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Voyagers from eastern Polynesia evidently settled in the South Pacific islands of New Zealand from the late 12th century onward. Their descendants, the Maori, developed a unique variant on Polynesian religion, identifying features of the natural world with their gods and heroes. The land itself was said to have been formed when the trickster Māui caught a great fish (the North Island) while standing in his canoe (the South Island). Despite a brief encounter with the Dutch in 1642, New Zealand was not reincorporated into the wider world until its rediscovery by the British in 1769. Protestant missionaries encouraged Maori chiefs to sign the Treaty of Waitangi (1840), which brought them under British rule and legitimated large-scale immigration of mostly Christians from the British Isles.

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