Map of Aotearoa

Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand.  Before colonists, Maori didn’t have a commonly-used name for the whole New Zealand archipelago. It seems at first to have been referred to the North Island only. The word can be broken up as:  “AO” = cloud; “TEA” = white and “ROA” = long, so it is usually interpreted as “the land of the long white cloud.” There are two stories to illustrate this fact.  According to one of them, Aotearoa was the name of the canoe of the explorer Kupe. When he was nearing the land after his long voyage, it seems that the first sign of the land was the strange cloud hanging over it, which caught Kupe’s attention and he said: “Surely is a point of land.” Because of the cloud which greeted them, Kupe named the land Aotearoa. His wife (in some versions, his daughter), Hine-te-aparangi, called out: “He ao! He ao!”  (A cloud! A cloud!). In 1642, Abel Janszoon Tasman, a Dutch explorer, sighted New Zealand and named it “Staten Landt,” assuming it was connected to land off the southern tip of South America. In 1645 Dutch cartographers renamed it Nova Zeelandia.  Therefore, British explorer James Cook anglicized the name to New Zealand. Another well-known name for the North Island is Te lka-a- Māui (The fish of Māui), The South Island was called Te Wai Pounamu (the waters of greenstone) or Te Waka o Aoraki (the canoe of Aoraki).

The First Europeans

New Zealand was one of the last significant lands settled by humans.  New Zealand was settled by Polynesians in 1250-1300 AD. Over the centuries these settlers developed an individual culture known as Maori. The population was divided into tribes and sub tribes.  At some point a group of Maori migrated to Rekohu (the Chatham Islands) where they developed their distinct culture, which was decimated between 1835-1862, mostly by reason of European diseases and Maori invasion. The last known full-blooded Moriori died in 1933. By the mid-18th century complex society had grown all over the country, associated as one people with myths and legends telling tales of the formation of Aotearoa.

The first of the European voyagers arrived in 1642, a Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman.  Four crew members were killed. In one of the sources, it is mentioned that they were killed and eaten by the Maori in Golden Bay. After that, Europeans didn’t return to New Zealand until 1769 when British voyager James Cook mapped almost the entire coastline. Following him, New Zealand was visited by several European and North American whaling, sealing and trading ships. From the early 19th century, Christian missionaries began to settle New Zealand converting most of the Maori population.  European culture was influential for Maori traditions, music, art, language, but they adroitly preserved all of these and they are proud to be Maori.

New Zealand Flag

Today most of Maori people live in New Zealand and Australia. New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of New Zealand and the head of state. The Parliament of New Zealand holds legislative power. The capital city is Wellington. Today these people are integrated in political, economic and social institutions, for example the New Zealand Maori Council, the Maori Women’s Welfare League and the Maori Education Foundation. New Zealand actually has threeWellington official languages – Te Reo, English and New Zealand English. English is the predominant language spoken by 98% of the population. New Zealand English is similar to Australian English. After the World War II, the local people were discouraged from speaking their language. Nowadays, there are native language immersion schools and two Maori Television channels. The major religion in New Zealand is Christianity – mainly Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Presbyterianism and Methodism.