How are the New Zealand natives

It's a terrifying picture. Muscle-packed men hit each other with both hands on the chest and on the thighs, all in unison, as a unit. Their expressions are dark, their eyes wide. They try to intimidate their opponents with booming chants. The sticking out tongue means: I'll eat you with skin and hair. It's a show of strength and determination. But this seemingly archaic scene does not take place in the distant past, somewhere in the jungle - but on the light-flooded field of a rugby stadium. The All-Blacks, the national team of New Zealand, open their game with the Haka, the traditional Māori war dance.
The Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have always been fighters. Long before the arrival of the Europeans, they fought bitter battles for food and land. Unlike the North American Indian tribes and the Australian Aborigines, the Māori were able to successfully prevail against the white conquerors. That is why today they are probably the most socially integrated indigenous population in the world. Nevertheless, they still suffer from the former oppression and repression by the Europeans and their lives are still characterized by discrimination and limited political influence.

The ephemeral paradise

The Māori arrived in New Zealand around eight hundred years ago. On their voyages of discovery, they had traveled many thousands of kilometers across the Pacific Ocean in large canoes. Nobody knows exactly where they came from: Their home islands, which they called Hawaiki, could have been today's Samoa or the Cook Islands. But much more important to the Māori than the exact location is the mythological meaning of their origin. Hawaiki is considered a source of spiritual power and a symbol for the origin of life. When the legendary explorer of New Zealand, Kupe, first saw the country, he called it Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. At first it seems like a paradise to the Polynesians because there is food in abundance. Especially the huge moa birds, up to three and a half meters tall and weighing 250 kilograms, are easy prey. However, the new residents underestimate the vulnerability of the ecosystem - with dramatic consequences: just a few decades after their arrival, the Māori have completely exterminated the moas. This makes finding food more and more difficult. In their distress, people steal food from neighboring tribes and try to control as much of the land as possible. War becomes a strategy for survival.

Cultural development

The struggle for survival also has many positive developments as a result: to protect people and supplies from raids, fortresses are built. These Pā are villages in a strategically favorable location, for example on a hilltop, which are surrounded by powerful fences made of sharpened tree trunks. With these forts, the Māori developed not only tactics of defense and warfare, but also agricultural agriculture. The Pā residents clear the surrounding forests and plant sweet potatoes, kumara. The elders declare certain places and animal species to be tapu, i.e. taboo, in the sense of sacred and forbidden; a word that has its origins in the Polynesian language. This early form of nature conservation serves to sustainably secure one's own livelihood.
During this time of tribal conflicts, many formative elements of Māori culture develop, such as the war dance and the greeting rituals between neighboring tribes. The art of carving and jewelry made of precious, dark green jade, pounamu, are also gaining in importance. Both are expressions of prestige and pride. The ornate meeting houses, the so-called marae, are the social and cultural center of the Māori. They are a temple, a ballroom and a parliament in one. This is where the entire clan meets for political debates, weddings and welcoming ceremonies. It is a place where people revere their ancestors, express respect and esteem for others and internalize and live out their own identity.

A new enemy: the Pākehā

Finally, in the late 17th century, Europeans Abel Tasman and James Cook discovered New Zealand - and just a few decades later, whalers, seal hunters and Christian missionaries settled here. First of all, the peoples live together peacefully, and this has advantages for the Māori: They benefit, among other things, from advances in agriculture and improved medical treatment. But the newcomers also bring diseases like flu and measles with them, which kill thousands because they have no defenses against them. And the Europeans import firearms with which the Māori kill each other: around 50,000 indigenous people died in the musket wars between 1805 and 1843. About half of the original indigenous population perished during the first fifty years after the arrival of Europeans. The more Europeans stay in New Zealand and claim land for themselves, the more difficult the relationship between Māori and the Pākehā, the "visitors who came and never went", becomes. Because of the traditional tribal feuds, the indigenous people lack the necessary cohesion. That is why the immigrants succeed in occupying more and more lands or buying off individual tribes - even those that do not belong to their own property.

The Waitangi Treaty

It is an impressive sight: on February 6, 1840, almost one hundred Māori chiefs from many parts of the country gather in front of the residence of British officer James Busby. They wear magnificent robes made of bird feathers and plaited New Zealand flax, intricately carved spears, jewelry made of jade and whale bones. Their elaborate mokos, the traditional face tattoos, testify to their rank and tribal affiliation. Opposite them, just as dressed up, are British officers in decorated uniforms. In front of them, on a table: the English flag with an important piece of paper on it. It is the Waitangi Treaty that recognizes the Māori rights to property and land use, gives them civil rights of Great Britain and transfers sovereignty to the English crown. The negotiations dragged on for many hours. The tribal leaders have heated discussions among themselves and the translators have their hands full making the officers understand what is being said. A grim-looking chief steps forward and confronts the English: With what right do you Europeans lay claim to the government of our country? How do we get if we sign your contract? And what advantages do you expect from it?

Violence and oppression

After all, the Waitangi Treaty is considered a great success. But, as is so often the case, the devil lies in the details: The versions of the treaty written in English and Māori differ, for example, in the terms used for sovereignty over the country. While from the British perspective all power is to be ceded to the English royal family, the Māori believe that they are merely ceding the government of the state to the English, without interfering in their own affairs. And: the Europeans break the treaty again and again. This leads to violent clashes and conflicts that continue to this day. In 2010, Māori owned only around six percent of the total land area. Every year on Waitangi Day, a public holiday in New Zealand, there are protests by Māori groups expressing their frustration at the social disadvantage and the lack of compensation for the land grab. On the other hand, there are numerous Pākehā who believe that money is constantly being thrown at the indigenous people. There is no hesitation in marketing their culture for tourism, an industry that brings the New Zealand economy $ 63 million a day.

The new self-confidence

The fact that the Māori have been able to preserve their cultural and spiritual identity to this day is mainly due to their pride and defense. Had the colonialists prevailed, the Māori culture would probably have been wiped out within a few generations. Their language, Te Reo Māori, was banned in schools and its use was even punishable from 1867 to the 1960s. As a result, only four percent of New Zealanders and about one in four Maori are fluent in Te Reo today. It has only been the official language of New Zealand alongside English since 1987. There are now numerous sponsorship programs, speeches or welcoming ceremonies on official occasions on Te Reo, as well as radio and television stations whose programs are broadcast exclusively in the Māori language.
In the meantime, however, one can study the cultural heritage and the history of the Māori at the New Zealand educational institutions, the language is taught in many schools and the traditional welcoming ceremony, the pōwhiri, is far more than a highlight of the animation program for tourists, but an integral part of international conferences and opening events. Especially when it comes to sport, all New Zealanders come together, because when competing against teams from other countries they see themselves as a unit. The New Zealanders adore their rugby team, the All Blacks. They admire the traditional war dance at the opening of the game, which has become their trademark - and thus the trademark of the country. At such moments they forget whether they are Māori or Pākehā, the white "visitors who came and never went". At this moment they all belong here, in the small country at the end of the world.