New Zealand – Culture & History

Posted: February 13, 2013 in Business Solutions, immigration
Tags: , , , , , ,

Maori legend says that Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, was fished from the sea. History however, credits Polynesian navigator Kupe with the discovery of New Zealand around AD 800. This makes it the last landmass on earth to have been discovered and the youngest country on earth. Continuous settlement dates from about 1200, after which a fairly steady migration of people came from Kupe’s homeland of Hawaiki (Ra’iatea, near Tahiti in modern-day French Polynesia) who, according to tradition, followed Kupe’s own navigational instructions. Their culture, essentially Polynesian but developed over centuries of only limited contact with ‘the home lands’, was hierarchical and, over time and under increasing pressure for land, became more warlike and many tribes were wiped out by processes of conquest and enslavement. Cannibalism became prevalent at this time, as did the development of pa (forts) for protection against warring tribes. You can still see the remains of these forts in various parts of the country.

In 1642, the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman became the first European to sight the islands as he sailed briefly along the west coast; any thoughts of a longer stay were thwarted when his attempt to land resulted in several of his crew being killed and eaten! In 1769, Captain James Cook circumnavigated the two main islands aboard his famous ship, the Endeavour. Botanists and other experts onboard his ship gained considerable information about the country’s flora and fauna, and the native Maori inhabitants. Initial contact proved violent but Cook, impressed with the Maoris’ bravery and spirit, and recognizing the potential of this newfound land, grabbed it for the British crown before setting sail for Australia.

Later on, when the British began their antipodean colonizing, New Zealand was originally only seen as an offshoot of Australian enterprises in whaling and sealing. In fact, from 1839 to 1841 the country was under the jurisdiction of New South Wales. However, increased European settlement soon proved problematic: a policy was urgently required regarding land deals between the settlers (pakeha) and the Maori.


New Zealand is often nicknamed “The Shaky Isles” due to the regularity of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

In 1840, French navy captain Charles Lavaud’s plans to claim the land for France, were hurriedly intercepted with the signing of the British-initiated Treaty of Waitangi. The Maori ceded governorship of their country to Britain in exchange for protection and guaranteed possession of their lands. But relations between the Maori and pakeha, although harmonious in some regions, soured in others. Causes were varied and complex, but the most common feature was disagreement over land. A total of five wars were sparked off between Maori and colonial forces in the Maori strongholds of Taranaki, Waikato and the East Coast. Fighting eventually died down and though there was no formal resolution to any of the skirmishes, the pakehas certainly claimed victory.

By the late 19th century the situation had calmed down and the discovery of gold started to bring much prosperity to the land. This and the introduction of wide-scale sheep farming meant that New Zealand became an efficient and mostly self-reliant country. Sweeping social changes such as women’s suffrage, social security, the encouragement of trade unions and the introduction of childcare services, cemented New Zealand’s reputation as a country committed to egalitarian reform.

New Zealand was given dominion status in the British Empire in 1907 and granted autonomy by Britain in 1931; independence, however, was not formally proclaimed until 1947. Internationally, New Zealand was hailed during the mid-1980s for its anti-nuclear stance. This included a ban on nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed vessels from its waters, putting it at odds with the US, and its opposition to French nuclear testing in the Pacific. France controversially tried to counter this, to much outrage but little penalty, by blowing up the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior as it sat in Auckland Harbour.

Today agriculture and tourism are the economic mainstays and there is also a growing film industry. The Maori population is now increasing faster than the pakeha and resurgence in Maoritanga (Maori culture) has had a major and lasting impact on New Zealand society. In spite of concerted efforts towards cultural integration between the Maori and pakeha, the New Zealand government’s clumsy attempt to offer financial reparations has resulted in an upsurge of militant Maori protests over land rights. The issue of reconciliation remains at the top of the political agenda.

Of New Zealand’s population around 4 million, 76% are NZ European (pakeha) mainly of British descent, 14% are NZ indigenous Maori, 5.5% are Pacific Island Polynesians and about 4.5% are Asian.

Many Pacific islands are experiencing a rapid population shift from remote and undeveloped islands to the ‘big city’. Auckland is very much the big city of the South Pacific, with the greatest concentration of Polynesians on earth. Asian migration is also increasing due to recent immigration incentives and there are also sizable Indian and East Asian communities in Auckland.

With only about 14 people per sq km, NZ is lightly populated by most countries’ standards, except perhaps its bigger, emptier neighbor Australia with just 2.3 people per sq km. Although it once had a greater population than the North Island, the South Island is now the place to go for elbow-room – its has barely more inhabitants than Auckland. In fact, despite its rural base, 70% of New Zealanders live in urban areas – Auckland alone has 29% of the entire population.


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