The Polynesian Maori reached New Zealand in about A.D. 800. In 1840, their chieftains entered into a compact with Britain, the Treaty of Waitangi, in which they ceded sovereignty to Queen Victoria while retaining territorial rights. In that same year, the British began the first organized colonial settlement.
A series of land wars between 1843 and 1872 ended with the defeat of the native peoples.
The British colony of New Zealand became an independent dominion in 1907 and supported the UK militarily in both World Wars. New Zealand’s full participation in a number of defense alliances lapsed by the 1980s.
In recent years, the government has sought to address longstanding Maori grievances.
Maori are the tangata whenua (people of the land) or indigenous people of Aotearoa and arrived in several migration ‘waves’ in New Zealand about 1,000 years ago.
On a voyage of discovery, Dutch navigator Abel Tasman sailed up the West Coast of New Zealand in 1642, but did not stay long after his only attempt at landing on New Zealand shores was repelled by Maori.
Europeans did not rediscover New Zealand until 1769, when the British naval captain James Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to lay claim to New Zealand.
Increased European settlement was causing concern for both Maori and law-abiding settlers in the ensuing years and it was not until 1840 that any formal agreement was signed by the Maori people of New Zealand and the European settlers.
This agreement, formally known as the Treaty of Waitangi (named after the town where it was signed), is New Zealand’s founding document.
The signing of the Treaty between more than 500 Maori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown is commemorated annually on February 6 as New Zealand’s national day – Waitangi Day.
New Zealand became a self-governing British colony in 1856, a Dominion in 1907, and fully independent in 1947. New Zealand is an independent state of the Commonwealth. The Governor General represents the Queen of England in New Zealand.
Birthplace of a nation, New Zealand
The sea, the vessel, the voyage, the arrival. New Zealand was born on the waves, from two long migrations.
Northland, the place it all began, harbours the soul of a nation, and the sacred place where departing spirits leap for their own destiny. In Maori mythology, long before the sea and land agreed on continents, Maui fished up the North Island. Before the time of Christ, the people of Maui visited the northern lands, called Te Tai Tokerau. Around 950 A.D., the leader Kupe landed with some of his people from the distant land of Hawaiki. In the Hokianga harbour, a labyrinth of inlets and estuaries on the west coast of Northland, he left his footprints. They were to be filled years later by his grandson, Nukutawhiti, who captained the great canoe Ngatokimatawhaorua to bring the land’s first immigrants. Other great waka, canoes, came and warriors and families filtered through Te Tai Tokerau.
In 1642, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sailed around New Zealand, but the land did not feel European footsteps until 127 years later when British captain James Cook came ashore. By the beginning of the 19th century, Northland’s bays were giving shelter to sealers and whaling boats from many nations, and the Bay of Islands town of Russell became infamous for its raucous shore leave. With traders came muskets, with settlers came missionaries. With property came bloodshed and the need for agreement.
In 1840, at a place called Waitangi, the Maori chief Hone Heke became the first of 46 to sign the founding document of bi-cultural New Zealand. More than 500 Maori leaders followed. The National Trust exhibition at Waitangi gives a compelling insight into the birth pains that still stir in New Zealand’s continuing formation.
Today Maori and non-Maori share the closeness of growing up together in the Birthplace of a Nation and it is remembered annually
on February 6th, Waitangi Day.
Read more in our article: Māori Culture