Sunday, August 31, 2008

Christchurch – Past & Present #3 High & Colombo Streets

The intersection of High, Colombo, and Hereford Streets, just south of Cathedral Square, has been a busy place since the earliest days of Christchurch’s settlement. (click on pics for larger view).

Looking South-east on High Street (top), circa 1910, with hansom cabs in front of The City Hotel on right side of street; The City Hotel (bottom), built in 1862.

A constant landmark since 1880 to the present is the Fisher Building, on the left hand corner of High & Hereford Streets, shown in both these pictures (above) on the left. High Street is now a pedestrian mall down to Cashel Street. A fountain has replaced the cabs outside the previous location of the City Hotel. Left hand picture from 1910s, right hand picture, 2007.

I doubt he remembers it, but many years ago my eldest brother dropped the Christmas ham off the back of his bike at this intersection. I know because, from one of the city's big red buses, I saw traffic weaving around him as he retrieved the ham, and our Christmas. The things one remembers from one's childhood...

One of those Big Reds clears the intersection, going north into the Square.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

New Zealand Universities Place on World 500 List

Five of New Zealand’s eight universities - Auckland, Otago, Canterbury, Massey and Victoria - have placed on Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s annual list of the top 500 universities in the world.

New Zealand ranked first in terms of value for money, being able to produce top universities at a rate of 25 top institutions per 1% of global GDP compared to Britain’s 8.57 and the United States’ 5.5.

New Zealand is second only to Sweden on a per head of population basis in producing top universities on the list.

New Zealand Union of Students' Associations co-president Paul Falloon is reported as observing that: "It's pretty good to know that, just like Olympic medals, we are able to punch above our weight." But he also questioned how sustainable these achievements might be in the resource-constrained university system.

Meat on the Table - Maori Cannibalism Revisited

Anne Salmond's three books - Two Worlds, Between Worlds, and The Trial of the Cannibal Dog - are sophisticated, nuanced accounts of first contacts between Maoris and Pakeha (Europeans).

Kahura, Maori Chief at Grass Cove, 1773,

Self-confessed cannibal

In The Trial of the Cannibal Dog (2003), Salmond explores how Captain Cook's sailors, outraged at his lack of reprisal for the cannibalism of fellow sailors at Grass Cove on a previous voyage, put a kuri or Maori dog owned by a shipmate on trial (the dog kept nipping shipmates) - then ate it - and had the shipmate owner of the dog unwittingly eat a meal of it.

Salmond looks at this mock trial from the cultural perspective of both the English/European and Maori worlds. In 18th century European eyes, dogs and cats were familiars of witches and even if the owner was not a witch, the animals were seen as representatives of their owners. Thus, to eat a dog was akin to cannibalism.

Each side trying to come to terms with a foreign culture may subconsciously begin to absorb and adopt elements of the other's culture. The English seamen, who spend more time in Polynesia than England in the years of their voyages, end up adopting the Maori cultural practice of utu (revenge) in order to restore their mana (prestige) but combine this act with a mock English trial for the crime of cannibalism.

Cook's "enlightened", tolerant approach to conflict with Maori and other Polynesians was to forbid the use of deadly force by his men unless they were in imminent danger. This led to much conflict and resentment from a number of Cook’s officers and crew. From a Maori perspective, Cook's failure to take revenge meant to Maori that he and his men were taurekareka - people without mana or spiritual power, no better than slaves, and this exposed them to further aggressive acts. Salmond argues that this incident sowed the seeds of discord between Cook and his crew as well as with Polynesians on this, Cook's final and fatal voyage in the Pacific.

So, I reiterate from an earlier recent post that recent historical work has indeed dealt with the issue of Maori cannibalism. Sure, there are those hacks in Maoridom and the Pakeha world that may ignore or exclude cannibalism in their work & romanticize pre-European Maori, but there continues to be serious scholarly work that explores the violence and cannibalism of Maori. And Maori did not have a monopoly on violence, Europeans proved rather more adept at it on a larger scale. Sadly, it's the dark side of the human condition not confined to any particular ethnic group.

In other words, there’s more than enough blame to go around on all sides.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What’s In A Name? The Godwit or Kuaka

The bar-tailed Godwit or Kuaka

The bar-tailed godwit or kuaka, its Maori name, is a migratory bird that spends the southern summers in New Zealand then migrates northwards to Alaska, via China, Japan, and South Korea, for the breeding season, returning in the southern spring. Its trans-Pacific migration includes one of the longest known non-stop migratory paths.

In preparation for its migration the godwit puts on 60%–70% of its weight. By departure 55% of its weight is fat since fat is both light and yields eight times more energy than muscle protein. While seasonal changes in day-length trigger hormonal changes to initiate migratory preparations, the godwit’s navigation over such long trans-Pacific flights is thought to be guided by a combination of cues, including the earth’s magnetic map, sun angles, star movements, flock behaviour and memory, and landmarks to correct its course as it travels.

In 2007, the inimitable “E7”, her tag reference for satellite tracking, posted a trans-Pacific journey of 18,000-mile-long (29,000 km) series of flights tracked by satellite, including the longest non-stop flight recorded for a land bird.

E7’s Remarkable Trans-Pacific Journey

Source: US Geological Survey Alaska Science Center

On 17 March 2007, E7 departed Miranda in the North Island of New Zealand, flying non-stop to Yalu Jiang, China, completing the 6,300-mile-long flight in about eight days. After a 5 week stopover, she departed on 1 May for the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta in western Alaska. On this five day 4,500 mile non-stop leg of her journey, she crossed the Sea of Japan, Northern Pacific, and the end of the Alaska peninsula.

The breeding grounds in Alaska are tundra, moss and swamps, rich in insects that the godwits feed on. Godwits almost always lay 4 eggs and the chicks can fly after about 29 days, with the parents leaving the chicks soon thereafter. After breeding, the godwits move to the shorelines and estuaries along the Alaskan coast to fatten up on shellfish and sea worms for the return flight to New Zealand.

The most remarkable flight of E7 was her return journey to New Zealand – some 7,200 miles non-stop in eight days from Alaska to New Zealand. It is longest non-stop flight recorded for a land bird.

Since kuaka are land birds, they are unable to stop to eat or drink while flying over open-ocean. The constant flight speeds at which E7 was tracked by satellite indicate she did not stop on land.

On her arrival back in New Zealand, E7 touched down at a spot just 8 miles east of where she had been tagged before she started her pan-Pacific journey.

It’s estimated that over the course of a 20 year lifetime, a godwit’s migratory mileage could top 288,000 miles.

In addition to locations in the North Island such as Manukau and Kaipara Harbours, and the Firth of Thames, the kuaka roost in large colonies at Farewell Spit and the Avon-Heathcote Estuary in Christchurch in the South Island.

Every southern spring, a watch is kept for the harbingers of spring on the Avon-Heathcote Estuary. Upon the first arrival, the bells of the Christchurch Cathedral are rung for 30 minutes to herald their arrival.

Upon arrival, the kuaka appear bedraggled having exhausted their fat reserves during the long journey. Their roosting colony at the Estuary is on the South Shore Spit in South Brighton. The kuaka fan out to feed at lowtide, foraging over the mudflats and shoreline for molluscs, crabs, marine worms and aquatic insects, probing the mud with their long bills as the tide recedes.

The Avon-Heathcote Estuary – the godwit colony is at the southern tip of South Shore Spit

In February-March, the godwits are farewelled by residents of Christchurch as they leave on their northern journey.

Kiwis of the human kind in the far flung Kiwi diaspora around the globe might adopt the godwit or kuaka as their emblem. However far they may be from their multiple homes, they can look to this humble bird for inspiration on how to close the distance between them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Just Eat The Vegetables… Cannibalism in early New Zealand

Emile Rouargue’s fanciful illustration of Maori cannibalism, an illustration in a volume on French explorer Dumont D’Urville’s expedition to New Zealand. The artist is not known to have visited New Zealand. This illustration is on the cover of Moon’s This Horrid Practice – the title itself being Captain James Cook’s reference to cannibalism.

In This Horrid Practice, (Auckland: Penguin NZ, 2008), author Paul Moon argues that Maori cannibalism or kai tangata [human food] was more widespread and occurred later than many histories record. Moreover, in various radio & newspaper interviews launching his book, he charges revisionist historians have sanitized New Zealand histories in recent decades by ignoring or excluding discussion of cannibalism. This post will limit itself to the second claim and its factual accuracy.

Conceding for argument’s sake that political correctness in New Zealand has been widespread in recent decades, the charge that recent New Zealand general histories have denied or ignored the practice of cannibalism is a weak one not borne out by the facts.

Moon charges that Keith Sinclair’s A History of New Zealand (multiple editions) mentions cannibalism but once and that Michael King’s Penguin History of New Zealand (2003) omits any discussion of it at all.

A quick review of Sinclair’s history shows at least three separate references: quoting Maori anthropologist Terangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) as dryly commenting of the pre-European Maori that ” ’Human flesh was eaten when procurable’.” (p.18); that the inter-Maori musket wars of the 1820s “led to heavy casualties and cannibal feasts unprecedented in pre-European battles fought with stone weapons” (p. 42); and, that under the influence of the missionaries “Christian chiefs… gave up killing and cannibalism” (p. 45). It is clear from the tenor of Sinclair’s remarks that cannibalism was embedded within Maori culture and was practised on a large scale in the 1820s. A closer reading of Sinclair’s body of work would likely uncover further references to the role of cannibalism within Maori culture.

Turning to Michael King’s Penguin History of New Zealand, he certainly does examine the short, brutal lives of Maori, cut short often by premeditated acts of violence: “As Maori oral tradition recorded, and ancient burials have confirmed, elderly people, women and children, along with defeated male warriors, were periodic subjects for torture, killing and cannibalism.” (p. 87) King continues with an un-cited quote detailing the evidence of violence at a burial site in Palliser Bay that notes the site was hidden possibly to avoid desecration by enemies (pp. 87-89).

King also cites the Grass Cove incident of 1773 in which ten of Captain Cook’s crew were victims of Maori cannibalism to underscore the misunderstandings of first contacts between Maori and Europeans, despite Cook’s generally enlightened and moderate approach to indigenous peoples in the Pacific (p. 106).

One might be led to conclude, among other possibilities, that Moon’s consideration of these two general histories was limited to an act the first year student is cautioned against: the reading of a book’s index to a topic rather than a thoroughgoing reading of the work in question. A scholar has a higher duty yet - of familiarizing himself with the body of another’s work before making a full assessment.

Stepping back from King’s general history which of its nature means even for such a young country as New Zealand that many matters must be dealt with sketchily, in the context of his body of scholarship it is clear that King knew well and did not shy away from tackling the vexed issue of cannibalism.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in King’s Moriori (1989) in which he presents an authoritative account of the genocide, including cannibalism, of intertribal colonisation by mainland Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama Maori of the Chatham Island/Rekohu Moriori. King’s work was path-breaking in confronting a European or Pakeha myth that Moriori were an inferior, non-Maori group driven from the mainland; in challenging Maori accounts of the Moriori genocide; and, affirming Moriori as first peoples in Rekohu.

In Moriori, (for example, pp. 62-66), King quotes at length missionary Johannes Engst who collected the few surviving Moriori accounts of genocidal cannibalism: after death, “the heads were removed and thrown to the dogs, which gnawed off the best and buried the remainder for the next meal. Then the virile membrane [penis], having been cut off, was thrown to the women sitting around who ate this dainty morsel eagerly…. The heart, the most sought-after part of the whole body, was set aside for the chief guest…. When it [the flesh] had all been washed clean it was brought to the oven…. [Once cooked] they then laid the flesh compactly in small baskets, giving each person an individual portion.” (p. 65).

Did Sinclair and King ignore or deny the prevalence of cannibalism? Even their general histories suggest not.

If you don’t like the meat, just eat the vegetables…

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Last Voyage of the Loch Lomond – 1908 – Part 2

The Loch Lomond on the left, Geelong harbour, Victoria, Australia.

The waters around New Zealand have claimed over 2000 ships in the past two centuries. As recorded in a previous post in July, the barque Loch Lomond was one of them.

By 24th August 1908, the Loch Lomond carrying a cargo of coal was some 40 days out of Newcastle, Australia but had not reached its New Zealand port Lyttelton. The schooner Falcon had reported sighting a sailing barque in Cook Strait, separating the North and South Islands on 9th August. The unidentified barque was seen running before a southerly gale but newspaper reports declared that given a rash of bad weather it was not surprising the Loch Lomond had not yet arrived.

The commonly-held view at the time was that a search was unwarranted or too huge a task. The most likely fate of a sailing ship was that it was wrecked or having been dismasted by bad weather she foundered. If a sailing vessel was disabled something could normally be rigged to get it underway again. A sailing vessel could drift off course quickly compared to a disabled steamer so any search area could widen rapidly. Wireless telegraphy was not yet in use on New Zealand ships, another two years passing before the first marine radio being installed on a passenger steamer.

It was not until 5th September that the Union Company ordered its other vessels to keep a lookout for the Loch Lomond. No sightings were reported. In mid October reports began to come in from the north of the North Island of wreckage linked to the Loch Lomond. A fisherman found a lifebuoy bearing the Loch Lomond’s name off Great Barrier Island. In the next six weeks further wreckage including the name board of the Lock Lomond were located along the coastline of the northern tip of the North Island. Wreckage was recovered as far south as the Chatham Islands over 800 km due east of Christchurch on the South Island.

Reflecting how far flotsam can travel, nearly a year after it sailed from Australia, a further lifebuoy was recovered in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu today).

No sign of the 19 crew aboard the Loch Lomond was ever found despite searches to the north & south of New Zealand and along tran-Tasman steamer routes. Two theories were advanced to explain the ship’s fate – it was either wrecked or foundered somewhere off the north of the North Island or it suffered a similar fate after passing through Cook Strait with strong sea currents accounting for the distribution of wreckage recovered.

On 12th February 1909 the interisland steamer, SS Penguin sank near the entrance to Wellington Harbour in Cook Strait with the loss of 75 lives. This disaster overshadowed the loss of the Loch Lomond in New Zealand maritime history. This short account seeks to remember the Loch Lomond nineteen who might otherwise be lost to history.

Final New Zealand Olympic Count: $10 million a medal

Final Medal Count: Gold: 3 Silver: 1 Bronze: 5

Each medal cost the Kiwi taxpayer NZ$10 million (US$7.1 m or so) to place New Zealand 26th on the Beijing Olympic rankings & give it its most successful results in 20 years. Perhaps a small price by international standards.

But as Oscar Wilde chided: "A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing." Guts, glory, fame, patriotic fervour, success, achievement -- priceless, as a major credit card company would describe it, and then encourage you to spend up large for 2012...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Reserve Bank Seeks to Reassure Public Banking System is Sound

The Reserve Bank’s Head of Prudential Supervision, Toby Fiennes, told an Auckland business audience on Thursday that:

“the New Zealand financial system is fundamentally sound and continues to function well.

Our banks are navigating their way through the current turmoil well. Capital positions are well above the minimum levels required by regulation. Credit ratings remain strong. And loss provisioning is not abnormal for this point in the cycle.

The majority of institutions, accounting for over 90 percent of household financial assets, are not directly affected by these current events. These institutions are well capitalised businesses and give no apparent reason for concern.”

More than $3 billion of investor money is now at risk because of the collapse of the finance company sector in the last two years. Sagging investor confidence has also spread to other, higher-ranked, financial institutions, including ING, AMP and AXA which have all frozen funds after a run on funds.

The latest financial instability occurs against the backdrop of a weakening global economy, a low saving rate, and long term investor distrust of the sharemarket after New Zealand’s 1987 stockmarket crash that led to investors switching attention to the housing market. Combined with increased demand as migration has increased, this skewed investment pattern resulted in a speculative bubble in recent years. As in the US, that housing boom has come to an end with prices flattening out or falling. Mortgagee sales have increased markedly in recent months.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One Big Port?

Auckland Container Terminal

The Ports of Auckland Company has revived the idea of a merger between itself and the Port of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty. It’s opening gambit came in a comment by Jens Madsen, its managing director, that a takeover by Auckland of Tauranga’s container business would improve New Zealand’s supply chain, permitting ports to engage in new investment in port infrastructure.

About half of New Zealand’s exports by value are shipped through the two ports authorities, with Tauranga gaining a slight edge in 2007 (24.9 percent). On the import side, Auckland handles almost 50 percent of merchandise entering New Zealand. Together, based on 2007 data, a combined Auckland-Tauranga ports company would handle almost 57 percent of all international trade.

Port consolidation is being driven by pressure on port companies from large shipping lines such as Maersk, to counter rising costs with increased productivity generated by operating hub ports in the two or three major ports. Maersk carries about 60 per cent of New Zealand's container trade. Fonterra, New Zealand’s dairy cooperative multinational, which exports the bulk of dairy produce is one of Maersk’s top ten global customers. Maersk has been rumoured to be seeking an ownership stake in New Zealand ports in recent years.

In the South Island, the Ports of Lyttelton and Otago have held negotiations in recent years on possible takeover or merger deals. These were seen as defensive moves to counter Maersk’s perceived intent to select either one or the other port as its South Island hub. Smaller ports in both major islands would either serve as feeder ports to the hub ports, or lose significant traffic.

While concerns are being raised in New Zealand over the impact of an Auckland-Tauranga ports merger or takeover on competition, there seems to be little discussion of the role of a foreign-owned shipping conglomerate pressuring New Zealand port companies to engage in anti-competitive practices with consequences for both exporters, importers, and ultimately the average citizen. This is unremarkable, perhaps, given the historical context in which the shipping conference lines that carried the bulk of New Zealand’s exports in the past century acted as a cartel in setting shipping rates. More of the same (cosy deal), you might say.

Lyttelton - Container Cranes in far distance, inter-island coastal shipping,
Pacifica's Spirit of Competition roll-on, roll-off vessel in foreground.

Olympics - Board Sailing Gold to NZ

Gold: 3 Silver: 1 Bronze: 5

Boardsailor Tom Ashley won New Zealand's 3rd gold at Beijing by finishing third in the final race but ahead of the main contenders on a "fickle" course as a result of the changeable wind conditions on the course throughout the competition.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Stupid Is as Stupid Does...

Here's one for the stupid file.

Ted Walker of Auckland, NZ's largest city, has enjoyed his morning run through Cornwall Park for 15 years. On July 26 he ran past a cow that had recently calved. She attacked him, knocking him to the ground, kicking & head-butting him. For his troubles she left Ted with a broken arm and bruising over his body.

"I was absolutely terrified and scared witless," he says. "I thought it was all over. I quite literally thought she was going to kill me."

Docile cows - because humans ate their babies...

The area has signs up to caution visitors to stay away from cows during the calving season. Ted claims he always stayed away from cows but this one was on his running path. He wants to warn everyone to stay away from cows with calves.

Damn, townies.

Listen up, people: NEVER, EVER GET BETWEEN OR NEAR A MOTHER AND HER YOUNG!!! And that goes for all species...

This writer learned the lesson well in his younger years when a cow showed him how good a high jumper he could be as he cleared the stockyard top railing with a good six inches to spare. But he blames his farmer boss for that episode. Always know where your escape hatch is!

Message to Ted: find somewhere else to run! Avoid a herd of calving cows. A bull is far tamer.

How townies - in New Zealand or elsewhere - have forgotten their rural past. Don't expect the livestock to make allowances for you. You have to make allowances for them - you're supposed to be smarter after all...

Willis Posts a Bronze in 1500m in Beijing

As if to remember Jack Lovelock's 1936 gold in the same event, Nick Willis wearing the black singlet & silver fern won a bronze in the 1500 metres at Beijing on Tuesday night.

New Zealand Medal Count 19 Aug.

Gold: 2 Silver: 1 Bronze: 5

Jack Lovelock – New Zealand’s First Olympic Gold

Jack Lovelock wins the 1500m at the Berlin Olympics, 1936

Jack (John Edward) Lovelock, 1910-1949, was New Zealand’s first athlete to win an Olympic gold medal.

At the 1936 Olympics, in front of a crowd of 120,000 and Adolf Hitler, Lovelock demonstrated his trademark ‘Lovelock kick’ to accelerate to the lead in the 1500m race with 300m to go. Carving out a 5m lead, the rest of the frontrunners were unable to catch him.

The race has come to be widely regarded as one of the greatest of races of the modern Olympics.

Lovelock’s time of 3:47.8 was a new world record, shattering that of 1904 and only being broken once since in 1960. Equivalent to a 4:04.8 mile, it showed that a sub 4 minute mile was possible.

Like many New Zealanders who find themselves propelled to fame, Lovelock showed a reticence in public, but in his diary of that day in 1936 he allowed himself a rare moment of ebullience: "It was undoubtedly the most beautifully executed race of my career, a true climax to 8 years of steady work, an artistic creation."

Lovelock brought a more scientific & psychological approach to training and competitive racing. For example, he kept detailed training and nutritional records and monitored his physiological condition. But this scientific approach did not curb or mask the fact that he clearly loved running.

He was to prove an inspiration to a lineage of New Zealand middle and long distance runners down through the twentieth century. Peter Snell, Murray Halberg and John Walker all went on to Olympic and Commonwealth Games successes.

Coupled with his athletic accomplishments, Lovelock had distinguished himself academically while growing up in New Zealand. A Rhodes Scholar, he studied medicine at Oxford University in the 1930s while also training for his athletic career.

Sadly, Lovelock’s life was short. Just days before his 40th birthday he complained of dizziness while at work at the Manhattan Hospital for Special Surgery. On his way home he collapsed and fell under a New York subway train and was killed instantly.

New Zealand Olympic Medal Count

Gold: 2 Silver: 1 Bronze: 4

Bronzes added in the men's 4000m cycling pursuit and triathlon events.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Zealand's Best Day Ever at the Olympics

New Zealand finally got on the medal table at the Beijing Olympics, posting it's best ever tally of medals on a single day at an Olympics with 2 golds, a silver, and a bronze.

The Evers-Swindell twins, Caroline and Georgina, won the gold in a photo-finish win by 0.01 seconds in the womens double sculls rowing race. Later in the day, Valerie Vili took the gold in the women's shot-put, New Zealand's first track & field gold medal since 1976. Vili, who likes to intimidate competitors with a strong first throw, threw her personal best shot of 20 m 56 cm on her first throw which effectively shut out her Belarussian opponents.

In a gritty, bloody-minded effort, Mahe Drysdale, having battled illness for over a week, won a bronze in the men's single sculls. Leading with 100 m to go, Drysdale noticeably weakened & was overtaken by his Norwegian and Czech competitors. He collapsed immediately upon finishing and had to be carried to the medal ceremony after being given medical treatment.

New Zealand's silver medal was won by cyclist Hayden Roulston in the 4000m individual pursuit. Two years ago he was warned that he should quit cycling because of a heart condition, but made a comeback after he adopted the Japanese healing technique of reiki.

Rowing, cycling, and shot put are sports in which New Zealand has traditionally shown strength at the Olympics. A small country of just over 4 million, New Zealand is obviously a small player on the Olympics stage but it clearly has its moments sometimes way beyond what might be expected of a small nation and its athletes.

All Blacks Shut Out Springboks 19-0 in Tri-Nations

The All Blacks improved their chances of retaining the Tri-Nations rugby trophy by shutting out South Africa's Springboks in Capetown, 19-0. In yet another highly physcial, frantic-paced game between the two sides, the All Blacks came out on top with tries to Conrad Smith, Dan Carter, Keven Mealamu backed up by two conversions by Carter. These offset Carter's wobbly day in the goalkicking department in which he missed 7 goalkicking opportunities including 2 drop goal attempts. But it was just the day for a bad kicking game when other scoring opportunities were taken.

With games scheduled between Australia and South Africa over the next two weekends, it may come down to the final game between the All Blacks and Wallabies in Brisbane on Sept. 13 to decide the winner of the Tri-Nations, the southern hemisphere's international test rugby trophy. Current standings place the All Blacks on top with 14 points, Australia 9, and South Africa 5.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Founding Mothers

If the first humans arrived in Aoteroa-New Zealand around 1280 – 1300 AD, how many of them were there and where did they come from?

One approach to answering this question has been to combine genetic analysis with population dynamics to work back to an origin and estimate of the numbers of women of child-bearing age to produce a Maori population estimated to number around 100,000 in the early years of European or Pakeha settlement in New Zealand in the late eighteenth century.

Whyte et al analyzed the mutational changes in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) samples, known as “the Polynesian motif”, of Maori and Polynesian individuals. The low rate of diversity between the two groups mtDNA suggests that they are close ancestrally and the time since they developed in two separate locations is relatively brief – if by brief, one means 7-8 centuries. Since the mutations studied are found generally across Polynesia, no precise island location could be pinpointed as the starting point for the migration to New Zealand.

Adopting a population growth model incorporating the sigmoid (or S curve) population growth curve, Whyte et al ran computer simulations that would result in the known estimate of a total Maori population by the time of European settlement.

From these simulations, it was estimated that approximately 190 women (within a range of 170-230) of child-bearing age were among those who were on the founding waka canoes that arrived in New Zealand around 1200 AD. These numbers may be conservative as it is likely that many of those on the first waka were related hence not potential breeding partners. Further studies are underway to adjust for these kinship factors.

Source: A Whyte, S Marshall, and G Chambers, “Human Evolution in Polynesia”, Human Biology, April 2005, vol 77 no 2, 157-177.

A Rat’s Tale – Polynesian Migration to New Zealand

Whence & when did Maori migrate to Aotearoa-New Zealand?

Since pre-European Maori society was non-literate there is no written record of arrival in Aotearoa. Oral tradition traced through whakapapa (genealogy) and archaeology provide alternative sources of evidence for first arrival and settlement, but both have their own limitations.

Maori tradition drawn from a number of tribal (iwi) histories holds that Maori arrival & settlement was the result of the voyage of a large number of waka (double-hulled voyaging canoes) over many years. These early settlers, according to oral tradition, originated from the “mythical” place, Hawaiki, now believed to be located in eastern Polynesia.

The Polynesian Triangle is bounded by Hawaii, Rapanui (Easter Island), and NZ.

Source: Kirch, On the Road of the Winds, (2000)

Early Pakeha ethnographers, S Percy Smith and Elsdon Best, synthesized accounts from different Maori iwi to create a new myth around the turn of the 20th century. A Great Fleet of Seven Canoes was said to have arrived around 1350 AD in a planned voyage of migration based upon earlier voyages of discovery by Kupe (750 AD) and others. While there were few hard facts to support such a concerted, large isolated migration, generations of New Zealand school children were taught this popular myth and it still retains a strong hold on popular belief today.

Enter the Pacific rat (Rattus exulans) or kiore to the New Zealand Maori.

In the 1990s, scientific advances in radiocarbon dating techniques and genetics enabled scientists to begin tracing the origins and time of first presence of kiore in New Zealand.

The kiore, either as stowaway or cargo, sailed on the migration waka. Since the kiore cannot swim very far, there was no other way for it to travel from eastern Polynesia to New Zealand other than with humans. Given the lack of mammals in New Zealand, the kiore – along with the kuri or Maori dog – became important food sources for Maori in the following centuries and may have been deliberately taken to New Zealand to serve as food resource.

The kiore

Matisoo-Smith and Robins reported in 2004 that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis of kiore in New Zealand and across Polynesia showed that New Zealand kiore are genetically closer to Cook and Society Island kiore than those from other Polynesian island groups.

Possible Migration Paths for kiore
Source: Hutching, 2004, p. 186

A further line of inquiry has focused on radiocarbon dating of kiore bones and seeds gnawed by them from New Zealand sites. Work by Holdaway in 1996 concluded that kiore arrived in New Zealand much earlier than 1350 AD, perhaps as early as 200 BC, based on radiocarbon dating of kiore bones extracted from nesting sites of the extinct laughing owl. The earlier presence of kiore was explained as the result of accidental arrival and transitory presence in New Zealand of Polynesian voyagers.

These results were criticized for poor analytical technique as well as being inconsistent with known archaeological evidence, Maori traditional knowledge, and the accelerated clearance of forests and decline in marine and terrestrial species that pointed to a later arrival around 1300 AD.

In mid 2008, new radiocarbon dating results were reported by Wilmhurst et al that indicate kiore first arrival dates to be 1280-1300 AD. Importantly, the rat-gnawed seeds included in the sampling occurred in both the North and South Islands only after 1280 AD.

The study suggested important implications, according to Wilmhurst, namely that:

1) If rat predation of native species could only have happened after 1280 AD then the decline in those species could be occurring faster than previously assumed; and

2) Maori colonization did not occur over a protracted time period, but likely happened in a short period of such magnitude that it initiated an immediate and rapid transformation of New Zealand’s environment.

In sum, the current evidence from multiple sources – archaeological, scientific, and traditional knowledge - appears to point to first Maori colonization around 1280-1300 AD, though the pace and magnitude of colonization of New Zealand remains uncertain.


Matisoo-Smith E, & J H Robins, “Origins and dispersals of Pacific peoples: Evidence
from mtDNA phylogenies of the Pacific rat”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 101 no 24,
June 15, 2004, 9167-9172.

Holdaway, R N, “Arrival of Rats in New Zealand,” Nature, 384, 1996, 225-226.

Kirch, P V, On the Road of the Winds, University of CA Press, 2000.

Wilmhurst, J et al. Dating the late prehistoric dispersal of Polynesians to New Zealand using the commensal Pacific Rat”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 105 no 22, June 3, 2008, 7676-7680.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Great White Fleet – Auckland August 1908

The Great White Fleet (GWF) of the US Navy was sent on a “Show the Flag” goodwill mission around the globe in 1908/1909 by President Teddy Roosevelt. So-called because the battleships were painted white, the fleet consisted of 16 battleships and accompanying support vessels, manned by 14,000 sailors and marines. By the time the 14 month voyage ended in Hampton Roads, Virginia, on February 22, 1909, the GWF had steamed some 46,000 miles.

The centennial of the Great White Fleet’s visit to New Zealand occurs this week.

USS Connecticut

The GWF was sent off from the Jamestown Exposition, Virginia on December 16th, 1907, proceeding around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America then north to San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, California in March 1908. On July 7, under the command of Rear Admiral Sperry, the fleet sailed for Hawaii and thence to Auckland, New Zealand.

On August 9, 1908, the Great White Fleet sailed into Waitemata harbour, Auckland, creating quite a spectacle and met with great warmth by the New Zealand public. Parades and a welcoming ceremony were held in Queen Street, the main street, leading from the wharves. A large arch at the lower end of Queen Street, festooned with ferns, welcomed the fleet as did street signs expressing greetings from various towns & neighbourhoods throughout New Zealand.

Panorama of the Great White Fleet from Devonport, Auckland

USS Connecticut (2 views)

USS Minnesota, and USS Georgia

Welcome Arch in lower Queen Street

Parade on Queen Street

This early visit of the Great White Fleet helped cement a growing relationship between New Zealand and the United States, despite New Zealand’s colonial ties to Great Britain. New Zealand and American forces were to fight side by side in the Pacific theatre during World War Two.

In the mid 1980s, reflecting growing public pressure for a nuclear ban, the Fourth Labour Government barred U.S. nuclear-powered and armed warships from New Zealand ports as part of its policy favouring a nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific and because of New Zealand's opposition to the Reagan's administration's escalation of tensions with the Soviet Union.

In February 1985, a port-visit request by the United States for the USS Buchanan was refused by New Zealand.

This policy change initiated a cooling in the relationship between the two countries at the military level, but has it also affected the diplomatic, political, and economic relationships up to the present, although both countries maintain friendly, albeit at times strained, relations. This nuclear ban has been maintained by governments of both major New Zealand political parties since 1984. During a recent visit to New Zealand in late July 2008 by US Secretary of State Rice there were some indications that the U.S. position may be thawing towards New Zealand but it is not likely that the military and other relationships will undergo a major shift in the remaining months of the Bush administration.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The North Island Main Trunk Line – 1908 – 2008 – Century of Service

The North Island Main Trunk Line (NIMT), the backbone of New Zealand Railways in the North Island turns 100 years old on August 7.

The 630 kilometre line connected Wellington, the capital, at the southern tip of the North Island, to Auckland in the north, providing a land link for the first time that could provide an alternative to unpredictable and sometimes dangerous sea passage between the two main centres.

On the evening of August 7, 1908, the “Parliament Special” left Wellington on the first tripAuckland to greet the “The Great White Fleet” of the US Navy on its around the world goodwill voyage. The journey took 20 ½ between the two cities. It carried politicians and other VIPs to hours, involving several changes of locomotive, and required travel along temporary track in the middle section of the line hastily put in place by the Public Works department.

Construction of the NIMT took more than 20 years. The first sod was turned in 1885 after the Government reached agreement with the Ngati Maniapoto iwi on a right of way through the King Country, an area of the western Central North Island that had remained effectively in Maori hands after the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s.

Massive engineering challenges had to be overcome and much of the work was completed by the manual labour of gangs of workers who lived in work camps under harsh conditions.

The Waimarino plateau between Taumarunui and Taihape presented a particular challenge to engineers as the gradient exceeded the capacity of then existing locomotives to pull a train up the plateau. The solution was a masterful example of engineering design by R W Holmes in the form of the Raurimu spiral, involving three horseshoe curves, two tunnels, and a complete spiral.

Deep ravines also had to be bridged by steel viaducts at Makatote, Hapuawhenua, Mangaweka, and Makohine.

Pakeha New Zealanders were justifiably proud of the engineering feats of the NIMT and their ability to rapidly develop a railroad network in a young country incorporating the newest technology. Postcards of the type shown here were mailed in their thousands back to “Home”, Mother England, bearing messages extolling the achievements of the NIMT, the proof being displayed in the pictures.

The NIMT was officially opened in February 1909 and regular passenger service quickly grew with the time being reduced down to 14 hours for the trip. After World War Two, passenger demand eroded as road transport then air travel outcompeted rail service. Rail freight remained an important traffic on the line. By 2006, passenger service appeared to be near its end but a vociferous public response prevented the daylight Overlander service from being canceled. With the return of the railway system back into government ownership in mid 2008 after an unsuccessful 15+ year period of privatization, passenger service appears likely to continue for awhile yet.

Waiouru Railway Station, NIMT, 1909,
Mt Ruapehu (left) and Mt Ngauruhoe (right) volcano in eruption.

This post is respectfully dedicated to the men and women who built the NIMT and who have kept the line open over the past century. Nation-builders, one and all.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Financial Contagion Spreads - low amps at AMP

The fragility in New Zealand financial markets spread to Australian-owned AMP Capital NZ on Friday. An investor run on managed funds, property trusts and finance companies has spilled over onto AMP Capital's NZ Property Fund. With withdrawals exceeding new cash inflow, the property fund dropped from NZ$505 million at the end of March to $419 million on August 1. To avert a liquidity crisis, AMP Capital froze the fund, affecting 2900 investors.

In the last fortnight, funds totalling around NZ $1 billion have been frozen in Canterbury Mortgage Trust, Guardian Mortgage Trust, Totara Mortgage Trust, and an investment fund.

Should the run on non-bank financial institutions spread and intensify, the Reserve Bank may well have to explore extending its lender of last resort facilities to non-banks as the Federal Reserve as done in the U.S.

All Blacks Mana Partially Restored, 39-10 against Wallabies

The All Blacks came back with a full head of steam at Eden Park, Auckland, yesterday to convincingly trounce the Wallabies 39-10. Turning the tables on the Australians from the week before in Sydney, a re-found aggression spearheaded by AB captain Richie McCaw seemed to make all the difference along with a change in tactics. Two tries apiece by Woodcock & Nonu with Carter chiming in with 5 penalties and 2 conversions accounted for the All Black total. The All Blacks even managed a bonus point to keep them in contention for the trans-Tasman Bledisoe Cup and not yet out of the race for the Tri-Nations.

Is AB coach Graham Henry safe till the end of the year?