Moehanga Day: New Zealand’s Māori mark the day they ‘discovered’ Britain

New Zealanders have quietly acknowledged an anniversary this week: Moehanga Day, or the day Māori “discovered” Britain.

In a tongue-in-cheek nod to their former colonial power, some Kiwis have began an annual remembrance of the first trip by a Māori to London.

That man was Moehanga of Northland’s Ngāpuhi tribe, who reached Britain in 1806, before New Zealand officially became a British colony in 1840.

Deputy Labour leader Kelvin Davis, the most powerful Māori in Jacinda Ardern’s government and a fellow Ngāpuhi man, gave his nod to the quiet commemoration.

“The day that Māori discovered England,” he said, chuckling, “It’s got a great twist to it. I like it.”

“This is all part of history that we should be talking about and celebrating. If it’s celebrating some of our Ngāpuhi ancestors, then why not?”

In 1805, Moehanga boarded the whaling vessel “Ferret” from the Bay of Islands in northern New Zealand, arriving in Britain on 27 April the next year.

Historian Tony Ballantyne, of the University of Otago, said Moehanga was an acute observer and his journey was significant.

“Moehanga’s visit to London can be understood as a part of a long sequence of indigenous travellers from the Americas and the Pacific and leaders of colonised communities from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean,” he said.

“(They) journeyed to England, seeking to understand its power and culture and often with the desire to articulate their own political visions and to challenge the profound inequalities of empire.”

Moehanga visited St Paul’s Cathedral, was particularly interested in music and culture, but disliked London’s rowdiness.

Moehanga later claimed to have met Queen Charlotte during his visit, performing a haka for her.

Ballantyne said he liked the push to recognise Moehanga’s “discovery”.

“It both marks the significance of a pioneering Māori traveller and also challenges us to think about the assumptions that often shape our historical narratives,” he said.

“All too often, it is still the case that Europeans are seen as the dynamic agents in history and indigenous peoples are reduced to be passive actors at the margin of the story.”

Davis said his ancestors Hare and Hariata Pomare also claimed a historical feat: giving birth to the first Māori in Britain 48 years later.

“They had an audience with Queen Victoria who noticed that Hariata was pregnant,” he said.

“She said to her ‘if your baby is a boy name him after my recently deceased husband Albert Victor and if it’s girl, name her after me, Victoria’.

“It happened to be a boy. And so he was named Albert Victor Pomare and he became Queen Victoria’s godson.”

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