237.131 Assignment #1

The Doctrine of Discovery


The Doctrine of Discovery permitted European governments to deem land that was unoccupied by Christians as unoccupied by anyone and therefore able to be “discovered” and colonized, often in spite of there already being indigenous peoples living there. This allowed early explorers to take possession of such lands in the name of their King or Queen, to colonize, and to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. The Discovery Doctrine’s earliest origins are in a series of Papal Bulls (public declarations by the Pope). One key Papal Bull, the “Inter caetera” issued by Alexander VI on May 4th 1493, granted all lands to the west and south of an arbitrary line to the rulers of Spain and Portugal. Critically, as highlighted in the quotation below, this also gave the monarchs the right to take possession of any lands that were not already in the possession of Christians. It ignored the fact that some of these lands were already occupied by non-Christian peoples, thus opening them to colonization.

In combination with other Papal Bulls, for example the Dum Diversas[1]https://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2011/02/dum-diversas-english-translation.html and Romanus Pontifex[2]https://www.papalencyclicals.net/nichol05/romanus-pontifex.htm of Pope Nicholas V, which gave the Portuguese monarchs subjugatory powers over Muslims and other non-Christians, including the right to enslave Africans, Christian explorers perceived a “Divine Right” to take the land and property of indigenous peoples, convert them to Christianity, enslave them, and colonize their territories. These Papal Bulls and the laws that have flowed from them have not been fully rescinded since the 15th Century. The Doctrine Of Discovery was therefore part of the underlying framework of discovery and colonization that Cook brought with him to the New Zealand context. This framework enabled subsequent colonializing acts such as the establishment of the state and legal system, land seizures and war, and suppression of Māori culture including te reo Māori. Although the Vatican has been repeatedly asked, including by Māori, to rescind these Papal Bulls, it has consistently refused to do so, and they remain a barrier to social equity.

And, in order that you may enter upon so great an undertaking with greater readiness and heartiness endowed with the benefit of our apostolic favor, we, of our own accord, not at your instance nor the request of anyone else in your regard, but of our own sole largess and certain knowledge and out of the fullness of our apostolic power, by the authority of Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents, should any of said islands have been found by your envoys and captains, give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole, namely the north, to the Antarctic pole, namely the south, no matter whether the said mainlands and islands are found and to be found in the direction of India or towards any other quarter, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde.

With this proviso however that none of the islands and mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, beyond that said line towards the west and south, be in the actual possession of any Christian king or prince up to the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ just past from which the present year one thousand four hundred and ninety-three begins. And we make, appoint, and depute you and your said heirs and successors lords of them with full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind; with this proviso however, that by this our gift, grant, and assignment no right acquired by any Christian prince, who may be in actual possession of said islands and mainlands prior to the said birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, is hereby to be understood to be withdrawn or taken away.

“Papal Bull Inter Caetera.” Papal Bull Inter Caetera, Aug. 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cookie,url,uid&db=f5h&AN=21212290&site=eds-live&scope=site.

‘Inter Caetera’. Papal Encyclicals, 4 May 1493, https://www.papalencyclicals.net/alex06/alex06inter.htm. Accessed 13 Aug. 2021.

Contextual Understanding

I chose to look at 6th Sense, by Steve Gibbs.

‘6th Sense’. Auckland Art Gallery, https://www.aucklandartgallery.com/explore-art-and-ideas/artwork/31361/6th-sense. Accessed 29 Jul. 2021.

Steve Gibbs’ paintings here recall the arrival of Captain James Cook in Turanganui-a-Kiwa on 7 October 1769. When Cook made land he named it Poverty Bay as he was unable to gain vital supplies needed while there. For Steve Gibbs and his iwi (tribe), they recall Pāoa who co-captained the Horouta waka (canoe), which made landfall at Tūranganui-a-Kiwa as the origin of their arrival in the region.

6th Sense, 2017 considers both histories from the perspective of Pāoa’s pet dog, Marewaiteao. The headland Te Kuri a Pāoa (the dog of Pāoa) become known as Young Nicks Head. The depiction of Pāoa’s white dog in this painting is a metaphor for the people who occupied the region to the south of Turanganui a Kiwa down to Mahia. The title, 6th Sense, suggests the inevitability of the changes that British colonisation would bring to the region and to the country.

‘6th Sense’. Auckland Art Gallery, https://www.aucklandartgallery.com/explore-art-and-ideas/artwork/31361/6th-sense. Accessed 29 Jul. 2021.

The painting connects the histories of local Māori to that of Cook and his crew through their arrival at Tūranganui-a-Kiwa / Poverty Bay. Cook named the bay in that way because his crew were unable to gain supplies due to conflict with local Iwi, where several Māori and one of Cook’s crew were killed. From my research, I know that Gibbs is heavily influenced by his connection to the land and to mana whenua[3]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJfaeTJH7Ts. In 6th sense, he uses the dog of the Ngāti Porou explorer Pawa – te kūri o Pawa – as an observer of colonization and the inevitability of change. The Discovery Doctrine is an integral part of this. Cook and Endeavour are carrying with them a history of centuries of exploitative relations with indigenous peoples, supported by a religious and legal framework that legitimizes their actions. This is the inevitability that te kūri o Pawa is seeing.

Although the Doctrine is a human mechanism derived from the edicts of the Catholic Church, from a personal perspective I simply cannot get past the fact that all human societies, with few exceptions, have applied – and continue to apply – a similar doctrine to non-human species. For humanity, colonization driven by the Discovery Doctrine has had disastrous consequences for indigenous peoples. If anything, the impacts on indigenous ecosystems and biodiversity have been even more consequential. Habitat destruction, including mass deforestation, over-exploitation of delicately balanced ecosystems, and ultimately extinctions, have been the result every time humans have moved into new environments. Before human settlement, over 80% of Aotearoa / New Zealand was covered in forest. Up to 40% of those forests were destroyed within 200 years of Māori settlement. Later European colonization exacerbated that, reducing forest cover by a further 35%. This habitat loss, combined with hunting and the introduction of non-native species, including predators that native species were unable to defend themselves against, resulted in the extinction of 46 unique bird species, as well as many others. There is no denying that Māori and Pākehā share the blame for this calamity. We should be acknowledging this shared legacy of destruction, working to make amends, and recognizing that this ongoing behaviour is a key driver of global climate change; instead, the peoples of Aotearoa / New Zealand squabble over who holds more rights over the ashes and bones. I chose to reflect this in my creative response to the key issues my research has raised.

Humans have also expanded the dimensions of their realized niche by managing the intensity of their interactions with other species. Humans control their own competitors, predators, parasites, and diseases, thereby reducing the constraints that these biological stressors exert on the realized, human niche. Humans also manage the ecological constraints of their mutualistic plants and animals such as agricultural cows, pigs, chickens, and plant crops.

Niche – What Is The Niche Of Humans? https://science.jrank.org/pages/4664/Niche-What-niche-humans.html. Accessed 13 Aug. 2021.

Creative Response

I decided to reinterpret Steve Gibbs’ piece, in order to highlight how humans in general have applied a version of the Discovery Doctrine to indigenous ecosystems. A direct copy was not my intention – I aimed to properly borrow the concept of the non-human observer and the structure of Gibbs’ painting in order to shift the story to one about human interaction with the natural world. It was of particular interest to me that Gibbs’ painting uses the perspective of a non-human observer, and I considered indigenous species’ perspective on the arrival of humans in Aotearoa / New Zealand, the calamitous impacts on the environment, and the subsequent extinctions. I found a palpable sense of irony that the dog in Gibbs’ piece is likely to be a Polynesian dog, or “Kurī” in te reo Māori, itself now an extinct species.

Gibbs is a highly skilled and experienced artist with a mature and well-developed practice. He typically uses up to 70 layers of translucent paint in order to build rich, complex surfaces, particular when representing water and the sea, to which he feels a strong personal connection. In my work, I just don’t have the skills or time to work like that, so have taken a much simpler approach.

After 6th Sense, acrylic on canvas board with partial Mataī frame, 300x370mm.

Notes on my piece

  • In place of the Polynesian dog, I chose to use a Heavy-footed Moa (named in red), which was driven to extinction in the 16th century.
  • The long white cloud has been added as symbolic of pre-human Aotearoa.
  • The Māori waka Horouta – the waka that brought the first humans to Tūranganui-a-Kiwa / Poverty Bay – sits in front of Cook’s Endeavour.
  • Rather that use Māori kōwhaiwhai patterns as design elements, I chose to simply use a list of the species that we know to have gone extinct in Aotearoa / New Zealand since humans arrived.
  • I highlighted the Huia bird in particular, because its demise as a species resonates with me. This was a bird that humans drove to extinction through deforestation and by hunting. It had feathers that were attractive to both Māori and Pākehā – sealing its fate.
  • The partial frame is made from a native timber called Mataī (Prumnopitys taxifolia), taken from my own home, and dating back to the late 19th century. Around 3/4 of Aotearoa / New Zealand’s forests have been destroyed by humans, and the missing frame represents this loss.

Works Cited

“Papal Bull Inter Caetera.” Papal Bull Inter Caetera, Aug. 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cookie,url,uid&db=f5h&AN=21212290&site=eds-live&scope=site.

‘Inter Caetera’. Papal Encyclicals, 4 May 1493, https://www.papalencyclicals.net/alex06/alex06inter.htm. Accessed 13 Aug. 2021.

Niche – What Is The Niche Of Humans? https://science.jrank.org/pages/4664/Niche-What-niche-humans.html. Accessed 13 Aug. 2021.

‘6th Sense’. Auckland Art Gallery, https://www.aucklandartgallery.com/explore-art-and-ideas/artwork/31361/6th-sense. Accessed 29 Jul. 2021.

Research sources

‘He Tirohanga Ki Tai: Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery’. Tairawhiti Museum, https://tairawhitimuseum.org.nz/exhibition/he-tirohanga-ki-tai-dismantling-the-doctrine-of-discovery/. Accessed 29 Jul. 2021.

‘He Tirohanga Ki Tai: Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery’. He Tirohanga Ki Tai: Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery, https://dismantlingthedoctrineofdiscovery.wordpress.com/. Accessed 29 Jul. 2021.

‘Associate Professor Steve Gibbs | EIT Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti’. EIT Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti | The Experience You Need and the Support to Succeed, 1 Feb. 2012, https://www.eit.ac.nz/staff/steve-gibbs/.

Peters, Mark. A Six-Year Journey. https://www.gisborneherald.co.nz/entertainment/20210422/a-six-year-journey/. Accessed 17 Jul. 2021.

A Hoe! by Steve Gibbs, educational resource for schools:

Steve Gibbs. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJfaeTJH7Ts. Accessed 24 Jul. 2021.

The Doctrine of Discovery, 1493 | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-resources/spotlight-primary-source/doctrine-discovery-1493. Accessed 7 Aug. 2021.

‘James Cook and the Doctrine of Discovery – 5 Things to Know’. Tina Ngata, 1 June 2019, https://tinangata.com/2019/06/01/james-cook-and-the-doctrine-of-discovery-5-things-to-know/.

‘Papal Bull | Description, History, & Use’. Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/bull-papal. Accessed 7 Aug. 2021.

‘List of Papal Bulls’. Wikipedia, 13 July 2021. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_papal_bulls&oldid=1033330601.

The Pope Asserts Rights to Colonize, Convert, and Enslave – Timeline – Native Voices. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/timeline/171.html. Accessed 5 Aug. 2021.

Pope Paul III Opposes Enslaving Native Peoples – Timeline – Native Voices. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/timeline/185.html. Accessed 5 Aug. 2021.

Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. What Is the Kurī? https://teara.govt.nz/en/kuri-polynesian-dogs/page-1. Accessed 21 Aug. 2021.

Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. Pre-European Deforestation. https://teara.govt.nz/en/human-effects-on-the-environment/page-2. Accessed 21 Aug. 2021.

Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. Contacts and Conflicts. https://teara.govt.nz/en/turanganui-a-kiwa-tribes/page-3. Accessed 30 Aug. 2021.


1 https://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2011/02/dum-diversas-english-translation.html
2 https://www.papalencyclicals.net/nichol05/romanus-pontifex.htm
3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJfaeTJH7Ts
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