Episode 1, Fact 2 - Maori


The Māori people are the indigenous Polynesians of Aotearoa (New Zealand). Their ancestors left New Guinea and South East Asia around 3000yrs ago and first settled the islands of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa before pushing further east to the Cook, Society and Marquesas Islands. Once there, they sailed on to discover Hawai'i in the North and then onto the islands of Rapanui (Easter Island) in the South East and finally, Aotearoa in the South West around 1000-1200 AD, thus completing the settlement of the entire South Pacific region. Spanning 2 million sq kms, the Polynesian Triangle comprises the largest nation in the world and they are widely accepted as being the greatest sea-faring navigators ever seen.

The Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, was the first European to discover NZ in 1642 and the English navigator, James Cook, mapped the country in 1769-70 with sealers, whalers and traders hot on their heels. 1814 saw the arrival of missionaries and they found themselves well received by an oral people hungry to learn the written word, regardless of the form it came in. More and more settlers began to arrive and in 1840 the British Government, fearing the French would beat them to it, decided to take control of NZ by way of the 'Treaty of Waitangi', a contract between the representatives of the Queen of England and the Māori people.

By 1860 the NZ Land Wars had begun. The wars decimated an already declining population (influenza and syphilis had already killed around a third) and it is estimated that by 1896 there were only 39,000 Maori left. Essentially, Maori had become minority, second-class citizens in their own country.

In the 1980's, public protests and activism forced the Government of the day to begin a treaty settlement process with Māori and this continues on to present day.