National Geographic : 1974 Aug
and no reptiles except for lizards and the lizardlike tuatara inhabited New Zealand after the land broke away from the rib cage of Australia and drifted across the prehistoric sea. But wondrous birds developed, includ ing no fewer than 20 species of an ungainly grass-eating creature called the moa. The largest of the moas, Dinornis, grew as tall as the African elephant; another, Euryapterix gravis, was about the height of a man. The moa, knowing no enemies, was flight less. The Polynesians found these ostrichlike birds easy to kill and a marvelous source of food and clothing and bone tools; within 20 human lifetimes they exterminated the moa, and perhaps other species that occurred no where else on the planet. The men who hunted Dinornis and its smaller cousins, a peaceable people who engaged in little agriculture and left virtually no trace of their religion, were called by later Polynesians tangata whenua, "people of the land." But the name by which they are commonly known in English is the more appropriate one: moa-hunters. Tom Johnson has no connection with those earliest people. He, like all modern Maoris, claims descent from the warriors of one of the legendary seven canoes that came from Hawaiki, the mother-island of the east Poly nesians, around A.D. 1350. If the starting point was Tahiti, as some scholars believe, the voyage covered 2,400 miles. With only legends for sailing directions, the "people of the ca noes" made landfall on the precipitous coast of Aotearoa-"longbright world." There they planted their crops and their gods, absorbed the simpler population of moa-hunters (as often by cannibalism as by interbreeding), and multiplied into the fighting tribes that were afterward collectively called Maori. Sailing Dutchman Claims Discovery When the Dutchman Abel Janszoon Tas man, the European discoverer of New Zea land, arrived in 1642, he found the shore teeming with this fearless, fancifully tattooed people. In 1769-70 Capt. James Cook charted the coasts of both islands.* The Crown of England was not eager to annex this savage territory lying 14,000 miles from the home ports of the Royal Navy. But British adventurers, thirsty to kill whales *The September 1971 GEOGRAPHIC featured "Cap tain Cook: The Man Who Mapped the Pacific."