New Zealand early history

It is estimated that the history of New Zealand as a nation dates back to around 1320-1350 CE, which is when the islands were discovered by the Polynesian peoples who decided to settle there. It was the Polynesians that developed the Maori culture in New Zealand. Dating the exact arrival of the Maori people is not easy as nothing connected to human activity has been found that predates the Mount Tarawera volcano eruption, which occurred around 1314 CE.

However, analysis of DNA shows that it is likely the Maori people arrived from East Polynesia and it is thought that this could have been part of an organised, mass migration. New Zealand was abundant in animal and plant life and provided to be an ideal home.

These early settlers survived by hunting the large game available on the islands, and by about 1500 CE some species became extinct as a result. This led the Maori people to give horticulture more importance, and where the land permitted, they grew plants such as taro and kumara, among others. In other areas they made the most of the native plants and other food sources such as fish.

Maori tribe structure

The Maori people developed their own system of leadership within their tribes. This is based on chieftainship and occasionally this was a hereditary responsibility passed down through families. Chiefs could be either male or female but there was an expectation that they would prove that they were able to lead others. If they didn’t, their leadership could be challenged and it was not uncommon for leadership of tribes to change as a result of a challenge.

The extended family was an integral part of the culture of the Maori. A Maori tribe would be constructed from several groups of families, known as ‘hapu’. The tribe was known as ‘iwi’. While the hapu would work together to trade or on other projects, it was not uncommon for them to experience conflict and disputes would frequently break out.

Maori history was rarely written down. It was preserved in oral form, with stories and songs. Experts in the tribes memorised long genealogies and were able to recite them going back hundreds of years. While some of their stories have been lost to the passage of time, there are still some Maori who are able to recite the histories.