At once fierce and majestic, the hilltop peaks fade into the crisp, jewelled waters with a vibrancy of colour that is so brilliant it appears to be a figment of the imagination. New Zealand’s striking landscape is breathtaking, its raw untouched beauty greets the eyes arousing fresh appreciation, even after countless years spent gazing upon its many nuances. For those living off the land it can be a brutal master or tender lover, requiring resilience and strength of character to endure. It is a country that will leave you infatuated with its wild and wilful nature, a reflection of the Maori people who settled this savagely captivating land after scattering the original Polynesian inhabitants, the Moriori.
The Maori tribes blessed with strength and ingenuity, carved a life from this land which could be at once bountiful or cruel. Hunters and gatherers, sustaining themselves on a diet of Moa, seal, fish and shellfish, supplemented with kumara (sweet potato) and yams, they flourished. Fashioning wood into wakas (canoes) and greenstone and bone into ornaments and tools, the Maori tribes connected with the land, their spirit gods.
Hungering for control, mana (status) aroused inter-tribal warfare, the strong vying for privileges such as women, land, tools and weapons. To breed fear in their opposing tribes, the victors dismembered the bodies of those defeated in battle, removing and digesting the head, so that traditional mourning for their spirits could not take place.
Word of the rich farming and prosperous trade in New Zealand spread throughout the Pacific, resulting in an influx of European settlers. The European settlers came bearing goods such as guns, which unbalanced the scales of tribal warfare forever.
The Maori people resented this foreign intrusion, although the more cunning used it to their advantage, trading flax and potatoes for weapons and other imported goods, their eyes clouded with the promise of mana. With greed and power came death, with European and Maori casualties making the land run thick with blood. Alliances were formed, some tragically sacrificing brother for brother.
British missionaries filled with desire to convert the Maori people came from Australian shores and settled in New Zealand, gaining favour with local chiefs Hongi and Ruatara and the Maori Queen.
Lawlessness ensued and the British used this to their advantage, making a claim on these fertile lands with double-edged promises of tools and weapons. Fearing France gaining the upper hand with earlier European settlement, Britain urged the Maori Queen and local chiefs to join the Monarchy. An uneasy peace was struck between the tribal leaders and the British Crown on the 6th of February 1840 at Waitangi. The Maori people retained control of their lands, but were governed under British rule.
To this day, the Maori people still guard their proud heritage, although sadly the knowledge and traditions woven into their tribal roots are starting to fade, like the burial stones of their elders whose spirits are all that remain to watch over their descendants. But for those who still remember and continue to recount the stories, if you are lucky enough to hear them, it is a privilege that many may never have the opportunity to experience as the years gain momentum.