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‘Aotearoa’ invalid says new history book

Penguin Books (N.Z.) Limited


News Release
For immediate release
13 October 2003

‘Aotearoa’ invalid says new history book

Aotearoa was not the traditional Maori name for New Zealand, historian Michael King says in his new Penguin History of New Zealand, published today.

Instead, he writes, Aotearoa was selected and popularised as a Maori name for the country by such Pakeha writers as William Pember Reeves and Stephenson Percy Smith, and by the Department of Education’s School Journal.

‘In the pre-European era, Maori had no name for the country as a whole,’ Dr King writes. ‘Polynesian ancestors came from islands, and it was to islands that they gave names: Te Ika a Maui or the Fish of Maui for the North Island, Te Waka a Aoraki (the Canoe of Aoraki) or Te Wai Pounamu (the Place of Greenstone) for the South Island.

‘Only a small number of tribes used the name Aotearoa, and that was in relation to the North Island, not the country as a whole.’

Dr King also notes that nobody knows who selected and conferred the name New Zealand. ‘Abel Tasman called the country Staten Land, believing that it was connected to Staten Island on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. When that was disproved, an unknown cartographer in the Dutch East India Company chose New Zealand, to match the name New Holland, which was what the east coast of Australia was called in the middle of the seventeenth century.’

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