When we think of Antarctic exploration, the narrative is overwhelmingly white. The first confirmed sighting of
mainland Antarctica was attributed to a Russian expedition in 1820,
while the first landing on the mainland is attributed to an American
explorer in 1821.
a new paper by New Zealander researchers suggests that the indigenous
people of mainland New Zealand - Māori - have a significantly longer
history with Earth's southernmost continent.
research team, led by conservation biologist Priscilla Wehi from Manaaki
Whenua Landcare Research, looked at oral histories as well as 'grey literature' –
meaning research, reports, technical documents and other material
published by organizations outside common academic or commercial
connection to Antarctica and its waters have been occurring since the
earliest traditional voyaging, and later through participation in
European-led voyaging and exploration, contemporary scientific research,
fishing, and more for centuries," said Wehi.
researchers first highlight an early 7th century southern voyage by a
Polynesian chief Hui Te Rangiora and his crew. This would have likely
made them the first humans to see Antarctic waters, over a thousand
years before the Russian expedition and even long before Polynesian
settlers' planned migration to New Zealand.
narratives, Hui Te Rangiora and his crew continued south. A long way
south. In so doing, they were likely the first humans to set eyes on
Antarctic waters and perhaps the continent," the team writes in their paper.
Rangiora's voyage and return are part of the history of the Ngāti Rārua
people, and these stories appear in a number of carvings."
finding might not be much of a surprise to our Māori readers who have
been telling these stories for generations, but as the paper explains,
academic literature still has a long way to go to catch up to this
wealth of knowledge.
narratives of under-represented groups and their connection to
Antarctica remain poorly documented and acknowledged in the research
literature," the team writes. "This paper begins to fill this gap."
But Hui Te Rangiora's voyage definitely wasn't the last time Māori and their ancestors traveled to Antarctica.
Māori were also part of the 'Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration' in
the late 19th and early 20th century, helping European explorers with
medicine, construction, scientific expertise and more on journeys to
participation in Antarctic voyaging and expedition has continued to the
present day but is rarely acknowledged or highlighted," the researchers write.
"For Māori on these voyages, seafaring skills were the critical currency."
recently, a number of Māori have or are currently participating in New
Zealand's Antarctic science programs, doing research on everything from
the effects of climate change to penguin population ecology, and the team behind this latest paper hopes these numbers will grow.
"Taking account of responsibilities to under-represented groups, and particularly Māori as Treaty partners, is important for both contemporary and future programs of
Antarctic research, as well as for future exploration of New Zealand's
obligations within the Antarctic Treaty System," said Wehi.
more Māori Antarctic scientists and incorporating Māori perspectives
will add depth to New Zealand's research programs and ultimately the
protection and management of Antarctica."
The research has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.