‘New Zealanders have a background of quiet but rugged individualism, self-reliance, and a genius for invention’
The great Polynesian navigator Kupe who discovered New Zealand around 800 AD originated from Hawaiiki, the mythical ancestral homeland of the Māori. Legend has it his wife, Hine-te-aparangi, named it Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud. In 1642, the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sailed along the west coast of New Zealand. His attempt to land resulted in a few of his crewmembers being killed and eaten, which was reason enough for Tasman to leave as quickly as he could.
In 1769, Captain James Cook sailed around the two main islands aboard his ship the Endeavour. Initial contact with the Maoris also proved violent, but Cook was impressed with the Maoris’ bravery and their spirit. Furthermore, he recognized the great potential of this newfound land so he claimed it for the British crown before sailing on to Australia. New Zealand was originally seen as an offshoot of Australian enterprise in whaling and sealing.
However, increased European settlement soon proved problematic: a policy was urgently required regarding land deals between the settlers (Pakeha) and the Maori. In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, with the Maori ceding sovereignty of their country to Britain in exchange for protection and guaranteed possession of their lands.
But relations between the Maori and Pakeha soon got worse as the Maoris became increasingly alarmed at the effect the Pakeha had on their society. The Northland War of 1844 interrupted the treaty and by 1860 a war broke out that continued for much of the decade. The fighting eventually died down and though there was no formal resolution, the Pakehas claimed victory.
By the late 19th century, the discovery of gold had engendered much prosperity. Sheep farming also made New Zealand an efficient and mostly self-reliant country. The European settlers were people looking for a much better lifestyle than the one they left behind and were well aware of the backbreaking work they’d have to put in to make a viable living from the virgin country. Kiwi staunchness and resourcefulness have not had a chance to have been bred out in history less than 300 years old and it still shows today.
Before establishing farms and settlements, they had to first clear the land – a painstaking and sometimes dangerous activity. Their isolation and exposure to the elements forced these early New Zealanders to become hardy and multi-skilled. A small population meant co-operation was vital for survival. The artificial class structures of ‘home’ became irrelevant in such a rugged and young country. New Zealand was the first country to grant women the right to vote and has a strong trade union tradition.
New Zealanders have a background of quiet but rugged individualism, self-reliance, and a genius for invention — qualities still evident in the population today. While frozen meat, the Hamilton Jet boat, and the bungy jump are probably our most famous Kiwi inventions, there are many others. New Zealanders are also responsible for the tranquilliser gun, electric fences, freezer vacuum pumps, wide-toothed shearing combs and the electronic petrol pump to name a few. Today, New Zealanders are largely sophisticated and highly educated urban dwellers who still have that ‘no 8 wire fencing” mentality: If you haven’t got it, make something that will do the job – and usually better.
New Zealand was given dominion status in the British Empire in 1907 and granted autonomy by Britain in 1931; independence, however, was not formally proclaimed until 1947. In the last twenty years or so, New Zealanders have embraced the global economy and the latest technology. Per head of population, New Zealanders read the most newspapers, own the most boats and drive the most cars.
New Zealand still has a sizeable rural population and farming along with forestry is a major export earner. While the traditional exports of wool, meat, and dairy products are still very strong, new products, including Cervena (New Zealand venison), flowers, fruit, biotechnology, and wine are now also contributing greatly to our exports.
Like the rest of the population, the farming sector has diversified and embraced technology, making New Zealand one of the most productive and efficient agricultural producers in the world. New Zealand has absorbed the new culinary tastes, fashions, and lifestyles of the Pacific Rim and combined them with more traditional ones to produce a unique New Zealand identity which is internationally renowned.