Abel Tasman’s first encounter with Māori

Captain James Cook gets a lot of attention for his visits to Aotearoa in the 1769-1777, but a much earlier visit by Abel Tasman in 1642 usually gets scant mention. Is this because the first discovery of New Zealand by a European explorer wasn’t a British expedition?

Today is the anniversary of Tasman’s first contact with Māori, 127 years earlier than Cook got here.

NZ History: First encounter between Māori and Europeans

Abel Tasman’s Dutch East India Company expedition had the first known European contact with Māori. It did not go well.

After Tasman first sighted New Zealand on 13 December, his two ships sailed up the West Coast. On the 18th they anchored north of what is now Abel Tasman National Park.

Golden Bay in December 1642 (Alexander Turnbull Library, PUBL-0086-021)

The local inhabitants were Māori of Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri. Two waka paddled out to inspect the strange vessels. The Māori challenged the intruders with ritual incantations and pūkāea or pūtātara (trumpet) blasts, possibly to frighten away dangerous spirits.

In response, the Dutch shouted and blew their own trumpets. They then fired a cannon, provoking an angry reaction.

The next morning many waka came out to the Dutch ships. Four sailors were killed after a small boat was rammed by a waka. The Dutch ships then weighed anchor and sailed away. Tasman named the place Moordenaers’ (Murderers’) Bay. It is now called Golden Bay.

Wikipedia has some background to Tasman and his First Pacific voyage.

Abel Jans Tasman was born in 1603 in Lutjegast, a small village in the province of Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands. The oldest available source mentioning him dates 27 December 1631 when, as a seafarer living in Amsterdam, the 28-year-old became engaged to marry 21-year-old Jannetje Tjaers from the Jordaan district of the city.

In 1633 he sailed from Texel to Batavia in the service of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), taking the southern Brouwer Route. Tasman took part in a voyage to Seram Island; the locals had sold spices to other European nationalities than the Dutch. He had a narrow escape from death, when in an incautious landing several of his companions were killed by people of Seram.

In August 1637 he was back in Amsterdam, and the following year he signed on for another ten years and took his wife with him to Batavia. On 25 March 1638 he tried to sell his property in the Jordaan, but the purchase was cancelled.

In 1639 he was second-in-command of an exploration expedition in the north Pacific under Matthijs Quast. The fleet included the ships Engel and Gracht and reached Fort Zeelandia (Dutch Formosa) and Deshima.

He first visited Australia including Tasmania. Then:

After some exploration, Tasman had intended to proceed in a northerly direction but as the wind was unfavourable he steered east. Tasman endured a very rough journey from Tasmania to New Zealand. In one of his diary entries Tasman credits his compass, claiming it was the only thing that kept him alive. On 13 December they sighted land on the north-west coast of the South Island, New Zealand, becoming the first Europeans to do so.[21]

Tasman named it Staten Landt on the assumption that it was connected to an island (Staten Island, Argentina) at the south of the tip of South America.

Several years later Dutch cartographers renamed it Nova Zeelandia. Captain Cook recognised this name but anglicised it as New Zealand.

He sailed north, then east and five days later anchored about 7 km from the coast. He sent ship’s boats to gather water, but one of his boats was attacked by Māori in a double hulled waka (canoe) and four of his men were attacked and killed with mere.

“In the evening about one hour after sunset we saw many lights on land and four vessels near the shore, two of which betook themselves towards us. When our two boats returned to the ships reporting that they had found not less than thirteen fathoms of water, and with the sinking of the sun (which sank behind the high land) they had been still about half a mile from the shore. After our people had been on board about one glass, people in the two canoes began to call out to us in gruff, hollow voices. We could not in the least understand any of it; however, when they called out again several times we called back to them as a token answer. But they did not come nearer than a stone’s shot. They also blew many times on an instrument, which produced a sound like the moors’ trumpets. We had one of our sailors (who could play somewhat on the trumpet) play some tunes to them in answer.”

As Tasman sailed out of the bay he observed 22 waka near the shore, of which “eleven swarming with people came off towards us.” The waka approached the Zeehaen which fired and hit a man in the largest waka holding a small white flag. Canister shot also hit the side of a waka.

Archeological research has shown the Dutch had tried to land at a major agricultural area, which the Māori may have been trying to protect.

Tasman named the bay Murderers’ Bay (now known as Golden Bay) and sailed north, but mistook Cook Strait for a bight (naming it Zeehaen’s Bight).

Two names he gave to New Zealand landmarks still endure, Cape Maria van Diemen and Three Kings Islands, but Kaap Pieter Boreels was renamed by Cook 125 years later to Cape Egmont.

 

26 Comments

  1. NOEL

     /  December 18, 2017

    I remember both Tasman and Cook from school history classes.
    What stands out in my memory was the Maori student next to me who continually muttered bullshit when the teacher taught the European myth version of Maori history.

  2. PartisanZ

     /  December 18, 2017

    “We shall go on to the end … we shall fight on the seas and oceans … we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields … we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”

    Ka haere tatou ki te mutunga … ka whawhai tatou i nga moana me nga moana … ka tiakina ta tatou motu, ahakoa ko te utu. Ka whawhai tatou i nga tahataha, ka whawhai tatou i nga whenua o te takutai, ka whawhai tatou i nga mara … ka whawhai tatou i nga maunga; e kore tatou e tuku

    Please forgive any inconsistencies due to Google translator …

  3. Pickled Possum

     /  December 18, 2017

    Two side to every story just like a coin,
    while yaw looking at the head you cannot see the tail.

    Two different cultures with their own interpretations of Hello and Welcome
    can SOMETIMES lead to War

    A man wrote a story about my hapu iwi and when I told my kuia I had read the book she laughed, “Oh moko, we lied to him”. Shocked I asked “Why???
    Youngster’s like me will get and give the wrong story”
    To which she replied “You don’t need the Pakeha book to learn about your world.
    just come home and you will learn tika = to be correct, true, upright, right, just, fair, accurate, appropriate, lawful, proper, valid.
    Which I did.

    I was learning rongoa maori at A Marae, when te karere came to do an interview with the tohunga rongoa. She talked with them a while telling the how good they were,
    but she would not share the matai rongoa and the korero she was giving us, on TV.
    He was shocked then a bit riri/angry about not getting ‘the story’ he was sent to get.
    We the students were also a bit confused.

    Te Nani said “many diverse tribes of the world and peoples are now watching te karere
    Our matai taka rongoa knowledge is ours, specific to us, not for everybody else,
    and if our mokopuna want to learn, then they come home to their turangawaewae.”

    I did not understand this until I learnt that Malcolm Harker had a patent on kumarahou.
    RIP Malcolm Harker you were a good guy.

    My intuition is if it doesn’t feel right to my wairua then it probably isn’t right for me.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  December 18, 2017

      There are two parts to every story: what is said and what is unsaid. It is hard enough to find the truth in what happens today let alone what happened generations ago. If it is written you know only what the writer wanted to say then. If it is oral you know only what the tellers have wanted to pass down the chain.

      “History is bunk.” “History is told by the winners.” Sometimes just by the survivors.

      We want to know the truth, but truthfully we will never know it.

      • Gezza

         /  December 18, 2017

        True I reckon. When we visited the Waitangi museum together, we had different interpretations of what we saw, but it was clear to me there definitely are, and were, different perspectives & understandings from people who were there as to exactly what was intended or said, how Maori rangatira interpreted what the Tresty meant – even amongst themselves – regarding maintaining independence, control & access in their own rohe to their own lands & resources, & that many rangatira did NOT sign it.

        I recommend a half day visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds & the excellent, modern museum there to everyone. And I thank you & Possum for recommending the museum. Well worth the visit. I came away with new information & perspectives myself.

        • Gezza

           /  December 18, 2017

          (Also, if you have lunch at the cafe, watch out for the cheeky long-necked mallard hen, Eunice, who’ll pester & pester you for more if you give her anything, just ask Alan.)

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  December 18, 2017

            I treated her just like a feathered dog, Sir Gerald. But she wouldn’t lick my hand.

          • Pickled Possum

             /  December 18, 2017

            The Bird Man from Tawa. You are known to them all as a friend. You Probably talks te reo manu as well eh Jezza. Great kai at the cafe still?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  December 18, 2017

              Gezza talked but she wasn’t fooled, Possum. She knew I was the food supply.

            • Gezza

               /  December 18, 2017

              I’ll email you a clip later of my tuis having a korero last nite Possum.

            • Gezza

               /  December 18, 2017

              Great kai at the cafe still?
              Seemed to be. Great service. Lovely set up, we ate outside If you get the burger you won’t need anything else for 24 hours.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  December 18, 2017

          As I said at the time, I think that museum has followed Te Papa too much in presenting interpretations of history rather than just the relevant artifacts and facts. I’m not interested in being told what to think. There is a section right at the end which briefly exposes the real controversies rather than what the chosen experts want us to know.

          • Gezza

             /  December 18, 2017

            There simply ARE different interpretations of our history Alan. That’s a fact. That a few Europeans wrote down, in English, and even Maori, what their view of what was happening, and what was said by some Maori, and what was MEANT by what they said in Maori, doesn’t make it any more than their English opinion & interpretation. They were not Maori. They were not native Maori speakers.

            Any look at a Maori/Engish dictionary or literal English translation of Maori sayings will show that you often need to be a native speaker with a full knowledge of the tikanga & meaning & context for particular hapu & iwi to know exactly what is being & what it means to their people.

            • Gezza

               /  December 18, 2017

              🙄 😡 *what is being SAID, & what it means to their people.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  December 18, 2017

              I agree there are different interpretations of history and have no problem with that so long as they are identified and authored. What I have a problem with is presentations that suggest there is only one correct version.

            • Gezza

               /  December 18, 2017

              So, which versions do you accept as correct? Any Maori ones?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  December 18, 2017

              Got any contemporary ones, G? I suspect there would be a lot of very conflicting versions if we could access them. Moreover I would expect opinions and judgements to have changed over time as well. And many would be “correct” from the POV of the teller. That is human nature.

  4. sorethumb

     /  December 20, 2017

    Ranginui Walker talks of Maori eating out the moa. —- went back to the homeland and told them “there are no more Islands. He sites working with eel how the Maori acted sustainably. They have “ancient knowledge”. This is the myth used to justify kaitiakitanga over the foreshore and seabed and representation on various boards..
    It is in the last section of this podcast
    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/thetreatydebates/audio/2491827/treaty-debate-1-2010

    • sorethumb

       /  December 20, 2017

      [50:00]

      • sorethumb

         /  December 20, 2017

        Actually I half agree with him but not the special knowlege part.

        • PartisanZ

           /  December 20, 2017

          They recognise our “special knowledge” … Why shouldn’t we acknowledge theirs?