Since I live in the United States, I’m exposed primarily to claims about the alternative history of America, so it’s refreshing to realize that America isn’t the only place where weird ideas about ancient history pop up. In fact, wherever there are white people who have colonized primarily non-white lands, we find alternative histories creating a fictive pre-history for Caucasian colonization. I remember reading ages ago about claims that some graffiti in an Australian cave was proof of ancient Egyptian colonization of Australia, and the white minority government of Rhodesia made white construction of Great Zimbabwe official ideology down to the fall of the regime in 1980. An entire genre has grown up around attempts to “prove” that the gods of South America were in fact a lost white race of civilizers who visited education upon the benighted brown peoples of that continent and ruled them as their Master Race.
So I was quite pleased to hear from a correspondent in New Zealand that the situation there is no different than here. New Zealand is a former British colony, officially a part of the British Commonwealth, and headed by Queen Elizabeth II. Today, 67% of the population identifies as white, the result of British colonization and government policies that favored white residents over native Māori people. This is down from 92% in 1961, due largely to more New Zealanders embracing Māori heritage. The country has experienced racial tension between the white majority and the Māori minority, who have accused the government of Eurocentrism and who have sought a greater role for Māori culture in New Zealand life.
The Māori came to New Zealand in the 1200s CE and were the first people to live on the islands, according to archaeology.
Against this backdrop, last year three New Zealand amateur alternative historians released a book called To the End of the Earth (not to be confused with books about the crypto-Jews of New Mexico or the North Pole that share the same title), which claimed that the Māori were not the indigenous people of New Zealand but rather interlopers who usurped a land discovered and colonized by white people from Europe a thousand years earlier. The book, by Maxwell C. Hill, Gary Cook and Noel Hilliam, made use of the same types of ambiguous and false evidence as American attempts at rewriting history, like America Unearthed. In fact, the authors relied on Barry Fell, the patron saint of America Unearthed, to validate their claims!
Note: I can’t find any information about publication of the book, only news accounts of it. It appears that it was privately printed, but it generated an enormous amount of press, second only to the press received by David Childress when he came to New Zealand in 1996 to tell New Zealanders that their country was part of an Egyptian-Muvian trade network of the world’s Aryan ancient peoples.
According to news accounts, the authors claim that an “ancient map” by Ptolemy, drawn “before the birth of Christ,” shows the coasts of Australia and New Zealand and thus demonstrates that the Greeks had reached New Zealand before the second century BCE. No original copies of Ptolemy’s world map exist; the oldest was “reconstructed” in the fifteenth century CE from descriptions of geography given in Ptolemy’s works. Even a cursory glance at reconstructed maps of Ptolemy shows that they demonstrate no awareness of South Pacific landforms.
They also claim that some rock art depicts a Greek ship. I have not seen the rock art, so I can’t say what it depicts, nor how one would distinguish a Greek ship in crude rock art.
They got the idea for this from Barry Fell, the British-born New Zealander who later lived in America. He identified some scratched lines in Indonesia as proof that a navigator named Maui sailed from Egypt to Indonesia in the reign of Ptolemy III in 232 BCE, and he got the idea that pretty much every weird inscription around the world was evidence of this voyage. (This was before he decided the Americas were chock full of European voyagers, too.) Fell claimed Maui circumnavigated the world under Captain Rata and the navigational advice of Greek scientist Eratosthenes, who conveniently declined to mention any such thing in his works, in order to “prove” Eratosthenes’ theory that the earth was round! This, in turn, merely reversed the order of events proposed by Thor Heyerdahl, who claimed that Europeans sailed to America to create civilization, and in turn these Euro-offshoots sailed on to Polynesia to found their culture. Thus, by the transitive property, the Polynesians were “really” degenerate Europeans.
A wonderful overview of this theme is given in K. R. Howe’s “Maori/Polynesian Origins and the ‘New Learning,’” in The Journal of Polynesian Society (later included in the much more detailed book, The Quest for Origins). Howe offers exhaustive detail on alternative theories about Polynesian origins and places it in the context of imperialist/colonialist ideology and racial fantasy. In the book, Howe also paints an interesting portrait of David Childress’s trip to New Zealand, where his Adventures Unlimited Press operated a book store, about which I was unaware. What follows is my discussion of material Howe presented.
Maui is a Māori god; if he could be proved to be a Greco-Egyptian, then the Maori are merely a subject people of Hellenistic culture. Barry Fell first proposed this idea in the 1970s in the New Zealand Listener, an influential publication, claiming Maui was from Libya, as were all Polynesians, and that they were known to the Greeks as the Mauri. The remnants of Maui’s expedition reproduced with local women and thus gave rise to the Māori people. Thus, Fell concluded, early New Zealand was part of “the old Mediterranean world” and the Māori language, far from being the “Other,” was in fact “our classical heritage.” It was a strange combination of Eurocentrism and an attempt to reconcile Māori and European.
R. A. Lochore, who attributed the Māori—and in fact all Polynesians—to Mesopotamia (!), supported Fell’s version of events and extended it back to 3000 BCE, when the first Māori ancestors lived in Northern Mesopotamia before moving to Libya and thus following Fell’s version of events. Lochore took it further, stating that the Polynesians also became the Indo-Aryans and colonized the Americas.
David Childress picked up the story, and he expanded upon it. If Fell and Lochore tried to reconcile the Māori and Europeans by pretending they were once one people, Childress imagined (in Ancient Tonga and the Lost City of Mu’ua, 1996) a full-on race-based class system. The Polynesians, he said, were the direct descendants of the Egyptians, who colonized the Pacific in search of gold. The Melanesians were their sub-Saharan African slaves who operated the (white) Egyptians’ gold mines. This is clearly derived from James Churchward’s imaginary Mu, where a white Master Race ruled over the brown peoples who squatted on the miserable islands of the Pacific.
In turn, all of this derives from Victorian race theories that sought to prove that the Aryan peoples (the Indo-Europeans) were the apex of civilization, and all others were undeveloped offspring of the same. Thus, the Polynesians were seen as primitive survivals of the earliest stages of Aryan culture, derived, they believed from Europe. As a simple example, Andrew Lang claimed that the Polynesian peoples’ mythology was derived from the Greek, and that they preserved a version of the Greek story of Jason and the Argonauts. And even this is merely a reworking of the still earlier claim that Europeans alone preserved Biblical truths correctly, while all others possessed degenerate versions of Biblical truth.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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