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Maori legend has it that Chief Kupe was the first to arrive in New Zealand from Hawaiki in about 950 AD. He landed his waka (canoe) Maataa-houruaat in Whanganui-a-tara (near Wellington). Upon seeing land he said "He ao, he aotea he aotearoa" It is a cloud, a white cloud, a long white cloud. And the name Aotearoa (New Zealand) was born.

In about 1150 Toi and Whatonga followed Kupu but it wasn't until about 1350 that great fleets of Maori arrived and settled.

Updated 2/2/05
"The term Aotearoa was first used in a School Journal in 1954! It was never a name used by Maori. They did not have a name for the NZ archipelago. Why would they need to as it was their entire universe. The name was made up by Europeans.

Some authorities also believe that the Kupe myth was also a European construct (via School Journals again), or at least heavily modified by Europeans, as your version has obviously been. Kupe couldn't have called out a term that wasn't in existence until 1954." From a email received from a Mr Kelvin Duncan.

The exact reason why the Maori came to Aotearoa is unknown. One theory is that their home land was becoming so over populated that a shortage of food forced some families to adventure out into the seas in search of a new homeland.

When they arrived in Aotearoa they found a land devoid of mammals for hunting, apart from bats New Zealand has no native mammals. They had to resort to eating sea food, birds, rats (kiore) and dogs which they brought with them; they also cultivated kumara (sweet potato), taro and yam. Cannibalism was also known to have taken place, especially in the Queen Charlotte Sounds. This was not only a source of protein but to also eliminate the mana of their enemies (mana meaning authority, influence, prestige, power which was usually earned through bravery in war).

Tribal wars were very common, usually fighting over territory. They were immensely fierce in battle and in upon capturing their enemies they would often enslave them to be eaten later or to shrink their heads for trophies. This was later encouraged by the British, they used their face tattooed (moko) heads as ornaments. This is one reason why the Maori moko became less common; the more elaborate the moko the more prized it become.

Maori society is made up of tribes (iwi) further broken down to hapu (sub tribe) and whanau (Direct and extended family). The various hapu of Aotearoa gather around a marae which consists of a meeting house (whare hui), a dining hall (whare kai), and a grassy courtyard where speeches are delivered.

They were a stone aged people with weapons and tools made from stone, wood and bone. Greenstone (pounamu) was one of the most valued material, and Maori would make great journeys over the Southern Alps to the West Coast to collect it.

Maui - The Birth of Aotearoa

Tane-mahuta created the first women out of earth called Hine-ahu-one the offspring of these two were demigods. One of the demigod's descendants was named Maui.

Maui lived in Hawaiki and being the last born in his family he was of low rank, he made up for his in his resourcefulness. One day he smuggled himself on board the canoe of his brothers. When they found him on-board they wanted to return home but were to far out to sea so they continued to fish.

Maui's brothers quickly filled up the canoe with fish. Upon this Maui pulled out his own fishing hook which was made from a piece of his grandmother's jaw. He then proceeded to drop his line into the water and immediately caught a huge fish. He struggled to land the fish and after a long fight he managed to pull it up. The sun then rose and baked the fish solid. This fish was given the name Te-Ika-a-maui (the fish of Maui) or commonly known as the North Island. The South Island was given the name Te Waka a Maui (the waka of Maui) and Stewart Island Te punga a Maui (Maui's anchor), the Kaikoura peninsular was the seat of the canoe.

Marae Visits Visitors to New Zealand should make some time to visit a Marae and there are plenty scattered throughout New Zealand (Marae Directory).

Maori Terms Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud): New Zealand.
Awa: River
Haere mai: Welcome.
Haka: Chant with dance for the purpose of challenge.
Iti: Small
Iwi: tribe
Kai: Food
Kaumatua: Elder or elders.
Kia ora: Hi.
Mana: Authority and power.
Manga: Stream
Maunga: Mountain
Moana: Sea
Motu: Island
Pakeha: New Zealanders of European origin.
Roto: Lake
Tai: Coast
Tama: Son
Tamahine: Daughter
Tamariki: Children
Tangata whenua: Original people belonging to a place
Tapu: sacred, not to be touched.
Wahine: Women
Wai: Water
Whanga: harbour
Wharenui: Meeting house.
Whenua: Land.

English - Maori translator -


New Zealand History - European
Dutch explorer Able Tasman was the first European to visit New Zealand in 1642, he never set foot on land though. While mapping the west coast of the South Island he was attacked by Maori while anchoring in Golden Bay, which he named Murderers Bay. Perhaps news of this around Europe put off further explorations to New Zealand.

It wasn't until the 6th of October 1769 that Captain Cook on board his ship the endeavour arrived in New Zealand. It was a 12 year old boy called Nicholas Young that has been credited with the first sighting of land which is now called "Young Nicks Head".

The next day Cook landed at a river mouth and was met by the local Maori. He tried to trade with them but the Maori were uninterested and suspicious of the strange ship and pale crew. Cook thought the Maori were about to attack him and his crew so he open fire and killed several Maori. Cook then returned to the Endeavour and named the bay Poverty Bay.

He then headed south but on finding no shelter he proceeded to head back north. He found several good harbours and had better luck trading with the Maori. One such place where the Maori impressed Cook with their produce and willingness to trade was what he named the Bay of Plenty.

After rounding around the top of New Zealand he then proceeded to head down and chart the west coast. The months to follow Cook continued to chart and sail around the entire coast of New Zealand.

Sealers, whalers and missionaries were the reason for the first European settlements during the early 19th century. Following the signing of the treaty of Waitangi in 1840 when British sovereignty was proclaimed over New Zealand Europeans began to arrive in large numbers. Land was then brought from the Maori at ridiculously low prices. Maori had little say in the running of the country and their customs and traditions were undermined. This cause tensions between the European and the native Maori's and a series of battles occurred during the 1860's which are known as the New Zealand land wars.

Links - Land wars

New Zealand Timeline
~950 AD - First Polynesian settlers arrive, Chief Kupe being the first.
1642 - Abel Tasman the first European to discover New Zealand arrives but doesn't set foot on land (
1769 - Captain James Cook on-board the Endeavour explores and lands on New Zealand (
1814 - Anglican mission stations are established by Samual Marsden.
1840 - Treaty of Waitangi is signed and New Zealand becomes a dependency of New South Wales.
1841 - New Zealand becomes independent of New South Wales.
1860's - Land wars between Maori and European settlers.
1870 - First Rugby game in New Zealand ( and also the end of the land wars.
1886 - Tarawera volcano erupts - destroying the pink and white terraces which were known as the 8th wonder of the world (
1893 - Women were given the vote, New Zealand becoming the first place in the world were women could vote ( .
1907 - New Zealand granted Dominion status.

More History Timelines

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