Over 1,000 years ago, voyagers from East Polynesia called the land of New Zealand 'Aotearoa', land of the long white cloud. The ancestors of today's Maori had once lived in 'iwi' (tribes) based on kin networks and adapted well to the environment. By 1200, both the North and South Islands were prospective settlement areas. The Maori utilised the exuberant natural resources for food and trade, thus developing a rich culture.
In 1642, some European navigators came across this plot of landmass. By this time, most Maori dwelled in the warm climate of the upper North Island. Dutchman Abel Tasman anchored offshore during this period naming the country Staten Landt first, then Nieuw Zeeland later. In 1769, Englishman James Cook visited the coast, engaged in trade activities with the Maori, and claimed the land for the British.
By 1840, almost 2,000 Europeans (Pakeha) lived among a Maori population of 100,000. Also in that year, 500 chiefs signed the Treaty Of Waitangi retaining proprietorship of natural resources but giving up the right to govern the British Crown. Till today, the Treaty still pose high importance to both the Maori and Pakeha. It was a treaty that joined the British and Maori as one nation, adding much cultural significance to the nation.
More British settlers arrived in the late 1840s and 1850s to establish towns and clear land for farms. Clashes between the Maori and these new settlers resulted in a war during the 1860s, which ended with a land and population loss in the Maori society. From the 1860s, a gold rush saw a boom in British settlers. Roads, railways, and public buildings were constructed and national education proceeded. Other European and Australian migrants arrived to join the towns and develop farmland.
Economic depression in the 1880s sired social and economic changes. New Zealand led the world in granting votes to women, wages were regulated, and old-age pensions began. Maori political leaders sustained a Maori renaissance that started earlier under the influence of the Maori King movement and religious prophets. Health and welfare improved and the Maori population rose. In the first and second World War, both Maori and Pakeha soldiers fought alongside the British, fostering closer ties between these very distinct cultures.
In the late 1920s, world wide economic depression struck New Zealand. This spurred increasing unemployment and poverty worsened. Expanding state welfare from the late 1930s helped bring the economy back.
Urbanisation and economic affluence signified post-war New Zealand. Birth rates mounted and the population also increased due to immigration from Britain and Europe in the 1950s and later from the Pacific Islands and Asia.
Women began to rise from their nutshell and worked outside the home. Equal pay was introduced in 1972.
Inflation and unemployment augmented and expenditure on social welfare increased with the introduction of National Superannuation (1976) and a range of other income support measures. The mid-1980s saw profound changes in foreign affairs and the economy. New Zealand was proclaimed nuclear-free, the economy was opened by free-market policies, and the role of government was revised.
At present, New Zealand is a unique amalgamation of South Pacific and European cultures with a national identity of its own.
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