Aotearoa is Māori

New Zealand in 1800 was a Māori world. Every corner of Aotearoa came within the interest and influence of iwi or hapū from the Muriwhenua iwi in the Far North, to Waitaha on Rakiura (Stewart Island), to Moriori on Rekohu (Chatham Island). Māori society was organised and maintained by a number of core beliefs. These beliefs pre-determined how Māori would interact with Europeans and also determined Māori expectations from contact.

Of the many estimates made by European observers, British navigator James Cook’s 1769 suggestion of 100,000 Māori is the most realistic. This estimate correlates well with the oral history of Māori regarding arrival and whakapapa (genealogy) and is also supported by palaeontological evidence and research. The Māori population grew in number in the later part of the 18th century, comfortably exceeding 100,000 by 1800. The Pākehā population in comparison numbered in the hundreds, comprising mainly whalers, sealers, and timber and flax traders.

Māori society was on the verge of massive change. The inter-tribal Musket Wars of 1818 to the early 1830s would have a dramatic impact on their population. Thousands of Māori would be killed with many more being enslaved or becoming refugees. Some iwi were decimated while others had their rohe (territorial boundaries) drastically altered.

Māori had no immunity to the diseases Pākehā introduced. As a result they spread rapidly, sometimes wiping out whole villages. Despite all of these factors, on the eve of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840 the Māori population of 70-90,000 still comfortably outnumbered the non-Māori population of approximately 2000.

Andy Glanville