It was 1280 when you arrived.

You had crossed the sea from overcrowded Polynesia in search of a new life. The uninhabited islands were temperate and your tropical crops wouldn’t grow. You must have been overjoyed when you saw the Moa - giant, flightless birds, some the size of turkeys, others towering eleven feet tall. 

You named them Kuranui, ‘the great treasure’ and you hunted them for their flesh and eggs. You made clothing from their skins and feathers and carved pendants from their bones. 

Your folklore taught you to respect the environment, hunting different creatures by seasons, giving them time to recover. But the Moa were slow-maturing; they took ten years to reproduce. You must have seen their numbers dwindle, why didn't you stop? 

You used fire as you’d always done, burning the land to cleanse it, to allow new growth. But the broad-leaf conifer forests couldn’t regenerate like the Polynesian jungle had; burning left it barren. 

In a hundred years you altered the landscape beyond recovery. The Moa was extinct; the giant Haast Eagle too, and twenty other birds. 

But still you didn’t stop. When Captain Cook arrived in the eighteenth century, he saw ‘smoke by day or fires by night’ in the scorched islands you had made your home. 

New Zealand

Alex Harvie

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