Who really discovered New Zealand?
If asked the question “Who discovered New Zealand?” many of us would answer, without really thinking, “Captain James Cook” and after centuries of a European-dominated view of history, it’s no wonder it has taken so long to shake this perspective.
From that perspective, New Zealand was first spotted on December 13, 1642 by Dutch navigator Abel Tasman and explored by Captain James Cook in 1769. However, this limited view does not reveal the whole story and credit for the initial discovery and exploration of New Zealand must go to the Māori, a group of Polynesian people who first settled some time between 1250 and 1300.
New Zealand lies at the bottom of Oceania, a region made up of thousands of islands scattered across the massive expanse of the Pacific Ocean, and these islands were explored and settled centuries before Europeans arrived by various Pacific peoples.
Pacific Islanders’ history of voyage, discovery and culture is celebrated in a new show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Oceania.
One of the many important artifacts on display is also one of New Zealand's oldest. Tangonge, a wooden carving of a tiki (an ancestor or god image), was discovered near the town of Kaitaia in 1920. Thought to date from the 14th century, the style is different to typical Māori art of the period, but is similar to early central Polynesian works, such as Tahitian sculpture.
When Europeans first landed in New Zealand, several Māori were killed in skirmishes with Cook and his crew. The effects of this first encounter are felt to this day. In Gisborne, a statue of Cook has been repeatedly defaced with graffiti and is to be replaced with art that reflects Māori culture and stories.
The history of Cook’s exploration of the Pacific is powerfully told over 32 minutes in a 26m panoramic video by Māori artist Lisa Reihana called in Pursuit of Venus. The piece, currently on display at the Royal Academy of Arts, scrolls slowly from right to left showing various encounters between Europeans and Pacific people during the pre-colonial era.
According to Māori myth, New Zealand (Aotearoa in the Māori language) was discovered by Kupe, a fisherman and Rangatira (chief) from Hawaiki. Kupe’s fishing grounds were being troubled by an octopus, who kept eating all the bait off of the fisherman’s lines. Deducing that the octopus belonged to another chief, Muturangi, Kupe asked Muturangi to stop his pet from eating their bait. When Muturangi refused, Kupe vowed to kill the beast. He left his homeland and pursed the beast across the Pacific Ocean. During the pursuit he discovered New Zealand, where they landed to re-supply. A great sea battle with the Octopus ensued at the mouth of Te Moana o Raukawa (Cook Strait), where Kupe finally killed Muturangi’s pet.
Kupe travelled around the North Island naming many of the locations he passed and vowed never to return to the land he discovered. When he returned home, Kupe described New Zealand as a place with no people; “I saw no one; what I did see was a kokako, a tiwaiwaka, and a weka (ie birds), whistling away in the gullies; kokako was ko-ing on the ridges, and tiwaiwaka was flitting about before my face.” This narrative firmly places Kupe as the first person to discover New Zealand.
As the myth comes from an oral tradition, there are variations on this story between the different Māori Iwi (tribes). For instance, when Kupe first comes across New Zealand, in the Ngāti Kurī telling, he mistakes Houhora mountain for a whale, whereas the Ngāti Kahu state the fishing tide resulted in Kupe landing in the Hokianga Harbour. The variation could be due to the tribes wishing to link themselves to Kupe.
When was New Zealand discovered?
The year Kupe arrived in New Zealand is still debated, as is the year the ‘Great Fleet’ of Māori settlers arrived. Stephenson Percy Smith, a 20th century anthropologist, translated a telling of the story recorded by Hoani Te Whatahoro. In this, Kupe’s arrival happens in 750AD and the migratory great fleet arriving in 1300AD. However, a 2010 study, headed by Janet M. Wilmshurst of New Zealand's Landcare Research, carbon dated samples and found the evidence of human colonisation to be between around 1230-1280AD. At the time of the study’s publication, Api Mahuika, a Māori tribal leader who passed away in 2015, told Radio New Zealand that he did not think it was the last word of scientific research and he continued to believe in the oral tradition.
库佩发现新西兰的年代，以及毛利原住民于何年分乘独木舟，组成“大舰队”从不同登陆点上岛，仍有争议。20世纪的人类学家史密斯（Stephenson Percy Smith）转译了由已故毛利学者瓦塔霍罗（Hoani Te Whatahoro）讲述的录音资料。在这个口述历史资料中，库佩是在公元750年发现了新西兰，第一批波利尼西亚移民组成大舰队，来到这片美丽的土地则是在公元1300年。然而，2010年新西兰土地保护研究所的威尔姆舒斯特（Janet M. Wilmshurst）带领团队，以碳-14定年法进行取样分析，测得原住民定居的年代大约在公元1230-1280年。研究结果刊发时，后于2015年逝世的已故毛利族部落首领玛辉卡（Api Mahuika）对新西兰国际电台称，他不认为这是科学研究的最终定论，他还是相信口述历史。