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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District]

Arrival of The Maoris in New Zealand

Arrival of The Maoris in New Zealand.

The Maoris have amongst themselves a generally accepted tradition that their ancestors first came to New Zealand in a canoe, named Aotea, in charge of a chief named Turi. They came from Hawaiki, an island in the Pacific, and landed in a bay in the southern part of the North Island, named Te Witakau; between Wanganui and Taranaki. Turi, it is said, named the mountains and rivers in this part of the island. Another canoe, named Tokomaru, in charge of a chief named Manaia, arrived shortly afterwards from Hawaiki. The Maoris found the country inhabited by the Moriori, a very peaceable race, whom they easily subdued, and then took possession of the country.

Mere tradition, however, is unsatisfactory in regard to a matter so important as the origin of a people so interesting as the Maoris. Happily, scientific enquiry into the subject is afoot, and there are already indications of truly valuable results. Mr Percy Smith, for many years Surveyor-General of New Zealand, has made researches which show that the main outlines of the history of the Polynesians, of whom the Maoris form the most important section, can be given as a tentative theory. According to this theory, the Polynesian race once inhabited a mainland, which is believed to be India—inland India, the plains and foot-hills of the Himalaya, with their borders touching the sea on the Persian Gulf. Ages must have passed whilst the people dwelt in those parts; they became navigators, crossed the neighbouring seas, acquired many customs from some race of a Semitic origin, together with some words of their language. This neighbouring race was probably dwelling in Arabia and on the shores of the Persian Gulf. In course of time the Aryan race made its appearance in India, and after centuries of contact and partial intermixture, the Polynesians retreated under pressure of the Aryans, southwards and seawards where they acquired increased powers of navigation and the knowledge of surrounding lands. The study of dialects, racial characteristics and other researches leads to the conclusion that the Polynesians then removed in large numbers to Indonesia, and there are grounds for thinking that in the course of centuries they voyaged far into the Pacific, and to the north, and there made their homes. Mr Percy Smith thinks it probable that the original names of Atea, Hawaiki-te-Varinga, Vavau, Herangi, and many others must be looked for in those regions, though he adds that the irruption of other races makes it difficult to trace those early Polynesian names in their first homes in the Pacific. About the first and second centuries of the Christian era, the Malay race, from the west and north-west, pressed in upon the Polynesians, who, after another long period of contest, contact and partial intermixture, again moved on, generally eastward. Some of them are supposed to have retraced their steps and to have finally reached Madagascar, but the great general movement was eastward into the Pacific. There are evidences of two migrations, the first consisting of the less warlike of the Polynesians. Even those, however, must have been men of great resource and daring in regard to navigation, for they are supposed to have reached Tahiti, Hawaii, the Marquesas and New Zealand, with which they are associated as the Moriori, of whom a remnant still inhabits the Chatham Islands. In the course of time the Polynesians, who still remained in Indonesia, also gave way to the pressure of the Malays, though their subsequent conquests in the Pacific show that centuries of contact with the Malays had made them more warlike than their countrymen of the first migration. This second set of Polynesian voyagers took possession of the greater part of the Fijian group, and they, in conjunction with the Tongans of Vavau and Haapai, afterwards practically conquered Samoa. The period of these exploits was, roughly from the tenth to the twelfth century, during which the Fiji-Polynesians, who were not only conquering warriors but successful navigators, are believed to have spread far and wide throughout the Pacific. Many places, including Tahiti, Rarotonga, and eventually New Zealand, were settled by them. These are the people who are generally termed Maoris, who, about the year 1350, reached New Zealand in a fleet of canoes. Though the Moriori, who had arrived before them, were of the same stock, the Maoris proved to be the more masterful branch, and eventually became conquerors of the Moriori and owners of New Zealand.

Such are the conclusions which are at least tentatively justified by the researches of Mr Percy Smith and others. As to two important points, there is a general agreement; namely, that about 500 years ago a large number of Maoris reached New Zealand in canoes from the Polynesian islands; and that, on landing, they drove the Moriori into the interior, and took possession of the country round the coast. It is also generally held that the Aotea brought to New Zealand the ancestors of the Taranaki, Wanganui, Ngatiruanui, Ngaraura and Ngatiapa tribes, and if this was the case, then, to judge by the later history of those tribes, the Aotea must have carried men of indomitable daring and women of splendid endurance. Maori tradition has it that as the newcomers increased in numbers, they developed into independent tribes, spread into various parts of the country, and even became hostile to each other. In consequence of this state of things it came to pass that a tribe's right of occupation was always liable to be superseded by force, and all the tribes recognised the acquisition of territory by conquest as just and right. The Toas, or great fighting men of each tribe, were held in almost as much esteem as the hereditary chiefs who, in fact, were in some cases looked upon with less respect than the Toas. Authority was purely tribal, and there was no intertribal polity or anything approaching coordination into a nation among the Maori race. This was the state of affairs when the British took possession of New Zealand in 1840.