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New Zealand History

Aotearoa

According to Māori legend, the demigod Maui sailed from Hawaiki (believed to be one of the French Polynesian islands) in his canoe, and he caught a huge fish, which he dragged to the surface. The fish is the North Island; Maui's canoe is the South Island.

This legend describes New Zealand's history, which is one of hardship, fortitude, and discovery. This brave, isolated, and young country is still creating its history, day by day.

Māori oral traditions say it began with the moa hunters, believed to have arrived in the 9th century, possibly from east Polynesia, which could make them related to present-day Māori. In AD 925, Kupe sailed from Hawaiki and discovered New Zealand. He returned to Hawaiki, named it Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud), and passed on the sailing coordinates. In AD 1350, eight war canoes landed in New Zealand, marking the beginning of Māori culture on the landmass. Their existence was a battle of brutality and beauty. Warriors were trained at a young age, and tribal warfare and sheer survival led to a low life expectancy. At the same time, Māori became accomplished tattoo, carving, and weaving artists.

Europeans Arrive

In 1642, the Dutch captain Abel Tasman sighted the South Island, near Punakaiki, and officially put New Zealand on the map. Captain Tasman never actually set foot in New Zealand, though—he left after his boat was attacked by Māori in Golden Bay.

In 1767, Captain James Cook visited "Nieuw Zeeland" (as it had been named) in the Endeavour, and he is responsible for accurately chartering the coastline. The whalers and sealers arrived in the 1790s, nearly obliterating sea-life populations in a matter of decades. Māori also suffered from the introduction of European diseases and firearms, which they used on each other in their brutal land wars.

The missionaries arrived in the 1800s, bringing farming and Christianity with them. The local Māori population embraced the former, but not the latter.

The Treaty of Waitangi

The date February 6, 1840, is one of the most important dates in New Zealand history. Māori signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the British. The Treaty guaranteed Māori rights to their land, but it gave the British sovereignty. The hope of this treaty was that it would end land wars, tame lawlessness, and put New Zealand beyond the reach of French settlement. The New Zealand capital was moved from Russell in the Bay of Islands to Auckland, where it remained for 25 years.

It wasn't long, however, before Māori continued to lose their land to both the government and local settlers. When Pakeha outnumbered Māori for the first time in 1858, Māori tribes banded together, declaring Waikato's Te Wherowhero the first Māori king. This only galvanized the British further, and violent land wars continued well into the 1860s.

Boom Years and Social Changes

Meanwhile, on the South Island, gold was discovered, leading to a booming period of growth in the areas around Queenstown, Arrowtown, and Otago, including the establishment of New Zealand's first university in 1869 in Dunedin. The nation's capital was also moved to Wellington (1865), and Māori were given representation in parliament two years later. By 1880, the government had established free public schooling, and railroads and roads were beginning to crisscross the country. New Zealand also became the first country to legalize unions in 1878, and it was the first country to give women the vote in 1893.

Although well-versed in land wars, New Zealand got its first taste of international war in 1899, when it backed the British in the Boer War. New Zealand's allegiance to the Crown made for a bloody 50 years. In World War I, New Zealanders were part of the epic battle at Gallipoli in Turkey; 10% of the population joined the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), which helped to form the strange and unique bond with Australia, but nearly 17,000 New Zealanders died in the conflict. New Zealand also entered the fray in World War II, once again sustaining heavy casualties that rocked the tiny country's population.

The Post-WWII Years

The 1950s through the 1980s were a time of huge economic growth, then bust, populated with local tragedies. In 1952 the country's population soared to more than 2 million, and in 1953 local boy Edmund Hillary with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first to summit Mt. Everest. Post-war, the economy was at an all-time high. Within the next few decades, however, disaster struck again and again, including the 1953 Mt. Ruapehu eruption that killed 151 people when a lahar derailed a train, the sinking of the ferry Wahine off Wellington's coast in 1968, and the plane crash in Antarctica in 1979 that killed all 257 passengers. The economy went into a slump, and mad-dash government efforts only seemed to make things worse.

The 1980s were defined by stands that started to give New Zealand her own identity. In 1981 much of the population was in an uproar about the South African rugby team touring New Zealand. Apartheid protesters flocked to the streets and clashed with Kiwis who felt that politics had no place in rugby. In 1984, the Labour government put a ban on nuclear powered or armed ships, despite pressure from the U.S. because of its antinuke stand. In 1985, the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was blown up in Auckland by the French. In 1987, New Zealand won the inaugural Rugby World Cup—a feat it has been unable to repeat, despite being consistent world leaders in the sport.

In the New Millennium

Māori culture has experienced a resurgence and greater integration, but in 2003 a new debate flared as Māori requested a legal inquiry into their precolonial customary ownership of the seabed and shore. Thousands of protesters marched on Parliament in support of Māori claims. New Zealand ratified the Kyoto Treaty in late 2002; it bound itself to new environmental regulations. By 2007, the former Prime Minister, Helen Clarke, announced the country's goals for eventual carbon neutrality. In February of 2008, the National Party defeated her Labour Party and John Key became Prime Minister. On Feb 22, 2011 a magnitude 6.3 earthquake caused massive destruction in Christchurch and killed 181 people. Shortly after these trying times, the Rugby World Cup 2011 was a much needed tonic. The country burst with pride as the All Blacks defeated France in the final tournament in October of 2011.

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