Archaeological evidence indicates that New Zealand was populated by
fishing and hunting people of East Polynesian ancestry perhaps 1,000 years
before Europeans arrived. Known to some scholars as the Moa-hunters, they
may have merged with later waves of Polynesians who, according to Maori
tradition, arrived between 952 and 1150. Some of the Maoris called their
new homeland "Aotearoa," usually translated as "land of the long white
In 1642, Abel Tasman, a Dutch navigator, made the first recorded European
sighting of New Zealand and sketched sections of the two main islands'
west coasts. English Captain James Cook thoroughly explored the coastline
during three South Pacific voyages beginning in 1769. In the late 18th
and early 19th centuries lumbering, seal hunting, and whaling attracted
a few European settlers to New Zealand. In 1840, the United Kingdom established
British sovereignty through the Treaty of Waitangi signed that year with
In the same year, selected groups from the United Kingdom began the
colonization process. Expanding European settlement led to conflict with
Maori, most notably in the Maori land wars of the 1860s. British and colonial
forces eventually overcame determined Maori resistance. During this period,
many Maori died from disease and warfare, much of it intertribal.
Constitutional government began to develop in the 1850s. In 1867, the
Maori won the right to a certain number of reserved seats in Parliament.
During this period, the livestock industry began to expand, and the foundations
of New Zealand's modern economy took shape. By the end of the 19th century,
improved transportation facilities made possible a great overseas trade
in wool, meat, and dairy products.
By the 1890s, parliamentary government along democratic lines was well-established,
and New Zealand's social institutions assumed their present form. Women
received the right to vote in national elections in 1893. The turn of the
century brought sweeping social reforms that built the foundation for New
Zealand's version of the welfare state.
The Maori gradually recovered from population decline and, through interaction
and intermarriage with settlers and missionaries, adopted much of European
culture. In recent decades, Maori have become increasingly urbanized and
have become more politically active and culturally assertive.
New Zealand was declared a dominion by a royal proclamation in 1907.
It achieved full internal and external autonomy by the Statute of Westminster
Adoption Act in 1947, although this merely formalized a situation that
had existed for many years.
In 1947, New Zealand joined Australia, France, the United Kingdom, and
the United States to form the South Pacific Commission, a regional body
to promote the welfare of the Pacific region. New Zealand has been a leader
in the organization. In 1971, New Zealand joined the other independent
and self-governing states of the South Pacific to establish the South Pacific
Forum (now known as the Pacific Islands Forum), which meets annually at
the "heads of government" level.
New Zealand's relationship with the United States in the post-World
War II period was closely associated with the Australian, New Zealand,
United States (ANZUS) security treaty of 1951, under which signatories
agreed to consult in case of an attack in the Pacific and to "act to meet
the common danger." During the postwar period, access to New Zealand ports
by U.S. vessels contributed to the flexibility and effectiveness of U.S.
naval forces in the Pacific.
Growing concern about nuclear testing in the South Pacific and arms
control issues contributed to the 1984 election of a Labour government
committed to barring nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered warships from New
Zealand ports. The government's anti-nuclear policy proved incompatible
with longstanding, worldwide U.S. policy of neither confirming nor denying
the presence or absence of nuclear weapons onboard U.S. vessels.
Implementation of New Zealand's policy effectively prevented practical
alliance cooperation under ANZUS, and after extensive efforts to resolve
the issue proved unsuccessful, in August 1986 the United States suspended
its ANZUS security obligations to New Zealand. Even after President Bush's
1991 announcement that U.S. surface ships do not normally carry nuclear
weapons, New Zealand's legislation prohibiting visits of nuclear-powered
ships continues to preclude a bilateral security alliance with the United
The conservative National Party and left-leaning Labour Party have dominated
New Zealand political life since a Labour government came to power in 1935.
During 14 years in office, the Labour Party implemented a broad array of
social and economic legislation, including comprehensive social security,
a largescale public works program, a 40-hour work week, a minimum basic
wage, and compulsory unionism. The National Party won control of the government
in 1949 and adopted many welfare measures instituted by the Labour Party.
Except for two brief periods of Labour governments in 1957-60 and 1972-75,
National held power until 1984. After regaining control in 1984, the Labour
government instituted a series of radical market-oriented reforms in response
to New Zealand's mounting external debt. It also enacted anti-nuclear legislation
that effectively brought about New Zealand's suspension from the ANZUS
security alliance with the United States and Australia.
In October 1990, the National Party again formed the government, for
the first of three, 3-year terms. In 1996, New Zealand inaugurated a mixed-member
proportional (MMP) system to elect its Parliament. The system was designed
to increase representation of smaller parties in Parliament and appears
to have done so in the MMP elections to date. Since 1996, neither the National
nor the Labour Party has had an absolute majority in Parliament, and for
all but one of those years, the government has been a minority one. The
current Labour government followed its November 1999 election success by
outpolling National 41% to 21% in July 2002 elections. Labour formed a
coalition, minority government with Jim Anderton's Progressive Coalition,
a left-wing party holding two seats in Parliament.
New Zealand was featured as the setting for "Middle Earth" in the renowned
early 21st century trilogy of films based on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
books. It has brought an additional interest in tourism to the nation.