The Polynesian navigator Kupe has been credited with the discovery of New Zealand in 950 AD. He named it Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud). Centuries later, around 1350 AD, a great migration of people from Kupe’s homeland of Hawaiki followed his navigational instructions and sailed to New Zealand, eventually supplanting or mixing with previous residents. Their culture, developed over centuries without any discernible outside influence, was hierarchical and often sanguinary.In 1642, the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman briefly sailed along the west coast of New Zealand; any thoughts of a longer stay were thwarted when his attempt to land resulted in several of his crew being killed and eaten. In 1769, Captain James Cook circumnavigated the two main islands aboard the Endeavour .
Initial contact with the Maoris also proved violent but Cook, impressed with the Maoris’ bravery and spirit and recognising the potential of this newfound land, grabbed it for the British crown before setting sail for Australia.When the British began their antipodean colonising, New Zealand was originally seen as an offshoot of Australian enterprise in whaling and sealing: in fact, from 1839 to 1841 the country was under the jurisdiction of New South Wales. However, increased European settlement soon proved problematic: a policy was urgently required regarding land deals between the settlers (Pakeha) and the Maori.
In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, with the Maori ceding sovereignty of their country to Britain in exchange for protection and guaranteed possession of their lands. But relations between the Maori and Pakeha soon soured (the Maoris became increasingly alarmed at the effect the Pakeha had on their society while the Pakeha rode roughshod over Maori rights outlined in the treaty). In 1860, war broke out between them, continuing for much of the decade. The fighting eventually died down, and though there was no formal resolution, the Pakehas claimed vicory.By the late 19th century, things had temporarily calmed down.
The discovery of gold had engendered much prosperity, and wide-scale sheep farming meant New Zealand became an efficient and mostly self-reliant country. Sweeping social changes – women’s suffrage, social security, the encouragement of trade unions and the introduction of child care services – cemented New Zealand’s reputation as a country committed to egalitarian reform.New Zealand was given dominion status in the British Empire in 1907 and granted autonomy by Britain in 1931; independence, however, was not formally proclaimed until 1947. The economy continued to prosper until the worldwide recession in the 1980s, when unemployment rose dramatically. Today the economy has stabilised, thanks largely to an export-driven recovery. Internationally, New Zealand was hailed during the mid-1980s for its anti-nuclear stance – even though it meant a falling-out with the USA – and its opposition to French nuclear testing in the Pacific (which France countered, to much opprobrium but little penalty, by blowing up the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior as it sat in Auckland Harbour).
The Maori population is now increasing faster than the Pakeha and a resurgence in Maoritanga (Maori culture) has had a major and lasting impact on New Zealand society. Culturally, the most heartening aspect had been the mending of relations between the Maori and Pakeha (in 1985, the Treaty of Waitangi was overhauled, leading to financial reparations to a number of Maori tribes whose land had been unjustly confiscated). However, a recent clumsy take-it-or-leave-it attempt by the New Zealand government to offer financial reparations has resulted in an upsurge of militant Maori protests.
Maoris have disrupted events, occupied land claim areas, set up roadblocks, introduced a sledgehammer to the America’s Cup and threatened to blow-up the New Zealand parliament. The disharmony has shocked New Zealanders and placed national conciliation at the top of the political agenda. While race relations are once again stable, the issue remains of crucial importance.