secure to them the enjoyment of Peace and Good Order, has deemed it necessary, in consequence of the great number of Her Majesty's Subjects who have already settled in New Zealand, and the rapid extension of Emigration both from Europe and Australia which is still in progress, to constitute and appoint a functionary properly authorized to treat with the Aborigines of New Zealand for the recognition of Her Majesty's Sovereign authority over the whole or any part of those islands.

Her Majesty, therefore, being desirous to establish a settled form of Civil Government with a view to avert the evil consequences which must result from the absence of the necessary Laws and Institutions alike to the native population and to Her subjects, has been graciously pleased to empower and to authorize me, William Hobson, a Captain in Her Majesty's Royal Navy, Consul and Lieutenant Governor of such parts of New Zealand as may be, or hereafter shall be, ceded to Her Majesty, to invite the confederated and independent Chiefs of New Zealand to concur in the following Articles and Conditions.

Article the First
The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand, and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation, cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England, absolutely and without reservation, all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess, over their respective Territories as the sole Sovereigns thereof.

Article the Second
Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand, and to the respective families and individuals thereof, the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates, Forests, Fisheries, and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess, so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate, at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Proprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.

Article the Third
In consideration thereof, Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.

[Signed] W Hobson Lieutenant Governor

Now, therefore, We, the Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand, being assembled in Congress at Victoria, in Waitangi, and We, the Separate and Independent Chiefs of New Zealand, claiming authority over the Tribes and Territories which are specified after our respective names, having been made fully to understand the Provisions of the foregoing Treaty, accept and enter into the same in the full spirit and meaning thereof, in witness of which we have attached our signatures or marks at the places and the dates respectively specified

Done at Waitangi this Sixth day of February in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty.

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