It is believed that Maori people are the first settlers of New Zeeland, who migrated from eastern Polynesia during 1250 and 1300 CE. These people arrived in many canoe expeditions and settled in New Zeeland or Aotearoa at that time (Wishart, 2012). However, Maoris lived in isolation for more than a few centuries, but after that, they emerged as the settlers having a distinctive culture with unique language, mythology amazing performing arts and crafts. In their early years, Maoris were tribal and their customs were based on eastern Polynesian style, but later they developed a warrior culture. According to census in New Zeeland, the Maori population was recorded at 600,000 people, which make approximately 15% of the total population of the country (Stats NZ, 2017).
Multiple Theories of Arrival of Maori
Though Maori’s arrival was assumed to be from Eastern Polynesia, various other early settlers in 18th century speculated that Maori tribe is the descendant of ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks (Hill, Cook & Hilliam, 2012).
Another theory that emerged in the 18th century was about the links of Maori ancestors from Israel’s lost tribe. These theories keep on changing and continued till 19th century when the ideas about the Caucasian or Aryans came into being. These ideas were applied to the Maori’s arrival in New Zealand (Tregear, 1885). The theorist suggested that people from Southeast Asia, who were called Aryans, migrated to India and then to Pacific Islands that include New Zeeland as well.
On the lines of these theories, the Moriori people in 20th century was considered the successors of early Maori tribal, but they were earlier thought to be the settlers from Melanesia and not from Polynesia (Hill, Cook & Hilliam, 2012).
However, none of these theories have strong evidences and even the modern archaeologists have provided the details about the exact origin and migration of the Maoris. But many writers speculated on their arrival and many of them had written that Maoris were not the earliest settlers in New Zeeland, the island was first discovered by Egyptians or Greeks called “Celts”.
In another controversial discovery, a Ngaphui elder, David Rankin, pointed towards Maori legends and claimed that Maoris were not the early settlers as fair-skinned people were already settled in the Island. He claimed that academics did not want any inquiry in this regard hence suppressed this detail in their literature. However, his claim was rubbished by the historians (Quilliam, 2012).
In spite of several theories by New Zeeland’s early visitors and historians, the current status of the Maori tribe is that these people are from Southeast Asia and these are Polynesian people. Kupe was the first Polynesian explorer who reached New Zeeland about 1000 years ago. It is believed that Kupe travelled from Hawaiki, a Polynesian island, though this island is nowhere in the map. Maoris are strongly believed from Polynesia due to the established facts about similarities between their culture and language with Southeast Asian islands of Tahiti, Hawaii and Cook Island. As soon as Kupe settled on the island, Waka tribal people followed him over several hundred years and settled in different parts of New Zeeland. Historians believed that this migration of Maoris from Polynesia was deliberate and planned as these tribal used to make return visits on frequent basis to Hawaiki. Even in existing New Zeeland, their traces are present in relation to Hawaiki and waka tribe (Murton, 2012).
The life of Maoris started changing in 17th century when Europeans arrived and settled in New Zeeland. Maoris adopted the culture of Western society and after the amicable relations with the Europeans initially, they signed a treaty in 1840 merged the two cultures in a British Colony (Dyall et al., 2013).