New Zealanders have quietly acknowledged an anniversary this week: Moehanga Day, or the day the Maori “discovered” Britain.
In an ironic nod to their former colonial power, some Kiwis have started an annual remembrance of a Maori’s first trip to London.
That man was Moehanga from the Ngāpuhi tribe of Northland, who arrived in Britain in 1806, before New Zealand officially became a British colony in 1840.
Deputy Labor Leader Kelvin Davis, the most powerful Maori in Jacinda Ardern’s government and a fellow Ngāpuhi, nodded at the quiet commemoration.
“The day the Maori discovered England,” he said, chuckling, “has a great twist. I like. “
“This is all part of the story that we should be talking about and celebrating. If it’s about celebrating some of our Ngāpuhi ancestors, why not? “
In 1805, Moehanga boarded the whaling ship “Ferret” from the Bay of Islands in northern New Zealand, arriving in Britain on April 27 of the following year.
Historian Tony Ballantyne of the University of Otago said that Moehanga was a keen observer and that his journey was significant.
“Moehanga’s visit to London can be understood as part of a long sequence of indigenous travelers from the Americas and the Pacific and leaders of colonized communities from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean,” he said.
“(They) traveled to England, seeking to understand its power and culture, and often with the desire to articulate their own political views and challenge the deep inequalities of the empire.”
Moehanga visited St Paul’s Cathedral, he was particularly interested in music and culture, but he did not like the hubbub of London.
Later, Moehanga claimed to have met Queen Charlotte during her visit, performing a haka for her.
Ballantyne said he liked the urge to acknowledge Moehanga’s “discovery.”
“It marks the importance of a pioneering Maori traveler and also challenges us to think about the assumptions that often shape our historical narratives,” he said.
“Too often, it remains the case that Europeans are seen as the dynamic agents of history and indigenous peoples are reduced to being passive actors on the fringes of history.”
Davis said her ancestors Hare and Hariata Pomare also claimed a historic feat: giving birth to the first Maori in Britain 48 years later.
“They had an audience with Queen Victoria who noticed that Hariata was pregnant,” he said.
“She told him ‘if your baby is a boy, name it after my recently deceased husband Albert Victor, and if it is a girl, name it after me, Victoria.’
“It turned out to be a boy. So his name was Albert Victor Pomare and he became the godson of Queen Victoria. “