Back in the pre-European times, the local inhabitants of our fair land were fond of telling stories about, among other things, where and whence they came from. This of course is nothing new as all countries have oral traditions. Most of course had written traditions as well but in the case of New Zealand, that only came once the European settlers arrived.
So in the grand scheme of things, the jotting down of the ancient history of the Maori people came a bit late. That’s not to say it was incorrectly written down or anything, but rather it just goes to show that what was written down by people such as Governor Grey when he took the time to compile his 1855 book, Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race, was of course a snapshot of traditional oral histories up to that point.
I imagine Governor Grey must be revered by some Maori for his years-long toil of searching out, clarifying, writing down and publishing their stories. Without his, and others efforts to amass this information, one might wonder how those oral traditions might have become bastardised over the years and no longer reflect the true nature of those stories. I imagine there will be a few Maori who would quite like a statue of him put up in reverence!
Without people like Grey, we might not understand for instance that some ancient Maori used to call a part of New Zealand Aotea, or later, Aotearoa. Whether that name was just for Great Barrier Island, the entire North Island, certain parts of the King Country or simply a marae a little to the east of Otorahonga I guess will always be a bone of contention, but at least he took the time to write it all down.
Those old writings also show us that when William Pember Reeves published his own version of the history of NZ, The Long White Cloud Ao-tea-roa in 1898 that some of the ancient stories or indeed their interpretations, differ.
Stephenson Percy Smith of course wrote his own stories, many of which have since been discredited as inaccurate, or in some cases, such as The Great Fleet theory, simply made up, but at the time, he was venerated for his good work.
Knowing all this it seems very odd to me that some people (or is it just the media?) would like to change the name of New Zealand to Aotearoa. Words change over time, I get that. New words get invented all the time too. Maori never had a word for Madagascar but hey, there is one now (Marakahia apparently).
The push for the renaming of our country has of course been going on for some time. A petition was compiled in 2019 encouraging the name change. Your illustrious Green Party job-sharing leader Marama Davidson even presented it to parliament, complete with all 6310 signatures.
What I find most interesting about that petition though was that it was asking for a referendum on the matter, with the initiator Danny Tahau Jobe suggesting on Breakfast that he was asking for a referendum because he believed New Zealanders should have the choice.
Some of course have done a complete about turn. Stuff in 2009 had a scathing article titled Aotearoa – A European Hoax! It’s actually a good read so make sure you take the time to click on the link and have a wee look.
Strenuous attempts have been made to try to link Aotearoa to pre-European usage. Frankly, it is all bollocks.Stuff – Aotearoa a european hoax. 18 Feb 2009.
In 2013, Maurice Williamson had a look at formalising the Maori names for the North and South Islands. These names, Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu, of course were in much more common usage by Maori in pre-European times but even these changes were subject to a reasonably rigorous three months of consultation which resulted in rather high 2600 responses before the changes were ratified.
It is interesting to note that the names ‘North Island’ and ‘South Island’ had also never been formalised so that situation was righted at the same time as the Maori versions were officially inked in.
Well I for one think Danny Jobe was right, we should be looking at a referendum for such a major change, and I think it would behove one of our Opposition MP’s to get the discussion started. They would of course be labeled ‘racist’ but hey, needs must.
In the meantime, if you think that we should be drawing a line, that our name New Zealand is fine, and would like to show your preference for keeping the status quo, then I would like to make you a little offer.
Thanks to commenter Asian-Driver, I have 100 bumper stickers to give away. If you would like a couple, please feel free to email me at [email protected] dot co dot nz with some sort of a name and an address and I will pop some in the mail for you. (There is no charge for this, consider it a gift from a slightly dodgy ex-copper and I promise I won’t keep your details for anything nefarious!)
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