The history of New Zealand dates back at least 700 years to when it was discovered and settled by Polynesians, who developed a distinct Māori culture centred on kinship links and land. The first European explorer to sight New Zealand was Abel Janszoon Tasman on 13 December 1642. Captain James Cook, who reached New Zealand in October 1769 on the first of his three voyages, was the first European explorer to circumnavigate and map New Zealand. From the late 18th century, the country was regularly visited by explorers and other sailors, missionaries, traders and adventurers. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British Crown and various Māori chiefs, bringing New Zealand into the British Empire and giving Māori "equal rights" with British citizens. There was extensive British settlement throughout the rest of the century. War and the imposition of a European economic and legal system led to most of New Zealand's land passing from Māori to Pākehā (European) ownership, and most Māori subsequently became impoverished.
From the 1890s the New Zealand parliament enacted a number of progressive initiatives, including women's suffrage and old age pensions. The country remained an enthusiastic member of the British Empire, and 110,000 men fought in World War I (see New Zealand Expeditionary Force). After the war New Zealand signed the Treaty of Versailles (1919), joined the League of Nations, and pursued an independent foreign policy, while its defence was still controlled by Britain.
When World War II broke out in 1939, New Zealanders saw their proper role as defending their place in the British Empire; the country contributed some 120,000 troops. From the 1930s the economy was highly regulated and an extensive welfare state was developed. Meanwhile, Māori culture underwent a renaissance, and from the 1950s Māori began moving to the cities in large numbers. This led to the development of a Māori protest movement which in turn led to greater recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi in the late 20th century.
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