TT: The Mystery of Zea

Looking for the Wednesday Wanderings?  Page back one for a song and some insight into the character of Adara from Artemis Awakening.   Then come back and adventure with me and Alan into the deep, dark verges of Staten Landt.

JANE: Y’know, Alan, we’ve been doing these Tangents for a long while now…

Where the Continents Are

Where the Continents Are

ALAN: Yes – we haven’t missed a week for three years! Let’s pat each other on the back.

JANE:  Actually, we’ll have to pat our own backs, since half-way around the globe is a bit of a stretch.  There, I’ve done it…

Anyhow, I realized that although I’ve been to New Zealand and feel a very strong connection to it because of our continued correspondence, I actually know very little about the history of its settlement by Europeans.  What’s a “Zea”?  How is yours “new”?

ALAN: I’ll do my best – but remember I’m a newcomer here myself. This stuff wasn’t drummed in to me at school. I may need to check things with my godson, Jamie. He’s eleven, and he knows stuff.

JANE: That’s fine with me.  Eleven is a good age for history.

ALAN: And I’m sure I’ll have some questions for you as well. Since I’m from England originally, my view of the settlement of America is accordingly somewhat skewed. (Damned upstart colonials! Humph!).

Now, to answer your original question…

The first European to lay eyes on this country was the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642. He named it Staten Landt because he assumed it was a peninsula connected to the tip of South America (at the time, the Dutch name for South America was Staten Landt).

JANE: At first, to this typically geography-challenged American, that sounded insane, but I took a moment to consult the gloriously decadent atlas I bought myself (because being geographically challenged is a handicap for a writer), and then the little globe Jim has had since he was a schoolboy.  I could see why Abel Tasman might have thought this.

He was just a bit off regarding distance, though, wasn’t he?

ALAN: Indeed he was.  In fact, when he got back home to Holland, the Dutch cartographers who produced the official maps for his expedition didn’t agree with his deductions at all, for that very reason, and so they named these lands Nova Zeelandia, which is Latin for New Zeeland – Zeeland (pronounced Zay-lont) is a province of Holland.

JANE: Darn!  I was hoping that Zee would turn out to be the name of the cartographer.    Tasman did get a landmass named after him though, right?

ALAN: He did very well in the naming stakes. The stretch of water that separates New Zealand and Australia is the Tasman Sea, and the large island just off the south-east coast of Australia is called Tasmania. That’s the home of the famous Tasmanian Devils that you might be familiar with from Warner Brothers’ cartoons…

JANE: Our zoo here in Albuquerque just received a couple of Tasmanian devils.  They’re not exactly cute like kiwi birds are cute, but we’re very happy to have them.

ALAN: I disagree. I think they look really cute and quite cuddly. Until you notice just how long and scary their claws are…

The Wellington Zoo has an Australian enclosure and they recently received a couple of Tasmanian devils to complete their collection. Most of the animals in the enclosure are free to wander around as they please and the Zoo visitors can wander round with them and get very close. However the Tasmanian Devils are in a separate caged area and people can’t interact with them directly. I’d never seen one until the Zoo acquired this pair, but now that I’ve seen just how lethal their claws look, I’m not surprised that the zoo keeps them caged.

JANE: Yet another thing we have in common!  Astonishing.

Now, we’ve gotten all the way to Nova Zeelandia.  How did you lose the “ia” at the end and acquire an “a” in place of the double “e”?

ALAN: The next European explorer to visit this area of the world was the Englishman James Cook in 1769. He mapped the entire coastline and proved that the country consisted of a set of islands, just as the Dutch cartographers had suspected. He anglicised the name they had assigned, and the country became New Zealand.

The native Maori were not impressed. They called the country Aoteoroa which translates as “The Land of the Long White Cloud.” Aoteoroa is still actively used today, by both Maori and non-Maori alike. And I think it is rather beautiful.

How did America get its name? It’s a weird sounding word…

JANE: First, I agree that Aoteoroa is a lovely word.  In the one story I wrote set in New Zealand, that was the name I chose to use.  However, “The Land of the Long White Cloud” would be a bit cumbersome for return address labels, wouldn’t it?

 As for America, well, it’s a little convoluted.  The name comes from an Italian (Florentine, actually) explorer who demonstrated that – like Tasman – Christopher Columbus was distance-challenged.  Columbus thought that he’d found the western edge of the Asia, thus the name “West Indies” that clings to the Caribbean to this day.  (And confused me like crazy when I was a kid.)

ALAN: I’ve always been vaguely surprised at the misinformation that people have about Columbus. I was taught at school that Columbus proved the world was round and that he discovered America. I was well into adulthood before I discovered that both those “facts” are utterly wrong. Scholars had known that the world was round since the days of the ancient Greeks, and as you rightly pointed out, Columbus didn’t discover America at all, he discovered the West Indies.

JANE: The half-truths about Columbus are fascinating, but you’re not going to divert me!  Back to America.

The explorer who disproved Columbus was named Amerigo Vespucci.  His first name, Latinized, was “Americus.”  This, in turn, became “America” and was attached to the two “New World” continents.  I’ve always thought it interesting that the Italians, who never established any colonies in North America, gave the name that has become almost synonymous with “citizen of the United States,” probably because it’s easier to say “I’m an American” rather than “I am a resident of the United States.”

Songwriters, political hacks, and writers of advertising slogans should probably found an annual holiday devoted to the man who saved them from having to come up with really complicated jingles and slogans.

ALAN: Absolutely! I’ve never understood why you have a Columbus Day holiday in America. You should immediately rename it Vespucci day

JANE: Okay!  I’m fighting an urge to recast a whole bunch of songs…  At least Bruce Springsteen sang, “Born in the U.S.A.”  He’s safe, but…  However, I will be serious and adult.

So, the Dutch were the first to locate New Zealand for the rest of Europe.  (It’s really easier to say “discovered,” but a lot of Polynesian peoples had already done that.)   Were the Dutch also the first Europeans to attempt to settle?

ALAN: Let’s talk about that next time. It’s quite an interesting story…

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3 Responses to “TT: The Mystery of Zea”

  1. Peter Says:

    “American” is really only synonymous with “citizen of the US” in English – in Spanish “americano” refers to anybody from the Americas (North, Central, or South), and “norteamericano” (“North American”) is often used to mean “citizen of the US”.

    As a Canadian teaching English in Mexico years ago I used to use this in class to show how cognates are Not Necessarily Your Friend: “Somos todos americanos, but none of us is American. We’re all North Americans, pero no somos norteamericanos.”

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    I’d point out that claws on a Tasmanian devil aren’t the business end. That would be the mouth. As I understand it, their jaws are pretty similar to those of hyenas, which means they’re bone crushers. I don’t think they’re quite in the same league as the spotted hyena, but you definitely wouldn’t want to be bitten by one. They’ve called devils for the sounds they make when they fight and such, not for what they do to people, incidentally.

    They’re also being decimated in the wild by a contagious oral cancer, which probably tells you more about how cancer cells work than you wanted to know. It’s transmitted when they bite each other, especially when they’re fighting for mates. Good that there’s a healthy little colony in New Mexico.

    Just to further mystify “zee,” it’s the Dutch word for “sea.” This, of course, makes perfect sense in the Netherlands*, but it’s rather humorous to call that rather tallish island “New Sealand.” There’s some lore in Polynesian Hawaii (ancient or modern, it’s hard to tell), about the importance of having a cloud cap on the peaks of the island**, so “land of the long white cloud” probably has some practical meaning, as well as the poetic part.

    *God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland…by reclaiming it from the sea. I always get confused about the whole Dutch/Holland/Netherlands thing, but that’s the politics of the Holy Roman Empire for you. I think. Or maybe I’m still confused.

    **You only get the cloud cap on an island when there’s enough vegetation transpiring on the slopes to saturate the air to make the rain cloud on the top peak through adiabatic cooling. One of the smaller islands in the Hawaiian chain (which is at the same latitude as Saudi Arabia) was devegetated by goats in the last century and lost its cloud cap as it became a real desert. The people working to restore it knew things were coming back when the cloud cap reappeared over its peak. Given how precious fresh water is to the Hawaiians, they like seeing rain clouds atop their islands. I suspect that seeing a “long white cloud” after a long sea voyage would make voyaging Polynesians think that they’d struck it rich.

  3. janelindskold Says:

    “Our” tasmanian devils are in New Mexico in part because of the cancer problem. The hope is to preserve some. I’m sure it helps that the New Mexico Bio Park has a fair number of healthy anitipodean critters. I’m in love with the wombats…

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