A 4-part report about a trip to New Zealand.
-A little afterthought I once wrote down on a lonely beach in New Zealand-
It was Abel Tasman who in 1642 laid eyes upon New Zealand as the first European. He belonged to a bunch of Dutch sailors who navigated the Indian Ocean for quite a while to reach their trading center Batavia in Indonesia. Their motivation for traveling was for the most part trade. The mere adventure of exploration and discovery was actually not their thing. It’s interesting to understand how they have traveled along the west coast of Australia for a long time without realizing that it was a huge continent. They obviously were not interested. Exactly 370 years ago Tasman went to look a little further and found New Zealand. He, in fact, saw Cape Foulwind, traveled around Cape Farewell on the South Island, had a brief encounter with natives and left with a very vague idea of where he had been.
He didn’t impress the world with his findings at all, and it took another 130 years until James Cook really discovered and explored it. Cook came from the east all the way across the Pacific this time. I find it interesting to imagine situations like Tasman’s discovery. When we try to reenact events like that we must realize how biased we are. We know that he indeed found NZ. But did he “find” it? We know that on a course only slightly more northerly he wouldn’t have seen anything and most likely turned around and probably been quite satisfied with the trip. He did not really look for something that already existed in his mind as J. Cook certainly did. How can we possibly imagine to not know what we know? You cannot really reenact experiences, especially not when they are historical collective ones like this: the discovery of a new important land. Tasman didn’t have a clue what he had found – in those years they actually speculated that he might have seen the west coast of South America – and I find it difficult to accept that he wasn’t terribly interested to investigate more. It is a peculiar fact that these guys were not typically uninterested, they simply didn’t have reason to be interested, they didn’t know what we know today. History had to play for a while until such interest would come. Tasman had mercantile markets on his mind, maybe personal wealth. He had a good idea of the fact that the world was round but somehow did not quite grasp yet what that meant. That too has so many implications and is so hard to imagine for us. How can you, even for a moment, un-know what you know? The power and fascination of scientific knowledge had barely been discovered at this time. He probably was not driven by it yet, so why should he be excited?
Klaus March 2012