Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pre-Departure Blog Post

Emily Olson

One of the most intriguing things I learned from Blue Latitudes is that there is a fairly deep divide between the Maori and Pakeha perceptions of Captain Cook and his impact on New Zealand's history. I think that to a lot of Westerners, it's just a given that Captain Cook sailed around the world and discovered new places, but, much like how people may take for granted the effects of European explorers and colonists on the natives of the Americas, no one really thinks about how much Cook changed the history of the lands he encountered. In the way Horwitz describes it, the Pakeha of New Zealand, at least up until the late 1900s, seemed to share this western tunnel vision. I also found it interesting that the Maori took inspiration from such civil rights figures as Martin Luther King Jr. in their own struggle for legal recognition and their efforts to broaden the history and culture of New Zealand to include the Maori perspective. I also find it interesting that this cultural "renaissance" is similar in many ways to the reorganization of Native American heritage in American history in the last century. Perhaps only fifty years ago, if you were to visit New Zealand as a casual tourist, you may not have even known of the Maori's existence before you arrived – and even then you still may never have encountered any public acknowledgement in New Zealand society. Nowadays, though, the Maori are included as a distinct part of New Zealand's heritage and are even a selling point for tourism, as shown on New Zealand's tourism guide ( When thinking about New Zealand as an ideal paradise, especially from a naturalist point of view, it's easy to forget that there are internal human struggles as there are in every other country.
I also was surprised to learn that Cook was a collected man, not the "shoot first, ask questions later" type that the stereotype of early European explorer tends to provide. He gave the Maori the benefit of the doubt, and even defended their virtue against his own men. This isn't to say there was no bloodshed, even from him, but altogether the first meeting between Cook and the Maori seemed, to me, to be one of exploration history's more civil meetings.
I have always been fascinated by the similarities, differences, perceptions of, and cultures of people from other areas of the globe. I am very excited to have the chance to meet kiwis who I hope will share their own culture with me, and also give me their viewpoints and opinions on mine. I am excited to see what the cultural settings of the various places we will be visiting are. I can't wait for the marae stay, but I also look forward to the bigger cities and being able to assess the differences and similarities in urban life between New Zealand and the United States.
I also am excited to explore the natural settings of New Zealand. I already know how breathtaking the land is, which compared to the East Coast of the United States where I am from, is relatively pristine. I am very interested in exploring the biological differences between the Pacific Ocean, which I have only set foot in once before, and the Atlantic Ocean, which I have lived around all my life. Ever since I was in grade school I have always been fascinated by volcanoes, so the chance to explore and learn about islands formed by them is very exciting. In short. . . I can't wait!

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