NGĀTI TŪMATAKŌKIRI were an iwi on alert. They had come, unbidden, from the north and were, predictably, surrounded by hostile tribes who bitterly resented their intrusion. In such circumstances it is never advisable to lower your guard. Eyes need to be kept wide open, and weapons close to hand.
But no exhortations to watchfulness could possibly have prepared Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri for the alien craft that sailed into their bay on the 18 December 1642. That they were sailing vessels was obvious, but much, much larger and more intricately rigged than anything they had ever before encountered.
Formally challenged, the strange, pale-skinned men (if men they were and not the unearthly patupaiarehe who stole away women and children) responded in ways that made no sense. Returning the following day, prepared for battle, Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri warriors intercepted a smaller craft, not dissimilar to their own, and killed some of the pale-skinned men propelling it in the direction of a second, more distant, vessel.
Almost immediately, the nearest alien craft responded. Flashes of fire. Clouds of acrid smoke. A sound louder than the loudest thunder. Transfixed, the warriors stared with open mouths at the angry faces of the pale aliens emerging from the drifting smoke. Then, acutely conscious of their peril, the warriors turned the waka about and paddled furiously for the shore.
By the next day the alien craft had gone. Their like would not be seen again by Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri, or any other Maori, for another 127 years.
Is it possible that, over the past few weeks, the United States of America has responded to an alien incursion in ways curiously evocative of Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri? Confronted with what the Pentagon calls “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” in their own (and Canada’s) airspace, F-22 “Raptor” fighter-jets have been sent up to shoot down what most of us still call UFOs – Unidentified Flying Objects.
Responding to the killing of four of his sailors by the local inhabitants, Abel Tasman had named the antipodean crime-scene “Murderers’ Bay”. Has an alien starship commander, now en route (at Warp Factor 5) to a less dangerous part of the galaxy, already named this inhospitable planet “Murderers’ World”?
But, surely, the craft shot out of the skies over recent days were mere elaborations of that downed Chinese spy-balloon – the all-too-terrestrial remains of which the US Navy is currently dredging-up off the South Carolina coast?
Well, no – apparently not. A big balloon is a big balloon. But the craft shot down in recent days were not balloons. One of the UAPs was described as “cylindrical” in shape, another as “octagonal”, and no one from the United States military has yet been willing to hazard a guess as to what was propelling them through the sky at 40,000 feet.
Asked if the USAF had shot down three alien spacecraft, in as many days, the man charged with protecting North American airspace, General Glen VanHerck replied: “I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven’t ruled out anything.”
Which is not quite the contemptuous dismissal the journalist who asked the question may have been expecting.
Even so, by far the most likely explanation for this sudden rash of UAP/UFO interceptions is that they represent a new departure in surveillance technology – not the unheralded arrival of extra-terrestrial visitors.
For the past 75 years the major powers have had their eyes peeled for military and surveillance technology like their own: high-flying aircraft, spy satellites, missiles, stealth bombers. But, imagine that one of the United States competitors, China say, was to come up with craft so unusual that, until recently, the Americans simply hadn’t been able to see them? What if, like the sailing-ships encountered by Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri, these new craft are so far removed from the technology the Americans are used to tracking, the craft they expect to see, that when they turn up in US airspace – and are finally noticed – they seem to come from another world?
It’s an interesting theory – and almost certainly the most plausible explanation for what is happening high above the North American continent. But, wouldn’t it be thrilling if the extra-terrestrial explanation turned out to be true? Instantaneously, the boundaries of what human-beings believe to be possible would be expanded by what could only be measured in light years.
“What the hell is that!”
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 February 2023.