Story: Ideas in New Zealand

Page 1. New Zealand and the world of ideas

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Māori world view

From the time of the first arrival of humans in New Zealand, people have tried to interpret the world around them. For Pākehā most of their ideas have come from outside, and there has been a continuous engagement with international ideas.

By contrast, the first settlers, the Māori, brought many concepts from the Pacific, and then developed those ideas in intellectual isolation for some 500 years after 1300. Their world view became highly specific to New Zealand.

The central principle was whakapapa, the view that the whole world, natural and human, was bound together by family relationships. The key event in this world view was the moment of creation when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, were separated by their children and light came into the world. The children represented elemental forces – the wind, the sea and the forests – which in turn gave birth to the multitude of life in the world. Māori called upon these divinities in their ritual and karakia.

Adapting European ideas

Once Pākehā arrived, Māori once more engaged intellectually with new ideas from outside. They were often highly creative in adapting western ideas for their own purposes.

  • Western religious ideas of a Christian God were transformed into distinctive Māori faiths such as Ringatū and Rātana.
  • Western ideas of governance led to such ideas as a Māori king and Māori parliaments.
  • Anthropological theories were sometimes internalised into Māori traditions, such as the idea of a Great Fleet of canoes arriving in New Zealand from the Pacific around the same time.

Western ideas

Europeans coming to New Zealand brought beliefs and philosophies with them. After arriving they maintained a continuous engagement with the wider intellectual world through letters, books, newspapers and visitors from overseas. From 1769 there have been few, if any, wholly original New Zealand ideas. Ideas in New Zealand cannot be discussed without examining the great intellectual movements of the western world.

However, the particular characteristics of the land and people have led New Zealand thinkers to emphasise some ideas more than others, and develop them in distinctive directions. New Zealanders’ contribution has been more in the local application of international ideas than in the contribution of new or novel concepts – some of the world’s big ideas were given their own meaning in New Zealand.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Ideas in New Zealand - New Zealand and the world of ideas', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/ideas-in-new-zealand/page-1 (accessed 24 July 2019)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 22 Oct 2014