<i>Aotearoa a European hoax</i>

Maori arise. Tuhoe, march. You are in danger of having foisted upon you, in the guise of Maori history, a great European romantic invention.

We are talking here about the name Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud.

It is being promoted, and not for the first time, as a replacement for the old-fashioned, misspelt moniker New Zealand, which, in the eyes of the politically correct, reeks of the Dutch, clogs, windmills and European colonialists in general.

The majority of New Zealanders, including most Maori, have been through an education process which has convinced them that the original Maori name for the country was Aotearoa, and that this was arbitrarily replaced by European invaders.

This has been reinforced by such things as the Douglas Lilburn overture, Aotearoa, then the rather beautiful Maori version of the nation anthem, and by propaganda from Government departments, the education system and museums.

Strenuous attempts have been made to try to link Aotearoa to pre-European usage.Frankly, it is all bollocks.

Historian Michael King exposed the myth once and for all when he pointed out that Aotearoa was selected and popularised as a romantic Maori name for our islands by Pakeha writers such as William Pember Reeves and Stephenson Percy Smith, as well as the Education Department's School Journal.

With propaganda like the school journal (catch the little darlings when they are young and they are yours for life), the theory flourished till it became an established fact.

 It is now politically incorrect to raise a questioning voice.

The problem is that early Maori were a collection of tribes, not a nation. There was no postal system or communication with the outside world, no diplomatic missions, so there was no need for a collective name for this archipelago and its inhabitants.

There are traditional myths, such as Aotearoa being the name of the canoe of Kupe, the explorer, and that he named the land after it; or that Kupe's daughter called out ‘‘He ao, He ao'' (‘‘a cloud, a cloud'') over the first sighting of land, but again these are quite possibly further inventions of the European romanticists.

 The widespread use of Aotearoa followed the arrival of the Europeans. But up till the 20th century the name applied to the North Island only (or parts of the North Island).

Maori generally adopted the name Niu Tireni, a transliteration of New Zealand. Various sources cite Te Ika a Maui (the fish of Maui) as a widely used name for the North Island.

The South Island was Te Wai Pounamu (the waters of greenstone) or Te Wahi Pounamu (the place of greenstone).

Garbled versions of these names are seen in the papers and maps of James Cook and other early arrivals.

Tovypoenammoo was a wonderful European phonetic version of Te Wahi Pounamu. I have the greatest respect for geographic name researcher George Holmes, who has slogged away for years investigating geographic mysteries and mistakes.

More than 70 of his discoveries have been accepted by the New Zealand Geographic Board, which is an astounding record, deserving much kudos. It would be one thing, as he suggests, to consider a return to the correct original spelling of Zeeland.

But to discard altogether the internationally known and respected New Zealand for Aotearoa, after all this time, would be perpetrating a giant European hoax on Maoridom.

How could activists possibly accept such a deception? Changing the country's name would invite comparisons with the lunatic Pol Potists, who turned Cambodia into the killing fields of Kampuchea, and with the equally unlikeable Burmese junta, who renamed the country Myanmar.

William Pember Reeves and those early editors of the Education Department's school journal would no doubt spin in their graves with delight, but what would a name change do for the rest of us?

Abel Tasman in 1642 dubbed us Staten Landt on his initial maps. Dutch cartographers changed the name to Nieuw Zeeland, after the Dutch province.

This was presumably considered a logical match for the New Holland name initially bestowed on Australia's east coast.

Cook turned Zeeland into Zealand, either through deliberate Anglicisation of the Dutch, or because, some have suggested, he was confused by the spelling of the Danish island of Zealand.

But to step from this minor historic blip to the invented myth of Aotearoa is inconceivable.

The Dominion Post