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History of New Zealand: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jonathan Crocker
New Zealand has become famous in recent years as the filming location for movies from 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings' series. But the real history of New Zealand is older and more fascinating than anything you'd see in the movies!

Hobbit House in New Zealand
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The First New Zealanders

The Maori people first arrived in New Zealand over 700 years ago. Maori are Polynesian people; they settled in New Zealand after traveling well over 1,000 miles of open ocean in large canoes. Can you imagine such a journey?

Map showing Polynesian migrations through the Pacific
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A Time of Change

Europeans first made contact with the Maori in 1642. Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first sighted New Zealand. But when he and his crew tried to go ashore, the Maori resisted. A fight ensued and Tasman fled. Now that Europeans were aware of it, New Zealand found its way onto Dutch maps as New Zeeland, named after the Dutch province of Zeeland.

It wasn't until 1769 that Europeans returned. Captain James Cook (from Britain) mapped the coast, and more Europeans followed, bringing new trade items (including metal tools, weapons, and crops such as potatoes) as well as diseases. Just like in the Americas, European diseases killed many native inhabitants. Because of these diseases (and warfare), the Maori population dropped by roughly half by the end of the 1800s.

New Zealand formally came under control of the British Empire in 1840. At that point, both French settlers and the New Zealand company (a private company trying to buy as much land as possible) inspired the Maori to ask the British government for protection. A treaty was signed, and New Zealand became its own colony the following year. In the 1850s, they formed a parliament (group of lawmakers) and began to govern themselves.

During this time of transition, things were not always peaceful within New Zealand. As more British colonists moved in and the government tried to help them buy farmland, some Maori tribes disagreed with the sales and fought to keep their land. At first, they were very successful. But after they won some battles, the British sent over 18,000 troops to New Zealand. The fighting continued until 1872, with the Maori losing much of their land.

New Zealand in Modern Times

Sheep in New Zealand
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