16 December 2017

Commemorating the 'first encounter' that changed New Zealand

This weekend is 375 years since our 'first encounter' between Maori and European, start of the modern era for this country. The disastrous interaction with Maori of Golden Bay/Mohua resulted in four of his crew being killed, one dragged back ashore to face his fate, details unknown. [Note by Tasman375 editors: the journal describes how a dead crew member was taken back to shore. In total 4 of Tasman's crew members died]

It was a stone age versus iron age struggle, and stone age won. Tasman sailed away never to be seen again, and it took 127 years for the next European visitor in the form of Cook to turn up here again.

 Tasman's artist depicts the events of 18/19 December, which ended with the Heemskerck and Zeehaen leaving in haste.

Tasman's artist depicts the events of 18/19 December, which ended with the Heemskerck and Zeehaen leaving in haste.

This weekend there's plenty going on in Golden Bay to commemorate the event including a community picnic and variety show at the Pohara Hall, water based events including waka ama and kayaks, a visit to Tasman's anchorage, talks on local  archaeology, architecture and botany, welcoming powhiri and the obligatory official opening with speeches at the Onetahua Marae.

A guided Farewell Spit tour focuses on Tasman's route around into Golden Bay.

These commemorations are historically significant.

 Dave Horry has revisited Tasman's account over the last few years and reinterpreted the data for modern eyes. 

Dave Horry has revisited Tasman's account over the last few years and reinterpreted the data for modern eyes. 

Tasman's voyage on the flagship Heemskerck and armed transport escort Zeehaen had the effect of alerting the 'olde world' to the existence of the west coast of New Zealand, supporting their observations with our earliest recorded historical images and descriptions, Tasman's charts used too by all subsequent voyagers, including Cook.

The exploratory expedition also also charted Tasmania, where they raised the Dutch Flag to claim it, then went on to map the northern islands of Fiji plus a scattering of Tongan islands.

Tasman's time in New Zealand waters lasted barely 20 days, beginning with sighting the coast and mountains behind Hokitika on 13 December 1642.
After sailing along Farewell Spit, they anchored off Whariwharangi Bay on 18 December, not far from Wainui Bay where a sizeable Ngati Tumatakoriri settlement existed near the strategic lookout spot of Taupo Point. 
Although the Dutch voyagers spent only about 24 hours in Golden Bay/Mohua, anchored about 7km offshore, the events which unfolded were full of action.

The people of two completely different worlds suspiciously assessed each other's intentions, trying to communicate in mutually incomprehensible languages for the first time. 

The first day was tense standoffs but nevertheless peaceful. But the next turned exceedingly violent.

After the opportunistic slaughter of his sailors in the Zeehaun's praeutien (a Javanese-inspired longboat) which was being paddled between the two ships, Abel Tasman ordered a hasty retreat for his two ships which got pursued by 11 waka full of angry warriors.

Tasman's journal records how his sailors fired parting shots, one warrior holding 'a small white flag' being struck down. In disgust, Tasman called the place it Moordenaers (Murderers) Bay.

Tasman and his two ships went on to explore much of what is now called Cook Strait, celebrating the first European Christmas here when rough weather came up by sheltering in the eastern lee of Rangitoto/d'Urville Island.

The special day was marked by eating two of their live pigs carried on board and having an extra ration of wine. They left New Zealand after coming in close to the Three Kings Islands on 6 January 1643.

Badly in need of fresh water, they had investigated Great Island but were put off by its 35 inhabitants who shouted 'with rough loud voice' and threw stones from the cliff-tops. The Dutch expedition never set foot on our shores and had to wait 21 days to take on more water in Tonga. 

Cook followed carrying Tasman's charts, but interestingly Cook's own famous New Zealand chart has a straight line drawn from Farewell Spit to Separation Point with nothing inside it, even though Tasman had already revealed Golden Bay.

In comparison too, Cook was modern, the first NSW penal colony got established 1788, just 20 years after his first voyage here.

The next European voyager who showed close interest in our coastal patch was Dumont d'Urville in 1827, the French navigator the first to observe the entrance to Westhaven and the first to chart the coast down from Separation Point (where they stole some artefacts) and sail through the tricky tides of French Pass.

Tasman's journal affords then an exceptionally detailed and unique first-hand description and imagery of our "first encounter" contact.

It's all from a Dutch perspective, but at least it exists.

Commemoration organiser Penny Griffith sees the 375 event as special because it's kept local; "Big centennial events like 300 and 400 anniversaries become cumbersome juggernauts taken over by central government, so this is a good opportunity to do something locally.

Columbus Day is a holiday in many states of America, this is New Zealand's earliest "event" in terms of recorded shared history.

'Columbus left no images of his encounter, but we have a far greater trove of memories. It should also be said we have several locals, including Robert Jenkin, who have made the Abel Tasman encounter their passion, so it's timely to get a whole lot more people interested. We need to inspire the next generation of experts!" 

It's fairly understandable that the Dutch ambassador and his entourage will be attending the celebrations this weekend, but also just as importantly will be a dozen descendants of the original Ngati Tumatakokiri tribe who challenged Abel Tasman.

Iwi elder Doug Huria of Spring Creek says he is proud to be coming back to where his forebears created history: "Tasman coming in 1642 represents the very start of tangata whenua's relationship with Europeans in this country. We can't change what happened then or since, but we can acknowledge it.

Coming back to Golden Bay this weekend is like our first official visit back there, it feels historic for our iwi. My own great great grandfather took James Mackay to the top of the hill above Wainui and pointed over to Whariwharangi, telling him that's where our people met Tasman. "

I must admit I always felt a little prejudice about Abel Tasman, for me the jumped up commander of the Dutch East India Company pursuing company gain.

There's no doubting though his exploring and navigating abilities, also his will determination to get any job done.

(The rest of the article can be found here. Please note there are several factual errors in the article, which is why we chose not to feature the entire article on our website.)