Abel Tasman – Aotearoa’s first Manuhiri Tuarangi
Friday, February 21, 2014
Abel Tasman - Aotearoa’s first Manuhiri Tuarangi – visitor from the other side of the sky.
A little over 372 years ago, on a summers day in the middle of the kumara season, Abel Tasman and his Dutch crew saw a new land, and came face to face with Maori for the first time. 'towards noon[we]saw a large land, uplifted high, had it south-east from us about miles'.
At the time, the ship was opposite Punakaiki, just north of Greymouth.
Many have speculated what that first encounter would have been like. The vessels in which the two peoples sailed could not have been more different, and the men in the ships would appeared equally unfamiliar. We know that understanding between the two groups was all but impossible, and with this came tragedy – there were dead on both sides before any Dutchman had stepped ashore. History has not recorded how Maori understood these pale skinned people, but some have speculated that they may have thought Tasman wasPatupaiarehe - fair-skinned fairy folk or ghosts, who were feared because they took women and children away.
Tasman and his crew did record the journey and that first arrival, both in words and drawings in the ship’s log. A full sized facsimile of the log is held in the research library of the Maritime Museum. It is a beautiful object and remains our primary source of understanding of Abel Tasman’s journey here. He describes Aotearoa – which he named ‘Staten Landt’ as a ‘very fine land’.
Tasman and the Zeehan didn’t stay long; they worked their way up the north island and departed after only a few week in January 1643, heading into the Pacific to Tonga, Fiji, New Guinea and back to Europe.
Abel Tasman never returned to New Zealand, but he has left an indelible legacy. Europeans had a ‘ragged line’ on the chart to indicate this far off land. This undoubtedly opened the door for subsequent explorers such as Captain James Cook and other Europeans.