May 15, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Scientific findings pose challenge to Maori oral history

3 min read

A just-published study in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, might have far-reaching implications for Maori oral history, says AUT University History Professor, Paul Moon.

In the study, more than 1400 radiocarbon dates were analysed from 47 Pacific islands. The results show that New Zealand was first colonised by humans between 1210 and 1385 AD.

However, Maori oral histories which recall lists of ancestors have been used to date the first arrival in New Zealand as early as 800 AD.

“If these Maori whakapapa [genealogies] are out by over five hundred years, then this must raise questions about their reliability, says Dr. Moon.

If Maori reached New Zealand waters just 300 years before the first Europeans, some people might also start to reconsider the idea of Maori being indigenous. It could be interpreted as a different type of indigenous from the sort that applies to peoples who inhabited countries exclusively for thousands of years. This would be an unfortunate conclusion to draw, but is something that might have to be faced.

Dr. Moon say that the implications of the study could also impact on the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal, which has repeatedly accepted evidence of a much earlier settlement date.

Ironically, says Dr. Moon, the mid-fourteenth century date for the first arrival of Maori in New Zealand was widely accepted up until the 1950s, when academics challenged it on the basis of Maori whakapapa, and shunted back the date by hundreds of years. Now, it looks like it will have to be dragged forward again.

Refuting “facts” and “challenging” empiricism

With that said, recognises that in particular Ngai Tuhoe cosmology which suggests that there was no “arrival” and that they have always been from this whenua, this land. Regardless of what this study suggests, we acknowledge and respect their oral traditions.

The great non-Maori philospher, W.V.O. Quine (1908-2000) advocates what is more famously known as naturalized epistemology, which consists of his attempt to provide an improved scientific explanation of how we have developed elaborate scientific theories on the basis of meager sensory input. Quine put it this way:

The business of naturalized epistemology, for me, is an improved understanding of the chains of causation and implication that connect the bombardment of our surfaces, at one extreme, with our scientific output at the other. (1995c, 349)

It is rational reconstruction of the individuals and/or the [human] races actual acquisition of a responsible theory of the external world. It would address the question how we, physical denizens of the physical world, can have projected our scientific theory of that whole world from our meager contacts with it: from the mere impacts of rays and particles on our surfaces and a few odds and ends such as the strain of walking uphill. (1995a, 16)

Basing our lives and understanding of the universe in purely scientific terms requires a series of beliefs too that in the end is based on, as Quine suggests “meager sensory input”, so just keep that in mind when science seeks to refute what you hold most sacred… remembering that the way in which we gain scientific knowlege has its own limitations and canin turn be equally challenged.

12 thoughts on “Scientific findings pose challenge to Maori oral history

  1. Too right Heni.

    I can recite my whakapapa all the way from my grandfather to Hoturoa (Tainui) and Toroa (Mataatua) without any gaps. In the old times this was very common, but these days many people can only go so far back until they reach a missing link. Point is, the names were passed down not the years! The landmarks and stories that go with them are the evidence. Now I cannot tell you when my tipuna Hoturoa first landed here, but I can tell you that I am the 28th generation who dwells on this land and my moko will be the 30th! Add it up however you like.. if the so called scientific data isn't matching up, they're obviously missing something!! Just another typical pakeha trying to stir things up and try to make us question ourselves. Hei aha te korero o te pakeha.. learn your whakapapa, keep your identity strong!!!

  2. They seem to have ignored that fact that Maori never had a date for when they arrived. They didn't arrive on the shores of Aotearoa and say "This is 800AD and we have arrived in New Zealand". They had the names of those that arrived and followed family history from then, it was the so called 'Academics' that put the dates on it. They provided the numbers and now they refute their own findings and blame the Maori for getting it wrong. It concerns me that they even think this is going to have an impact on Waitangi Tribunal proceedings.

  3. Darrel carbon dating is more reliable than eye witness. Eye witness testimony is actually very unreliable and many studies have shown this. Check this interesting video to see why that is the case:

    Carbon dating is reliable in the relatively short term, with a half life of around 5700 years it is well within the time frame for this type of study.

    All this aside, it shouldn't really affect the indigenous nature of Maori.

    James you won't trust a honky to come up with a hypothesis. Nice one… If you take this type of idiocy to its extreme then no "races" will share ideas. This is what happened to China a few hundred years ago and look where that got them. Culture is not static, many honkies have taken on much Maori culture and vice-versa. There is no shame in this.

    1. To be fair, these weren't his findings rather he was making comment on research that was recently published regarding the migration theory… but he definitely raises some valid points as do the many readers here on facebook who have shared their whakaaro. Thanks Honoria!

  4. Thanks Darrell, you are so right (re: carbon dating) – cool website as well. Have you joined our Digital Maori Forum on Facebook (focused on Maori in the ICT industry)

  5. Radiocarbon dating is not foolproof by any means. There are almost always assumptions factored into the dating.

    Nothing is ever settled when an eye witness testimony is not to be found. Assumptions are only that!

    The fact this Moon guy has seemingly made statements along the lines of questioning whakapapa and Treaty of Waitangi claims makes me a little bit leery about what the motivations of the study were all about!

    There will be more to this when it plays out fully.

  6. Well I never trust a honky to come up with an hypothesis my tupuna Kupe came here 300 years before honkies. If Rangitoto blew up 20,000 years ago as the meuseum technology video describes and maori named it and my whakapapa tells me I have 88 to 95 generations to Kupe I suppose its my Irish honky blood thats saying this Moon Guy has been moon struck

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