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New Zealand Maori may have been the first humans to set eyes on Antarctica, study finds

For the past 200 years, accounts of Antarctica’s discovery have focused on Russian, European and American expeditions. But a new study suggests that New Zealand’s Maori explorers may have been the first humans to set eyes on the frozen continent as early as the 7th century.

Polynesian accounts of historic voyages include the expeditions of Hui Te Rangiora and his crew on the ship Te Ivi o Atea to Antarctic waters, possibly in the 600s, according to a new study published this month in the Journal of the Royal. Society of New Zealand.

In some of these stories, Hui Te Rangiora and his crew traveled far south, and in doing so, were likely the first to lay eyes on the waters of Antarctica and possibly even the mainland, according to the authors. of the report.

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Evidence of how far these fearless men potentially ventured can be found in the name they gave the frozen ocean – Te tai-uka-a-pia – which means like arrowroot, says the newspaper. Arrowroot is a type of white starch obtained by scraping the stems of certain plants that look like snow.

Prior to this report, Europeans widely believed that the first recorded sighting of Antarctica took place in 1820, although there is still debate as to whether it was a Russian or British expedition that saw it.

“It is absolutely not surprising that a human community of sailors living close to the Antarctic continent encountered it centuries before European voyages to the same region,” said Meera Sabaratnam, Senior Lecturer in Relations international studies at SOAS University in London.

Instead, Sabaratnam asked why Europeans were so eager to assert their “discovery” of new lands already inhabited or known to others.

“We know that historically, claiming to have discovered ‘virgin land’ has given rise to legal claims for colonial occupation and property against other European powers,” she said. “Not only was there a material advantage, but it also played ideologically in the idea of ​​Europeans as an advanced and pioneering people who deserved to own and name these spaces.”

The New Zealand study draws on literature and oral histories to better understand the Maori presence and perspectives on Antarctica and its exploration. It also refers to Maori carvings that represent travelers and knowledge of navigation and astronomy.

The study cites a report published in 1899 which suggests Maori travel accounts referring to sub-Antarctic flora, fauna, and physical geography.

“The monstrous seas; the female who dwells in those mountainous waves, whose hair ripples in the water, ”wrote S. Percy Smith in The Journal of the Polynesian Society in 1899, recalling Maori descriptions of past journeys, according to the study. “Other things are like rocks, whose peaks pierce the sky, they are completely bare and without vegetation on them. “

Smith suggests that the account describes kelp and icebergs from the Southern Ocean among other features of life in the sub-Antarctic, according to the study.

He notes that Maori involvement in Antarctic voyages and expeditions has continued to the present day “but is rarely recognized or highlighted.”

In the European era of Antarctic exploration, Te Atu is often described as the first Maori and New Zealanders to see the coast of Antarctica in 1840. He traveled on the ship Vincennes, which mapped parts of the Antarctic coast, under the United States. exploration expedition led by Charles Wilkes.

During the so-called “heroic era” of European exploration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Maori were also part of the Antarctic expeditions, as they were more advanced in the 1900s, demonstrating a wide range of skills despite a context of discrimination and racism. , according to the study.

Maori have also been involved in contemporary scientific research, fishing and other relations with the region, according to the newspaper.

“We discovered that connections to Antarctica and its waters have occurred from the earliest traditional voyages, and later through participation in European-led voyages and exploration, contemporary scientific research, fishing and more for centuries, ”said lead author Priscilla Wehi. in a statement released by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, a research institute focused on biodiversity, land resources and the environment, which co-led the study.

The study indicates that the participation of women in Antarctic exploration is a little more difficult to pin down and that Pamela Young was probably the first New Zealand woman to work in Antarctic science at the end of the 20th century.

The researchers said it was important for the Maori to be included in future relations with the mainland.

“The development of more Maori Antarctic scientists and the integration of Maori perspectives will add depth to New Zealand’s research agendas and ultimately to the protection and management of Antarctica.” ”Wehi said.

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