Maori might have been the first to discover Antarctica, with connections to the icy continent and its surrounding oceans stretching back to the seventh century, researchers say.
A new paper by University of Otago combines literature and oral histories, and concludes that Maori were likely the first people to explore Antarctica’s surrounding waters and possibly the continent in the distance.
They write that Maori and Polynesian journeys to the deep south have been occurring for a long time, perhaps as far back as the 7th century, and are recorded in a variety of oral traditions.
The oral histories of Maori groups Ngti Rrua and Te ti Awa say that the first human to travel to Antarctica was the Polynesian explorer Hui Te Rangiora.
“Polynesian narratives of voyaging between the islands include voyaging into antarctic waters by Hui Te Rangiora and his crew on the vessel Te Ivi o Atea, likely in the early seventh century,” the researchers wrote.
They named that ocean Te tai-uka-a-pia — the frozen ocean, with “pia” referring to arrowroot, which when scraped looks like snow.
Records of polynesian oral histories from 1899 describe the journey, recalling “the monstrous seas; the female that dwells in those mountainous waves, whose tresses wave about in the water and on the surface of the sea, the frozen sea of arrowroot, with the deceitful animal of the sea who dives to great depths — a foggy, misty and dark place not seen by the sun. Other things are like rocks, whose summits pierce the skies, they are completely bare and without vegetation on them.”
S.P. Smith, who recorded the oral histories, said that the stories might describe Southern
Ocean bull-kelp, marine mammals and icebergs.
Later, Maori sailor Te Atu is often described as the first Maori, as well as the first New Zealander, to view the coast of Antarctica in 1840. His trip on the Vincennes mapped Antarctica coastline as part of the US Exploring Expedition.
Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev are often credited as the first explorers to have discovered the continent of Antarctica. In 1820, they came upon the Fimbul Ice Shelf.
“We found connection to Antarctica and its waters have been occurring since the earliest traditional voyaging,” project lead Priscilla Wehi said. “Taking account of responsibilities to under-represented groups, and particularly Maori, is important for both contemporary and future programs of antarctic research.”
The researchers also conducted a review of ongoing Maori involvement with, and journeys to, Antarctica.
“Narratives of under-represented groups and their connection to Antarctica remain poorly documented and acknowledged,” the researchers wrote.
The paper entitled “A short scan of Maori journeys to Antarctica” was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
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