Ancient New Zealand
The Polynesians settled New Zealand in the early part of this millennium and created a unique culture that flourished across vast expanses of the pacific

NewZealand

The Ancient World of the Maori

Carved face in wood with haliotis shell, Maori peoples, Aotearoa, 19th–20th century

The Maori people are the indigenous people of New Zealand. They are Polynesian and comprise about 10% of the country's population. Maoritanga is the native language which is related to Tahitian and Hawaiian. It is believed that the Maori migrated from Polynesia in canoes about the 9th century to 13th century AD. Dutch navigator Abel Tasman was the first European to encounter the Maori. Four members of his crew were killed in a bloody encounter in 1642. In 1769 British explorer James Cook established friendly relations with some Maori.

Contact with Europeans

A painting of Hinepare, a Maori noblewoman

The Eastern Polynesian ancestors of the Maori arrived in a forested land which featured abundant birdlife, including now extinct (due to mass hunting) moa species weighing from 20 to 250 kg. Other species, also now extinct, included a swan, a goose, and the giant Haast's Eagle which preyed upon the moa. Marine mammals, in particular seals, thronged the coasts, with coastal colonies much further north than today. By 1800, visits by European ships were relatively frequent. At this time, the Maori population was severely reduced with the arrival of European settlers. War and disease took their toll till eventually the population dropped to about 100,000.

In 1840 representatives of Britain and Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi. This treaty established British rule, granted the Maori British citizenship, and recognized Maori land rights. Today many of the treaty's provisions are disputed and there has been an effort from the New Zealand Government to recompense Maori Tribes for some land that was illegally confiscated.

A male figure from Rapa Nui, or easter Island, the farthest extant of the Polynesian sphere

The present Maori population has increased to about 250,000 and the Maori live in all parts of New Zealand, but predominately in the North Island where the climate is warmer. The Maori have adapted well to living in 21st century New Zealand, yet they have retained their unique culture, and this rich culture contributes much to New Zealand as a whole. Archaeological and linguistic evidence (Sutton 1994) suggests that several waves of migration came from Eastern Polynesia to New Zealand between AD 800 and 1300. Maori oral history describes the arrival of ancestors from Hawaiki (a mythical homeland in tropical Polynesia) in large ocean-going canoes. Migration accounts vary among tribes (iwi), whose members may identify with several waka in their genealogies or whakapapa. No credible evidence exists of human settlement in New Zealand prior to the Polynesian voyagers; on the other hand, compelling evidence from archaeology, linguistics, and physical anthropology indicates that the first settlers came from East Polynesia and became the Maori.

Maori Warfare

A Maori warrior performing the Haka, or war dance unique to his culture

Before actually going into battle, the warriors would generally assemble together. The warrior leading the "taua", or war party, would move into the center of the men and cry:

"Tika tonu mai
Tika tonu mai
Ki ahau e noho nei
Tika tonu mai I a hei ha!"

Which means :
"Come forth this way, towards me
To this place where I now stand "Come forth this way, towards me
To this place where I now stand
Come straight this way
I a hei ha!"
Come straight this way
I a hei ha!"

At this call, the warriors would prepare for the "peruperu" haka, during which the tribal elders would make a careful inspection during the dance. If the haka was not performed in total unity, this could be taken as an omen of disaster for the battle to come. During the actual haka before battle the dancing warriors would eyeball the enemy. Sometimes this would be to stress a particular action during the haka, such as a slicing movement with the arm to indicate the fate awaiting the enemy. The warriors very often went into battle naked, apart from a plaited flax belt around the waist, and which was used for attaching short clubs.

The haka may also be used to tell of great feats, or danced as a special welcome before a high-ranking guest. A haka can also express grievance, or, in earlier times, could be addressing a prayer to one of the ancient Maori Gods. The Taua - War parties were usually composed of males, although female tribal members were not exempt from this activity.

A Maori warrior as depcited in a 19th Century lithograph

The Maori warriors excelled in the art of ambush and surprise raids, appearing and disappearing swiftly and noiselessly into the thick New Zealand natural rainforest environment. They usually attacked at dawn. The aim was to kill all members of the enemy war party, so that no survivors would remain with the risk of "utu" (revenge). If a lasting peace was considered with a former enemy, an inter-tribal marriage between families of aristocratic or chiefly rank was arranged to ensure the peace pact.

A war party was prepared with care, involving intricate ritual and the abstinence of certain foods and practices. The war party dedicated itself to Tumatauenga, the god of war, and special rites placed a "tapu" around the warrior. The fighting season was generally between late November and early April, the summer months, when food and fishing was plentiful for warriors on a long war trail. A war party led by a chief (rangatira), would be made up of around 70 warriors, which was the average compliment of a war canoe (waka taua). It was not uncommon, however, for a war canoe to carry up to 140 warriors. This was a "Te Hokwhitu a Tu". On arrival back home, a cleansing rite was performed to lift the "tapu".

War parties were usually composed of males, although female tribal members were not exempt from this activity. The Maori warriors excelled in the art of ambush and surprise raids, appearing and disappearing swiftly and noiselessly into the thick New Zealand natural rainforest environment. They usually attacked at dawn. The aim was to kill all members of the enemy war party, so that no survivors would remain with the risk of "utu" (revenge).

The beautiful green Patu, was the most prized weapon of the Maori warrior

If a lasting peace was considered with a former enemy, an inter-tribal marriage between families of aristocratic or chiefly rank was arranged to ensure the peace pact. A war party was prepared with care, involving intricate ritual and the abstinence of certain foods and practices. The war party dedicated itself to Tumatauenga, the god of war, and special rites placed a "tapu" around the warrior.

The fighting season was generally between late November and early April, the summer months, when food and fishing was plentiful for warriors on a long war trail. A war party led by a chief (rangatira), would be made up of around 70 warriors, which was the average compliment of a war canoe (waka taua). It was not uncommon, however, for a war canoe to carry up to 140 warriors. This was a "Te Hokwhitu a Tu". On arrival back home, a cleansing rite was performed to lift the "tapu".

The New Zealand Meeting House

In the past and the present, large communal meeting houses served, and continue to serve, as important focal points for the community among the Maori people of Aotearoa (New Zealand). Adorned with carvings depicting ancestors (tupuna) and other figures from oral tradition, the meeting house serves as council chamber, guest house, community center, and gathering place where important issues are discussed and debated. They are also important as places where the community's history and genealogy are preserved and imparted to succeeding generations.

The Maori meeting house adorned with the intricate Maori carvings

The form of the meeting house itself represents the body of a primordial ancestor—the ridge pole of the roof is his spine, the rafters his ribs, the gable boards on the exterior his outstretched arms, and the gable ornament on the roof peak his face. The interior is decorated with carved architectural elements depicting powerful ancestors, both male and female, who at once portray and embody the spirits of these illustrious tupuna.

Depicting a prominent tupuna, this panel once adorned a Maori meeting house in the Te Arawa region and may portray an ancient warrior. The sense of aggressive movement conveyed in the stylized depiction of the arms suggests the panel portrays the ancestor engaged in a war dance, his tongue thrust out in defiance of his people's enemies.

Polynesian Traditions, Origin of Tattoo

A Maori man with facial tattoos

Polynesia is one of the three major ethnographic (with Melanesia and Micronesia) divisions of Oceania. It encompasses a huge triangle of islands in the east-central and southern Pacific Ocean. The Tattoo (Ta Moko) The word "tattoo" comes from the Tahitian word "tatau". Captain James Cook used the word "tattow" when he witnessed tattooing for the first time in Tahiti, in 1769. According to Maori mythology, tattooing commenced with a love affair between a young man by the name of Mataora (which means "Face of Vitality") and a young princess of the underworld by the name of Niwareka. One day however, Mataora beat Niwareka, and she left Mataroa, running back to her father's realm which was named "Uetonga".

A photograph from the 19th century of a Maori chieftain

Mataora, filled with guilt and heartbreak followed after his princess Niwareka. After many trials, and after overcoming numerous obstacles, Mataora eventually arrived at the realm of "Uetonga", but with his face paint messed and dirty after his voyage. Niwareka's family taunted and mocked Mataora for his bedraggled appearance. In his very humbled state, Mataora begged Niwareka for forgiveness, which she eventually accepted. Niwareka's father then offered to teach Mataora the art of tattooing, and at the same time Mataora also leant the art of Taniko - the plaiting of cloak borders in many colours. Mataora and Niwareka thus returned together to the human world, bringing with them the arts of ta moko and taniko.

Mythology and Belief

Maori art is also covered with the symbolic patterns used in Polynesian tattoo

The Hawaiian islands are at the apex of the Polynesian triangle with New Zealand and Easter Island at the base corners. Other islands are the Cook Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu), Tokelau, Tonga, Tahiti (Otaheite), and Samoa. Fuji is also included in this area, because a large proportion of its population is of Polynesian descent.

In the mythology of Oceanic peoples, Forever has always existed. So has Darkness, and so, too, the Sea. Soaring over the endless sea, The Old Spider fond a giant clam and opened it and crawled inside. It was totally dark, and cramped inside but she found a snail, whom she asked to open the shell a bit so she could have more room.

The snail obliged. Then the Old Spider took the snail and placed it in the west and made it into the Moon, shedding some light into the darkness. With the help of another snail, The Old Spider pushed very hard on the top of the shell, raising it up, and it became the Sky, called Rangi. With great effort, the Old Spider then pushed down on the lower part of the clam shell, and it widened and became the earth. The earth was called Papa, or Mother Earth. This basic myth of creation is told roughout Oceania, from two different points of view: One, a supreme deity (Po or Io) creates everything; in the other, a mythical entity (the Old Spider) or a goddess (Lukelong) creates the heavens and then the earth.

A Maori post carving

At any rate, heavens, earth, sea are created in the beginning, together with Papa Earth and Rangi Sky, in a very tight space. This tight space is enlarged either by the deity (Tangaroa, Tanaoa, etc.) or by Rangi and Papa. Light is let in, the clam is widened and creation proceeds.

First, Papa and Rangi produce plants and flowers, trees and shrubs; then animals of every sort, with birds and butterflies in the air and fish in the sea around them. On some islands, the mythology recounts that the earth was created from the sea - by a butterfly. On others, a rock fell from the sky into the sea, and created the earth. Papa Earth was a goddess, and Rangi Sky, a god, sister and brother. They cohabited and produced the first ancestors of all mankind. They also produced the principal gods. Chiefs throughout Polynesia and Oceania trace their ancestry today to the bloodlines of Papa and Rangi.

After their first cohabitation, any such action of a subsequent sister and brother became a strict tabu punishable by death, to protect the tribe against the consequences of incest. This coupling of Papa and Rangi was explained as being for enrichment of the deities' bloodline (mana, power) but further than one generation, it weakened and diluted the bloodline, thus making such action a fatal error (tabu). This tabu strengthened the power of the chiefs, and ensured the flourishing of subsequent generations.

It was still very crowded in the clam shell, what with all the animals, plants, and offspring. Their children knew it would be next-to-impossible to separate Papa Earth from her beloved Rangi Sky, but they were desperate. They called upon Kane, the gentle god of the forests to do the pushing, and with great effort Kane was able to do so, and the whole inhabitants, plants, people and gods were finally released from the crowded clam shell.

They rejoiced at the new spaciousness, providing room to flourish, but Rangi and Papa were saddened to be separated. He weeps every night for his Papa Earth, and these tears are the source of the morning dew. - Daphne Elliott

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3 Comments

by FuzzBugify on 2011 09 12

Haha! That’s funny to read that, it makes it seem like New Zealand is some far away amazing place. Then again, it is pretty amazing.
GO THE ALL BLACKS!!

by rao vat on 2011 09 27

Wonderful world

rao vat
mua ban

by number28 on 2012 08 24

hello, i’d just like to add the fact that these polynesians belong to the austronesian race. They share similar cultures and languages (Madagascar, Cham from Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc)

i like most of the infos though. Very informative.

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Under founding of denmark the picture of a statue is not gorm the old, but holger danske/ ogier the dane.
Holger Danske is normally regarded as a Danish national symbol. He is first mentioned in literature as one of the French king Charlemagne’s warriors in La Chanson de Roland from around 1060. In this Chanson he is called Oger le Danois, his name being the only link to Denmark. In the later epos La Chevalerie d’Ogier de Danemarche (1200-1215) he is portrayed as the main character and is described as a son of the Danish king Gudfred (d. 810), an enemy of Charlemagne.

His first appearance in Nordic literature is in the saga Karlemagnússaga from the latter part of the 1200s, which in the main consists of passages translated from French texts. His name here is given as Oddgeir danski. This saga was translated into Danish during the 1400s and thereafter Holger Danske became part of Danish folklore with several accounts in the Danish Chronicle first published around 1509.

The Danish national writer Hans Christian Andersen in 1845 wrote the fairytale Holger Danske, where he is described as sitting fast asleep in the casemates of the Castle of Kronborg, with his beard having grown into the table in front of him and his sword in his lap, prepared to wake up to action in case of Denmark being threatened from outside forces. Today his statue can be seen in the casemates of Kronborg as described by Hans Christian Andersen.

During the German occupation of Denmark in 1940-45 one of the principal partisan organizations was named after Holger Danske.

in Ancient Denmark

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