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New Zealand: Culture, History & Facts

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over a few cool tidbits about New Zealand. You'll learn some important facts about it, a brief history of it, and some cool cultural insights into it.

New Zealand

New Zealand, a country immediately to the east of Australia is perhaps on the top of every world traveler's must see places. It is an island nation that is known for its incredible nature, and amazing culture.

Let's go over some cool facts about the country, as well as a little bit about its history and culture.

Facts

As you just learned, New Zealand is right next to Australia. It's sandwiched in between the Tasman Sea to its west and the Pacific Ocean to its east. It has a total area of about 104,500 square miles and a population of around 4.7 million people in 2017. Its main languages are English and Maori and its main religions are Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

New Zealand is the island in green.
New Zealand in green

The country's capital is Wellington and its technical head of state is still the British Monarch. However, it is the Prime Minister who really runs the show in this parliamentary democracy. Most of the country's residents live in cities. In fact, about a third of this country's citizens, called Kiwis, live in or near the city of Auckland.

The currency they use in New Zealand is known as the New Zealand Dollar and the GDP per capita , or average income per person, in 2017 is about $20,000 USD. The country's native people are called the Maori.

History

It's not clear exactly when the Maori's ancestors, and thus first people in New Zealand, arrived. It's estimated that Polynesians reached its shores sometime around the 13th century. They most likely made it to this land on canoes and, at first, settled on the coast. At the time, they hunted large flightless birds called moas, unfortunately to the point of extinction. Later on, these settlers moved inland and built villages and cultivated their own crops. Eventually, these people became very skilled at agriculture, weaving, building canoes, and warfare.

Moa.
Moa

The first European to spot this land was a Dutchman known as Abel Janszoon Tasman. He passed by New Zealand in December of 1642. It wasn't until around 1769 that famed explorer James Cook fully mapped the islands of New Zealand and even made contact with the Maori.

Within a century, New Zealand had become an important regional economic hub for both the Europeans and the Maori that did business with them. Timber, whaling, and sealskins were just some of the ways that early settlers made their living.

Of course, missionaries were not far behind the traders and by 1850, most Maori had converted to one form of Christianity or another. Besides losing their traditional religious ways, the Maori also adopted European warfare technologies and devastated one another in inter-tribal conflict as well as conflict with the Europeans. Add to this the new diseases the Europeans brought with them to the islands and the Maori's numbers fell even further, hand in hand with their traditional ways of life.

By 1841, New Zealand had become a British Colony. The British government helped pave the way for many British people to immigrate to New Zealand. This wasn't without problems, however, as tensions between the settlers and indigenous tribes led to armed conflict.

Eventually, much of New Zealand's beautiful forests were cleared for agriculture and New Zealand became an important supplier of meat and dairy products for Britain.

Notably, in 1893, New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote.

Despite being a relatively small nation that was far away from the troubles of the 20th century, New Zealand still sent many people to fight in World War I and World War II. However, due to the U.K.'s losses in the Pacific theater during the latter war, it was the United States that protected the country against the Japanese. This association is why some New Zealanders even fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

In the 1970s and 1980s, New Zealand hit a serious economic rough patch where inflation and unemployment ballooned and many people emigrated to neighboring Australia.

Culture

New Zealanders are very friendly people who love to crack jokes and love to make friends over meals. Maybe that meal will be a traditional Maori one, which would include the likes of meat, seafood, and vegetables cooked in an umu, which is an earthen oven. Such a meal is called hangi.

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