History of New Zealand

Explore the fascinating history of New Zealand

It is estimated that some time between 1000 and 1300 waves of Polynesian settlers made their way to the islands of New Zealand. Those that settled on the main islands became known as the Maori people, while those that made their way to the Chatham Islands in the east became known as the Moriori people.

The original settlers hunted moa (large flightless birds; now extinct) which was virtually the only animal large enough to eat on the island. The Maori also cultivated Kumara and the cabbage tree. There was also a little cannibalism from time to time.

In December 1642, a Dutch explorer by the name of Abel Tasman anchored to ships on the northern end of South Island. However, he soon set sail again after having a clash with the locals. Tasman was the first European to reach the islands and he called them "Nova Zeelanda". Some time afterwards, Lieutenant James Cook surveyed the shores of both islands to get a fuller reconnaissance of them.

In the late 1700's New Zealand's waters began to be frequented by British, French and American Whaling ships. Crews of these vessels often came into conflict with local Maoris. The 1800's saw the arrival of traders and missionaries which lead to even more disputes. Slowly the land became settled and purchased by Europeans. The French started to gain interest in the islands until the British took control and made New Zealand a British colony in 1840. Both local Maori chiefs and the Crown signed the Treaty of Waitangi - the Chiefs hoping to protect their existing possessions and to gain muskets in defense against other Maori's, and the British desiring to stop other European powers from gaining the land and to stop Whalers and traders from acting unlawfully. With the treaty signed, Massive amounts of European (mostly English but also Scottish and Irish) settlers arrived on the shores of New Zealand. These settlers establish provinces on the islands.

For a while the two islands suffered political turmoil. The South Island was prospering and did not appreciate having to support the North Island. However, the vote to make the two islands independent was over-ruled and they were not separated. In the beginning, the South Island contained the majority of the white population but it wasn't long before the North Island caught up.

Shortly after 1820, Maori populations suffered huge losses due to tribal wars and unfamiliar diseases. The recovered slowly but lost land and livelihood under European domination. Eventually, New Zealand was given the freedom to self-govern and the Maori culture was almost completely diluted through interaction and intermarriage with the settlers. An effort was made not too long afterwards to revive the culture.

New Zealand has the distinction of being the first country in the world that granted women the right to vote at national elections. Today, the country has, to a large extent, adopted a lot of European culture though they remain culturally assertive. Many Maori live in the cities and have become involved in local governments.

 



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