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Europeans Travelled to Antarctica First? You'll be Surprised

Europeans Travelled to Antarctica First? You'll be Surprised
Were the Maoris the first to reach the frozen continent?, Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

A recent research reveals that Maoris and Polynesians have been journeying into the icy region from as early as the 7th century

OT Staff
June 14 , 2021
03 Min Read

If you thought the last word had been said about the discovery of the Antarctic, think again. A research project led by New Zealand based Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu has highlighted that the Maori people (indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand) and Polynesians journeyed to the icy continent long before others, probably as early as the seventh century.

The findings open wide the competitive claims by Russian, European and American explorers regarding who reached there first. Prior to the Maori connection, it was more or less established that a Russian expedition, led by Fabian von Bellingshausen, was the first to ‘discover’ the frozen continent on January 27, 1820, with a British team (led by naval officer Edward Bransfield) turning up three days later spotted the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. According to reports, the first person to step on the mainland of Antarctica was American explorer John Davis in 1821.

According to the Landcare Research website, the project members have been looking into the ‘connection of the Maori with Antarctica to better document and understand the contributions and perspectives of under-represented groups who are missing from current narratives’.

They scanned literature and assimilated the findings with oral histories to provide a compiled record of Maori presence in, and perspectives of, Antarctic narratives and exploration.

Read: Busted: The Most Common Myths About Antarctica

Said project lead Dr Priscilla Wehi, “We found 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.”

Tourists explore icebergs drifting near Cuverville island, Antarctic peninsula

Maori participation in Antarctic voyaging and expedition has continued to the present day, the website said.

“Taking account of responsibilities to under-represented groups, and particularly Maori as Treaty partners, is important for both contemporary and future programmes of Antarctic research, as well as for future exploration of New Zealand‘s obligations within the Antarctic Treaty System,” said Wehi.

The researchers, quoting various sources, said that Polynesian narratives talk about voyages into the Antarctic by Hui Te Rangiora (or Ui Te Rangiora) and his crew on the vessel Te Ivi o Atea, likely in the early seventh century. The study cites that the voyagers called the region ‘Te tai-uka-a-pia’, which essentially means ‘like the arrowroot’; the white starch obtained from the plant does look like snow. They also cited other related sources, including carvings, which show voyagers as well as navigational and astronomical knowledge from those early times.

The study titled ‘A Short Scan of Maori Journeys to Antarctica’ has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.


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