New Zealand is a land of contrasts, from active volcanoes to lush rainforests. Since its separation from the continent of Gondwana around 80 million years ago, the island has been isolated from the outside world.
Over the years, New Zealand developed unique creatures not found anywhere else. Giant kauri trees and kohekohe made up massive rainforests, now protected in national parks and reserves.
Strangely, New Zealand has little in the way of four-legged creatures. Pigs, sheep, cats, and dogs were all brought by later (mostly European) settlers. With no land mammals for competition, the birds of New Zealand were left alone. Consequently, NZ is home to many species of birds that are found nowhere else, and some that were frighteningly massive.
Perhaps the most famous big birds of New Zealand were the moa. Many species of moa roamed the island. These birds ranged from 45 pounds to a whopping 550 pounds, and were a valuable source of food to early settlers. So valuable, in fact, that the moa were hunted into extinction. (If the thought of a really huge moa frightens you, consider this – the immense Haast’s eagle was a predatory bird that hunted the moa!).
Archaeological evidence suggests that several waves of settlers arrived in New Zealand between 800-1300 AD. This fits in with tradition, which claims that the island was discovered by Kupe, the ancient Polynesian navigator, around 950 AD. Evidence now suggests that East Polynesian settlers took to the seas in large ocean-faring canoes, seeking a better life. In time, these people became the Maori.
The Maori must have seen this new island as a paradise – abundant fish, sea mammals like seals, and far-ranging colonies of birds, flightless and otherwise. The moa became a valuable food source.
Maori means “natural” or “normal”, and was used to distinguish the mortal people from their spirits and deities. In Maori culture, spirits are everywhere in nature.
Maori culture was isolated by their geographical location. Over time, they developed a highly-sophisticated culture. Agriculture and hunting provided a rich food source, leaving plenty of time for cultural and social development, not to mention warfare.
Maoris could be identified by their complex tattoos. The size and intricacy of these tattoos reflected the social status of the wearer. Women wore smaller tattoos (called moko) over the chin. Men were more heavily tattooed, and high-ranking males were tattooed from head to toe, with particular attention to the facial tattoos.
The arrival of Europeans had the same effect on the Maori as in other native populations. Disease, warfare, and cultural genocide threatened to wipe out this complex culture. Clashes between Europeans and Maori led to war and treaties, usually to the detriment of the Maori peoples. After years of marginalization by the ruling Europeans, the Maori are reclaiming their birthright. Today, Maori culture and traditions are enjoying a resurgence in popularity.
- Agriculture and hunting
- 1500AD – some Maori left and went east to Chatham Island. Derveloped a more peacable culture, and became known as the Moriori; emphasized pacifism. Bad idea – the Maori warriors arrived in 1830’s on Euro ship.
- Rich cultures, complex social structure
- Tattoos were intricate and reflected status. Women wore smaller tattoos called Moko, located on the chin. Men were more heavily tattooed, with high-ranking males covered all over body, from head to toe (esply on face). These tattoos were highly intricate patterns.
- No written history – kept thru chants and songs
- 1769 – james Cook “discovers” NZ. Earlier contact was mde by Able Tasman in mid 17th century, but Cook got the credit.
- Europeans and Maori clashed; wars and strife happened, followed by treaties. Today, the Maori are involved in gov’t.
- Marginalized for years by Europeans
- Resergence of popularity in Maori culture