New Zealand was the last significant land mass outside of the Arctic and Antarctic to be settled. Scientific evidence suggests New Zealand’s first permanent settlements were established somewhere between 1250 and 1300.
It is believed the first migrants who sailed to Aotearoa – New Zealand from East Polynesia were the ancestors of the Māori people.
For most Sri Lankan migrants reading this, their navigation of the 10,917 km trip to Aotearoa – New Zealand would have been in the relative comfort of one of the Airbus 300 series or similar type of passenger aircrafts equipped with latest technology these Airbus machines are a far cry from the waka hourua (double hulled voyaging canoe) the first Maori used to find their way to this beautiful country.
According to the people of Ngāpuhi (Māori tribe of the Far North), the first explorer to reach Aotearoa was their intrepid ancestor, Kupe. Legend has it that Kupe used the stars and ocean currents as his navigational guides, he ventured the nearly 7500 km trip across the Pacific from his mythical ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki to New Zealand in his waka the Matawhaorua . It is thought that Kupe made landfall at the Hokianga Harbour in Northland, around 1000 years ago.
Some tribal narratives account that due to fish stocks being low at the time, this forced Kupe and his wife Kuramārōtini along with their companion Ngake to leave Hawaiki to pursue a large octopus across the Pacific ocean, eventually landing in New Zealand for resupply. Kupe’s wife is credited with naming Aotearoa, meaning “long white cloud” after seeing the clouds that formed over the North Island.
It is thought that Kupe stayed in New Zealand for about 20 years before returning home to Hawiaki aboard the Matawhourua.
Roughly 30 years later, under leadership of Kupes grandson Nukutawhiti, the canoe was significantly renovated to carry more passengers and renamed Ngātokimatawhaorua. Prior to embarking on the trip Nukutawhiti had memorised his grandfather’s navigational instructions knowing of by heart the star path to follow to get back to New Zealand.
While Hawaiki does not physically exist, many scholars believe it is Polynesian spiritual homeland of the Maori and refers to not just one island but many islands that are inhabited with native peoples of Polynesia.
More recently there has been a revival of these traditional navigation skills. Kaumoana ( mariners , crew members) have sailed double-hulled waka across the Pacific ocean guided only by traditional methods.
By Anthony Lagan – Wellington