The Maori people are the indigenous population of New Zealand and have been inhabiting the land long before the arrival of the Europeans. Though the community has seen its land usurped and numbers dwindle over the past centuries, even today they form a significant population of the country. The second largest ethnic group, the Maori population is 734,200 as of a 2017 estimate, making up roughly 15 percent of the population of the country. The 19th century witnessed a drastic fall in the Maori population, but the past few years have seen a revival of the community.
The history of the Maori population dates back to many centuries. The first evidence of a Maori settlement in New Zealand dates back to 1280 AD, which is referred to as the Archaic Period. The first people who migrated to what is today known as New Zealand came from Polynesia and came to be called the Maori. The initial Maori settlements centered around New Zealand’s coastlines as here the weather was much more favorable. With the passage of time, the Maoris began to make settlements in other parts of New Zealand and established a number of clans. As the land was devoid of mammals, barring marine animals and bats, the Maoris brought with them a number of animals such as rats and dogs.
The Maori continued with their way of life until the 18th century when the land saw the arrival of the Europeans. However, the land was sighted by Abel Tasman, a Dutch explorer, back in 1642. But the Europeans refrained from colonizing it at the time. In 1769, James Cook landed on the shores of New Zealand and thereby started a phase of European colonization. He informed the western world about the Maori people through his writings and drew maps of the land. The following years witnessed Europeans arriving on the soil of New Zealand in the form of traders, settlers, explorers, missionaries, etc.
The Europeans came face to face with the indigenous populations, leading to wars and conflicts over land. In 1840, a number of Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi. As per this treaty, parts of New Zealand came under the sovereignty of the British Crown. Nevertheless, confusion remained over the meaning of the treaty and in 1845 an uprising took place on the North Island. The uprising was headed by Hone Heke, a Maori chief. In 1847, the Maori rebellion was suppressed and peace ensued but lasted only until 1860, when war again broke out.
In 1857, several tribes rallied together and elected Te Wherowhero as their king and resolve was taken not to sell the Maori land to outsiders. In 1859, Te Teira, who was with significant land, sold it to the British government without taking the consent of his tribe, sparking another war. The war continued and in 1872, the British drove forced the then Maori leader Te Kooti to retreat. The war had a devastating effect on the Maoris and the community saw a significant decline in numbers due to disease and constant wars.
The Maoris have retained their culture which has come to be much appreciated across the globe. These include the greeting each other by rubbing the noses. Cooking food the ancient way on preheated stones or earth ovens. But among the most renowned is the Kapa haka. The traditional art has many forms such as posture dance, action songs, traditional chants etc. The haka has been adopted by the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby union team.