Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Q: Who first discovered New Zealand?

"[In her book Two Worlds, Anne Salmond] claims that the Dutch were not the first to have discovered New Zealand. In one sense this is true. Polynesians had arrived long before Tasman and had what would be more correctly described as 'found' it. But whether 'found' or 'discovered,' there was a difference.
    "First, Europeans discovered the Maori; but the Maori did not find Europe, until the English showed it to them. Second, even if one speaks of a Polynesian discovery of New Zealand and supposes that the earliest navigators found their way back to where they had come from in order to bring in women and supplies, this knowledge was lost... long before Tasman's arrival.
    "The reason why one cannot say that they had discovered it is that they had no universal schema by which to describe and locate their discovery. The islands they had stumbled upon were, therefore, literally, found, but not discovered.
    "One might imagine that it is a mere quibble whether one calls the Polynesian landfalls a 'find' or a 'discovery.' But it is far from a mere quibble when one wants to understand the differences in the attitudes of the finders and of the discoverers. To the former this was a once-off experience, which did not alter their world-picture or their understanding of themselves; to the latter it was further proof that the earth was round, that its islands or continents were not yet all known but soon would be, and it was an exercise in seamanship, astronomy and geography because they were able to return to Europe and tell others about it. 'To discover' implies that one is able to put one's find on the map.
    "It is true that the Polynesian landings were an addition to knowledge; but a very small and very locally limited addition. The Tasman sightings filled in lacunae in a vast general picture of the world, which had nothing much to do with the strictly local cultural conditions in the Netherlands which had prompted Tasman to sail. Tasman enlarged the world and did not just add one more chant or ritual dance to the self-legitimising features of his own culture. He transcended it.
    "All the same, there is a telling contrast which Salmond not so much as mentions. Polynesian sailors were incredibly intrepid because they were prepared to sail into the unknown. European sailors were never intrepid. They hugged the coastlines and sailed out into the Atlantic only when they thought they 'knew' what they were up to. When Columbus' discovery, for example, did not live up to his bookish expectations, he refused to believe his eyes. Polynesian sailors, unhampered by books, were a great deal more enterprising and receptive of novelty. Salmond wipes out the differences and impoverishes the past."
~ Peter Munz, from his review 'The Two Worlds of Anne Salmond in Postmodern Fancy-Dress'

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