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Frontier Of Dreams

Sundays 6.40am | TV ONE

Episode Two: Treasure Islands c.1300-1642


In this episode of Frontier of Dreams we tell the story of the first human settlers of New Zealand, the Polynesians who, in adapting to and changing these "treasure islands," created the vibrant world of the Maori.

We look at how modern DNA research has dramatically expanded our knowledge of the first immigrants.  Scientists, like David Penny, now know that some 200 people, men and women, arrived.  The evidence from the rats that came with them indicates a landing date of around 1250AD.  And this all fits with Maori oral tradition.

The settlers quickly explored and named their new land.  They would have found a variety of landscapes and a wealth of resources, especially food and precious stones. Modern Maori carvers demonstrate the old ways to turn hard rocks into tools and greenstone or pounamu into beautiful objects of prestige and power.

We see how the early settlers ate their way through the country's tame and teeming wildlife.  Seals and sea lions disappeared from the North Island.  And one of our most distinctive birds, the moa, was soon extinct.  We see a recreated moa-hunter village, like the one in Marlborough where 12,000 moa were butchered.

When the easy prey had gone, Maori turned to catching and eating smaller birds and rats.  Riki Bennett shows how this was done, while Janet Davidson explores the ancient kumara gardens at one of our oldest archeological sites, Palliser Bay near Wellington.

As population expanded and fishing and farming increased, Maori social organisation developed.  Families combined into tribes and fortified pa were built to protect people and resources.  The Maori settlement of Maungakiekie, One Tree Hill in Auckland, is recreated and explored, as is the coastal village of Kohika in the Bay of Plenty.

We see how Maori built their houses and the key role of flax in Maori society.  Patricia Wallace shows how weavers made cloaks and how the body and hair were adorned.

Maori were a warrior race, but fighting was influenced by spiritual beliefs, in particular, mana and utu.  We see that cannibalism was actually a way of consuming someone's mana.  Hone Kaa explains the profound influence that these beliefs and others had on the Maori way of life and death.

Over 500 years of isolation Maori developed a distinctive, complex, sophisticated culture, fully adapted to living in their "treasure islands."


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