Encounters – two great voyaging traditions, Polynesian and European

New at NZ History: Encounters – Discover stories of encounter between two great voyaging traditions, Polynesian and European, which led to the formation of a new nation.

Painting by Tupaia with Tuia 250 logo

 

Polynesian voyaging and discovery

The Pacific Ocean was one of the last areas of the earth to be explored and settled by human beings. It was only around 3200 years ago that people began heading eastwards from New Guinea and the Solomon Islands further into the Pacific.

Great skill and courage was needed to sail across vast stretches of open sea. Between 1200 and 1000 BCE these voyagers spread rapidly to Fiji and West Polynesia, including Tonga and Samoa.

The direction and timing of settlement

New Zealand was the last significant land mass outside the Arctic and Antarctic to be settled. The Polynesian culture emerged in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga from the earlier Lapita culture, which had formed from the mixing of the Melanesian peoples already living in Near Oceania with migrants from the vicinity of Taiwan.

During the first millennium CE, Polynesians sailed east into French Polynesia and the Marquesas, before migrating to Hawaii (600 CE), Easter Island (700 CE), and New Zealand (1250–1300 CE), the far corners of the ‘Polynesian triangle’.

Sketch of Double-hulled voyaging canoe

British Library Board. Ref: 23920 f.48

This double canoe was sketched off the New Zealand coast in 1769 by Herman Spöring. It has a double spritsail rig and appears to be made from two canoes of different length and design lashed together. Archaeologist Atholl Anderson argues that the double spritsail was the most likely type of sailing rig used by the Polynesian voyagers who reached New Zealand in the 13th century.

Migration

Although it was once believed that the ancestors of Māori came to New Zealand in a single ‘great fleet’ of seven canoes, we now know that many canoes made the perilous voyage. Through stories passed down the generations, tribal groups trace their origins to the captains and crew of more than 40 legendary vessels, from the Kurahaupō at North Cape to the Uruao in the South Island.

Sometime between 1300 and 1550, Māori from New Zealand settled on the Chatham Islands (Rēkohu), more than 750 km south-east of the mainland.

European voyaging and discovery

Portuguese and Spanish navigators sailed the Pacific Ocean in the 1500s, but there is no firm evidence that Europeans reached New Zealand before 1642.

In that year the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sailed in search of the vast continent which many Europeans thought might exist in the South Pacific. Dutch merchants hoped this land would offer new opportunities for trade. Tasman sighted New Zealand on 13 December 1642, but after a bloody encounter with Māori in what he called ‘Murderers’ Bay’ (now Golden Bay/Mohua) on the 19th, he left without going ashore. Tasman then sailed up the west coast of the North Island but did not establish how far east land extended.

Cook’s First Voyage

The Royal Society had proposed to the British Admiralty that the transit of Venus (the passage of the planet Venus across the face of the sun) be observed in the South Pacific. This observation, combined with others elsewhere, would make it possible to accurately calculate the distance from the Earth to both Venus and the sun.

Lieutenant James Cook was appointed to command the expedition. Cook was approaching 40 and had 10 years’ experience in the Royal Navy, mostly in North American waters. Previous to the navy, Cook had worked in the coal trade, which turned out to be an advantage: the ship for the expedition was a former coal ship, a relatively small vessel of 368 tons, just 32 m long and 7.6 m broad.

Once the planetary observations had been made, Cook’s expedition was to locate Tasman’s outline of New Zealand and establish how far it extended to the east. The Endeavour sailed south into uncharted waters and then west. On 6 October 1769, the surgeon’s boy sighted the high hills of Aotearoa.

The people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa were the first to meet Cook when he anchored. Conflict arose when the crew went ashore to seek water and supplies, and killed or wounded several Māori.

Details of Cook’s first visit follow – theses have been well recorded and taught.

James Cook's New Zealand

Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: PUBL-0037-25 – Drawn by James Cook in 1770

On his second voyage (1772–75) Cook used New Zealand as a base for probes south and east which finally proved there was no such continent. The expedition had two ships: HMS Resolution, commanded by Cook, and HMS Adventure, commanded by Tobias Furneaux. Both ships sailed from England on 13 July 1772 and spent time in New Zealand waters between excursions into the unexplored parts of Antarctica and the Pacific.

On his third voyage (1776–79) Cook again commanded the Resolution, with Charles Clerke in command of the Discovery. Cook paid a last visit to New Zealand, staying from 12 to 25 February 1777 at ‘our old station’, Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound, before sailing into the north Pacific and through Bering Strait to the north coast of Siberia. He was killed in an avoidable incident at Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, on 14 February 1779.

Early meetings between peoples

On the evening of 18 December 1642, two waka of Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri people approached two strange ships, which had anchored near the north-western tip of the South Island. These ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen, were commanded by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. This was the first known occasion when Māori encountered Europeans.

On this occasion the Māori group called out to the ships’ occupants and blew on a shell trumpet to challenge the intruders; the Dutch ship replied with their own trumpets. The next day, a waka approached with 13 Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri on board. They were shown gifts by Abel Tasman’s men, but returned to shore. Seven more craft then came out to the ships. A small Dutch boat, which was passing a message between the two ships, was rammed by one of the waka and its occupants attacked; four of the Dutchmen died. As the ships weighed anchor and set sail, 11 canoes approached and were fired on, possibly causing injuries. As a result of the incident, Tasman never landed on New Zealand shores, and named the place Moordenaars Baij (Murderers Bay).

For almost 130 years, Europeans and Māori had no further contact with each other. Then on 8 October 1769, James Cook and others landed on the east side of the Tūranganui River, near present-day Gisborne. It appears from later accounts that the local Māori at first took the ship to be a floating island or giant bird. The fertile land surrounding the wide bay Tūranganui-a-Kiwa was home to a large population of Māori at that time, divided into four main tribes.

Cook’s relationship with Māori got off to a disastrous start when a Ngāti Oneone leader, Te Maro, was shot and killed by one of Cook’s men. It seems likely that the local people were undertaking a ceremonial challenge, but the Europeans believed themselves to be under attack.

A lot more detail follows. I haven’t seen this photo before:

The replica of Cook’s Endeavour and the waka Te Awatea Hou

The Picton Historical Society.

The replica of Cook’s Endeavour and the waka Te Awatea Hou – a waka taua built in 1990 – meet in Meretoto/Ship Cove in 1996, where Cook spent time on each of his journeys to New Zealand.

While a small ship the Endeavour would have looked impressive to Māori, but the size of the waka is also impressive.

There is a lot more information and related links at NZ History, including Māori explore the world

Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. sorethumb

     /  24th February 2019

    The big question is how capable was Polynesian Shipping? Cook didn’t believe that Polynesians could sail outside of land. It seems that Cook couldn’t see past Cartesian coordinates?

    Reply
  2. Finbaar Rustle

     /  24th February 2019

    Polynesians discovered these islands in 1307
    and claimed the country for Polynesia.
    Tasman “discovered” these islands in 1642
    and claimed the country for the Netherlands.
    Cook “discovered” these islands in 1769
    and claimed the country for Britain.
    Patsy Wong “discovered” these islands in 1974
    and claimed the country for China.
    Irene van Dyk “discovered” these islands in 2000
    and claimed the country for South Africa.
    Kim Dot Com “discovered” these islands in 2012
    and claimed the country for Germany and mega upload.
    2019 …….

    Reply

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