Story: Māori

Page 3. The arrival of Europeans

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Goblins from the sea

With the arrival of the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642 and subsequently the British explorer James Cook in 1769, the European world made its entry into tribal New Zealand.

Tasman journeyed up the west coast of the country but did not go ashore. Cook did, however, and his time in New Zealand is well documented and recorded. The Māori response to his arrival is less well known, except for fragments of stories recorded in 19th-century literature. Perhaps the best known example is that attributed to Te Horetā Te Taniwha of Ngāti Whanaunga (of the Coromandel Peninsula). The story is said to have been told when Horetā was an old man. Here he recalls the conclusion of his elders that the Europeans must be some kind of goblin, because they rowed their boats backwards:

We stayed at Whitianga and their ship arrived. Our elders saw their ship and said that it was a god and that the crew were goblins. The ship anchored and a boat started to row to shore. Our elders then said, ‘Indeed they are goblins as they have eyes in the backs of their heads. That is why they row with their backs to the shore.’ 1

The early period

The period from approximately 1800, when Europeans began to settle, to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, saw major upheaval in the Māori world. Conflict between rivals grew, fuelled by the introduction of new technology – notably new modes of transport, literacy, and the musket. This was a period of war between antagonistic tribes.

In the 1830s Christian missionary work, begun in 1814, began to affect Māori. Schools and mission stations were established in an attempt to spread the Christian message. Some tribes became involved in trade with Europeans, exchanging potatoes, pigs, timber and flax for muskets.

The Treaty of Waitangi

In 1840, a treaty was signed by representatives of Queen Victoria of England and more than 500 Māori chiefs representing numerous tribes throughout the country. The effect of te Tiriti o Waitangi was to bring intertribal conflict to an end, and to provide a constitutional basis for the establishment of British law and government in New Zealand. The English version of the treaty stated that sovereignty was ceded to the Queen of England. However, the Māori version said that the treaty guaranteed ‘tino rangatiratanga’ or chieftainship of New Zealand to Māori. The debate continues today.

New tribal economies

The period between 1840 and 1860 saw the rise of a new economy within tribal societies. Many tribes took to growing crops and selling their produce to markets such as the new towns of Auckland and Wellington. Some even supplied markets in Australia.

Leaders in war and peace

During the New Zealand Wars there were some remarkable and ingenious Māori military leaders, including Kawiti of Ngāpuhi, Te Kooti of Rongowhakaata, Tītokowaru of Ngāti Ruanui and Rewi Maniapoto of Ngāti Maniapoto. In southern Taranaki, based at Parihaka, two equally exceptional leaders, Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, opposed the Europeans from the late 1870s through passive resistance.


In the north of the South Island and the far north and south of the North Island, the mid-1840s saw violence break out between Māori and Pākehā as Māori sought to hold on to their land and local authority. In the 1860s the conflict became more severe as Pākehā settlers, mostly British, sought land to sustain a growing population. While Māori exhibited remarkable inventiveness and tenacity during the wars, they eventually lost millions of acres of land. This was partly the result of confiscation, and partly the influence of new government institutions such as the Native Land Court. This was set up to facilitate the sale of land by assigning land titles to named individuals.

  1. Quoted in John White, Ancient history of the Maori. Vol. 5. Wellington: Government Printer, 1888, p. 105. › Back
How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Māori - The arrival of Europeans', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 8 Feb 2005