The Māori are believed to have arrived in New Zealand somewhere in the later part of the first millennium AD, coming from Tahiti or some other part of eastern Polynesia. Archaeological evidence suggests that there were probably several waves of migration over the period between 800 and 1300AD. Māori myth and legend describe their arrival from the mythical Hawaiki by large ocean-going canoes or waka. There are several different migration accounts and the members of the various Māori tribes or iwi can identify with the different waka in their genealogies or whakapapa.
According to the Ngapuhi they sailed from Hawaiki and their journey was aided by the gods in that the sun did not set for three days. A possible reason for this claim is that their voyage coincided with the appearance in the sky of the Crab Nebula Supernova which for several days was bright enough to be seen in daylight. Chinese historians also recorded this event and dated it to July, 1054.
The origin of the Polynesians has often been the source of much speculation. Recent maternal DNA analysis indicates that the Polynesians, including Māori, are most closely related to the peoples of east Asia. However there is also evidence of at least cultural contact with the people of South America. It has become clear that Polynesian seafarers were capable of making very long voyages in some cases against the prevailing winds and tides, and their navigation skills were very well developed. Several long voyages have been made in recent times in traditionally constructed vessels to prove this point.
In his scholarly book "The Penguin History Of New Zealand", noted historian Michael King said Maori were "the last major human community on earth untouched and unaffected by the wider world".
These early reports described the Māori as a fierce and proud warrior race. Inter-tribal warfare was a way of life, with the conquered being enslaved or in some cases eaten. From as early as the 1780s Māori had encounters with European sealers and whalers, some even crewed on their ships. There was also a continuous trickle of escaped convicts from Australia and deserters from visiting ships. By 1830 it was estimated that as many as 2000 Pakeha living among the Maori, most of them as slaves although a few achieved some status among the tribes. They were known as Pakeha Maori. When Pomare led a war party against Titore in 1838 among his warriors were 132 Pakeha mercenaries.
During this period the acquisition of muskets by those tribes in close contact with European visitors destabilised the existing balance of power between Maori tribes, and there was a period of bloody inter-tribal warfare, known as the Musket Wars during which several tribes were effectively exterminated and others were driven from their traditional territory. European diseases also killed a large but unknown number of Maori during this period. Estimates vary between ten and fifty percent.
With increasing European missionary activity and settlement in the 1830s, various Māori chiefs signed treaties with representatives of the British Crown. The most significant of these was the Treaty of Waitangi, which gave Māori British citizenship in return for a guarantee of property rights and tribal autonomy.
In the 1860s, disputes over questionable land purchases lead to the Māori Wars, which resulted in large tracts of tribal land being confiscated by the colonial government. With the loss of much of their land, Māori went into a period of decline, and in the late 19th century it was believed that the Māori population would cease to exist as a separate race and would be assimilated into the European population. However this did not occur and numbers recovered. Despite a high degree of intermingling between the Maori and European populations, Maori were able to retain their cultural identity and in the 1960s and 1970s Māoridom underwent a cultural revival.
Since that time, sympathetic governments and political activism has led to compensation for the unjust confiscation of land and the violation of other property rights. A special court, the Waitangi Tribunal, was established to investigate and make recommendations on such issues. As a result of the compensation paid, Māori now have significant interests in the fishing and forestry industries.
Māori culture and language is taught in some New Zealand schools, and pre-school kohanga reo or language nests teach tamariki or young children exclusively in Māori. The Māori language has the equivalent status to English in government and law. Māori politicians have seven designated seats in the New Zealand parliament and consideration and consultation with Māori are routine requirements for many New Zealand councils and government organisations.