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Friday, April 23, 2021

History of the Maori People

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The Maori meaning people of the land, are one of the native peoples of Polynesia, that inhabit the islands of New Zealand. Modern research has concluded that the distant ancestors of all Polynesian people are the indigenous aboriginals of Taiwan. In ancient times, speculated to be around 5.200 B.C these people had begun an epic journey, beginning from Taiwan, heading toward South Asia, island hopping for many years before finally reaching their new homes, and settling in New Zealand, Hawaii, Samoa, Cook Islands, Easter Island and the rest of the smaller islands scattered around the Pacific Ocean.

First arrivals of people on New Zealand dates back to 1280 A.D as archeological evidence provide us with the first settlements being erected around this time. According to the Maori, they had in their Great Fleet, measuring somewhere between 40 waka, or large canoes.

Life, Tradition and Warfare

Life was harsh for the new settlers, as evident by the remains found to be ridden with diseases such as anemia, arthritis and tuberculosis among others, with the lifespan being really low with the eldest reaching only 35 and most dying in the 20s, the birth rate was noted also being low, or none existant. Those that remained, gathered in iwi or tribes and the rarest largest settlements having only 300-400 people, with 40 something buildings clumped together, while more common ones had only 40 people with only a handful of buildings or none at all being built.

Settling near the coastline, fishing was the primary source of food, and when the seasons had changed to allow for warmer periods, the Maori had built more inland for gathering and hunting purposes. Bringing alongside them the Pacific kiore or rat, and kuri or dog, they had hunted the bird species of the islands to extinction, as evident with the disappearance of 32-35 species, allowing for a stable growth of population. Said population had faced the cooling period occurring in 1400 and lasting until 1450, yet it brought with itself harsh winters, terrible earthquakes and big tsunamis wrecking the population of Maori to near extinction. The cooling period had lasted for so long that it forced the Maori to craft finely made pounamu or weapons and ornaments, better their craft of canoes for traversing the sea, started building meeting houses for sacred rituals and gathering of the tribes, made way for the fierce warrior culture signified with the famous haka dance of war, the construction of hillforts known as pa and begun normalizing cannibalism. Pounamu weapons and the ornaments decorating the spiritual and tribal leaders were made out of hard, durable and highly valuable  jade, bowenite or serpentinite, while the canoes and houses were finely decorated and carved out of wood. The largest battle recorded in New Zealand called Battle of Hingakaka was waged south of Ohaupo on a ridge near lake Ngaroto, in 1780-90 between the large Taranaki numbering 7.000 plus warriors and the smaller Waikato tribe under the leadership of Te Rauangaanga.

European Contact

Earliest records of European contact with the Maori are from famous Dutch explorer Abel Tazman back in 1642 and later by James Cook in 1769, the contacts did not go well, as the Maori had targeted the Europeans and thought of them as enemies. Described as the last human communities on Earth untouched and unaffected by the world, European and American whalers and sealers had begun hunting in New Zealand waters, and some Maori even crewed aboard the ships, participating in the activities alongside the crewmembers of the ships.

European missionaries, settlers and convicts escaping from Australia came to live among the Maori, ranging from advisors to being convicts still, paved the way for the indigenous people to imbibe themselves with knowledge of the outside world, and they had taken a great interest in the tools and customs the settlers had brought with them. An incident occurred in 1809 as the Maori had slaughtered and cannibalized 66 crew members and passengers of a ship as an act of revenge for the captain whipping the son of a local tribe chieftain. Given the grotesque nature of the attack, and the practice of cannibalism, it came as a warning to would be missionaries or settlers and had prevented further contact for several years.

By 1830 it is estimated that the European settlers living among the Maori, known to them as Pakeha Maori numbered well above 2.000 individuals. Learning of the language, grammar and vocabulary of the Maori, first being written down in 1815 by Thomas Kendall and later being compiled by professor Samuel Lee helped by Kendall, Waikato and Hongi Hika during their visit in the year 1820 in England, had allowed for the government to distribute free gazettes to the Maori that taught them of law, crimes, with explanation about European customs the settlers had brought with them, as the Maori were being taught literacy that the eagerly adopted, by Christian missionaries. During the period between 1805 and 1850, with the arrival of European settlers in New Zealand, had upset the balance of power among the Maori tribes, as they had started buying muskets and other luxuries from the Europeans, that led to intertribal warfare known as the Musket Wars. The sheer brutality of these wars was so intense and vile that alongside the various diseases such as smallpox, measles, influenza and every other sickness apart from the plagues and sleeping sickness that the Maori were being exposed to, having not previously acquired immunity due to them not being present in New Zealand shattered the population of the natives to a degree they were almost extinct.

As lawlessness became rampant in New Zealand as no authority was present, the crown of Britain had ordered the tribe leaders and the settlers that were continuing to grow in number to sign an agreement of accords that became known as the Treaty of Waitangi, that offered the Maori people the rights of British subjects, guaranteeing property rights and autonomy in return for accepting British sovereignty. Although not all chieftains had signed the treaty and since it was poorly translated, it later gave way to the New Zealand wars fought between crown troops from Britain and some regiments being brought from Australia alongside settlers and kupapa or Maori allies and various Maori tribes over disputes for land ownership , ending in victory for the crown troops, it devastated the adaptation for the Maori population into the newly formed British Colony of New Zealand. Eventually things calmed down, with compensations being given toward the Maori, time healed wounds to an extent and amendments were made between the settlers and the natives.

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