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The Māori
Brief pre-history
Tangata Whenua :
The local people
Image courtesy of the Northland website
Māori children in a Northland marae

The ancestors of the Māori were a Polynesian people originating from south-east Asia. Some historians trace the early Polynesian settlers of New Zealand as migrating from today's China, making the long voyage traveling via Taiwan, through the South Pacific and on to Aotearoa (New Zealand).

The anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, on the other hand, claims that the Polynesians arrived in the Pacific from America, rather than from the East, as other scholars claim. Heyerdahl bases his theory on the fact that the kumara, staple cultivated food crop of the pre-European New Zealand Māori, originates from central South America.

Around thirty thousand years ago, Polynesian forbears inhabited the Bismarck Archipelago, to the east of New Guinea. These people had a Lapita culture, of which earthenware pots, distinctive and highly coloured, were a characteristic. This particular pottery was given the name of Lapita Ware, after an archaeological site in New Caledonia.

The Lapita pottery first appeared around the mid-second millennium. It can be traced through Melanesia to New Caledonia and then east to Samoa. It was in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga that the Lapita potters became the founding population. During the first millennium BC, many features of the typically Polynesian culture developed here.

The use of pottery appeared to have disappeared by the time that New Zealand was discovered. Other crafts took over, such as the stone fabricated adzes and fish hooks. These tools can be traced to New Zealand from Eastern Polynesia.

Around 3500 years ago the Polynesian culture began to expand eastwards from the Bismarck Archipelago. The exact reasons for this expansion are as yet unknown. Some Polynesians remained in the central south Pacific, while others moved on past Tahiti, and almost certainly arriving as far as South America, home of the kumara.

The exact date of Polynesian settlement of the islands of New Zealand is also unknown. Although previously thought to have been between 950 -1130 AD, scholars now debate both the time and circumstances of first Polynesian settlement.

The mythical Polynesian navigator, Kupe, was estimated by ethnologists in the 19th and early 20th centuries as having arrived around 925. By the same scholars, the mythical Māori figure Toi was estimated as having visited New Zealand in 1150.

The Great Fleet, considered to be the first mass arrival of Polynesian settlers, was estimated to have arrived in 1350. Modern scholars are now questioning not only the exactitude of the above dates, but also the Great Fleet theory itself. The debate continues today.

The Great Fleet forms part of the Māori canoe tradition, handed down orally from generation to generation. According to this tradition, the canoes of the Great Fleet arrived from the mythical homeland of Hawaiiki, known as the ancestral homeland, and generally considered as being somewhere in Eastern Polynesia.

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The Great Fleet canoes were : the Aotea, Arawa, Tainui, Kurahaupo, Takitimu, Horouata, Tokomaru and Mataatua.

* Archaeological linguistic and cultural evidence today has discredited the Great Fleet theory, and a general consensus among scholars now is that the Polynesians originally moved into the Pacific from the West, spread eastwards, and that the Māori came most recently from the eastern Pacific (that is Tahiti or the Marquesas). They began to arrive in New Zealand about 1000 years ago.

* The New Zealand Encyclopedia, 4th Edition. David Bateman

The first Polynesians settled mainly around the coast of New Zealand, and especially the east coast, which was more hospitable and temperate in climate. The settlers introduced animals such as the dog and the small Polynesian rat.

At this time, New Zealand was home to many flightless birds, including the Moa. This bird was, as a consequent, hunted extensively for its meat, large eggs, and feathers. The Moa bones, being strong, were used to fabricate artefacts. The Moa was particularly abundant in the South Island. There were 11 species of the bird, ranging from the size of a turkey up to 3.7 metres tall, and weighing up to 200 kg. Different species included the Upland moa (megalapteryx didinus), the Heavy-footed moa (Euryapteryx geranoides) and the Giant moa (Dinornis giganteus).

Although Māori culture was a totally stone-age culture until the arrival of Europeans and the introduction of metal, it was highly evolved. The various working materials used before the Māori had access to metal were mainly bird bones, whale bones, ivory teeth, both dog and human bones, and also stone, from the large stone resources which had been discovered further inland within New Zealand.

Kumara :
"A sweet potato of tropical origin, a member of the plant family Convolvulaceae, which was the major cultivated food crop of the pre-European Māori. The kumara grew successfully only on sheltered north-facing gardens in the north of the North Island. Some of the varieties grown today are believed to have been introduced by 19th century whalers and sealers, but Māori tradition claims the origin of the kumara as Hawaiki, the legendary homeland. The Kumara is most certainly a Central American plant originally";

Source : New Zealand Encyclopedia, 4th Edition, Bateman

Māori :
The name "Māori" originally meant "the local people", or "the original people". Māori was a word which signified "local" or "original" - as opposed to the new arrivals - white European settlers - the "pakeha". With the arrival of European settlers, the word Māori gradually became an adjective for the "Māori people". This change took place before 1815.

Tangata whenua signifies "the local people", "the local people of the land", "the local people of the ancestral land. Tangata signifies "human being", whenua signifies "land" or "ancestral land".


Maori Of New Zealand
Avas Flowers Flower delivery service
Goldfish Tips for Feeding - Flowers and Fish guide
Avas Flower Delivery Floral arrangements


Main source of research :

"Māori Prehistory" - Janet Davidson
"New Zealand Encyclopedia, 4th Edition" David Bateman
"Māori art and " - Bateman
"Taonga Māori" - The National Museum of New Zealand
"The New Zealand Historical Atlas" - David Bateman
"Two Worlds" - Anne Salmond
"An Illustrated Guide to Māori Art" - Terence Barrow (Reed)
"Contemporary Atlas of New Zealand" Russell Kirkpatrick (Bateman)

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Related Links
New Zealand Archaeological Association New Zealand Archaeological Association
  Migrants without descendants Researched by Brian Hooker
  Polynesian migrations
  Polynesian history and origin
  Māori/English dictionary Then go to Ngata Dictionary


 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.