OPINION: When unidentified flying objects and mystery pre-Polynesian settlers in New Zealand dominate the headlines, it must be the silly season for news.
In the absence of political clashes and local-body meetings, the media go in search of summer holiday yarns and also provide a good diet of puzzle pages and mystery thrillers. As a consequence, UFOs and aliens are back on the agenda this week.
New Zealand's UFO sightings have generally been of lights tracking across the skies. The most famous series was in 1978 when lights seen from aircraft were officially labelled as coming from squid boats, unburned meteors, Venus or trains and cars.
The greatest UFO debate centred on an incident in 1947 after an object crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. Sixty-five years later and, as a result of a wave of publicity around the incident in the 1970s, there are still conflicting views as to what it was. Officially it was an experimental high-altitude balloon. Non-believers think it was a space ship and that its occupants were captured. Another 10 years on, a witness came forward claiming to have seen alien corpses.
The festive season is a popular time for UFO reports in Taranaki. A week after a Government report on UFOs report was released in December 2010, mystery lights were seen over Hawera, Napier and Christchurch.
Last February, a pre-wedding dinner party sparked a series of UFO sightings in New Plymouth. During a banquet for the bridal party, a series of floating lanterns were sent into the sky - sparking a series of UFO reports. In Hawera 10 months earlier, remote-controlled helicopters, kites with electric wires and Chinese lanterns were among the likely culprits for lights seen over Hawera.
But the sighting numbers are small in the province, often failing to reach double figures in a year. Perhaps that's why when there is a report, the story is invariably one of the most popular on the taranakidailynews.co.nz site.
Similarly, the suggestions that aliens, or at least fair-skinned red-haired people welcomed the first Maori to New Zealand also make popular reading. Certainly, there is a strong possibility that European or Asian explorers reached New Zealand shores well ahead of Abel Tasman - but nothing presented yet to back up claims of generations being here.
There are unexplained cases - one being the source of Tainui's sacred korotangi, a serpentine carving of a bird which was found in the roots of a tree 100 years ago. It is not a Polynesian carving, and it could be a relic of early European or Asian contact with Maori - or a hoax.
There is no shortage of conspiracy theories about how evidence of pre-Maori settlements has been covered.
In the most part, the UFO and settler stories present as little more than novelty value. However, where they are presented in evidence to rewrite history and review the validity of Maori land claims - or suggest an entire community of academics are involved in a coverup - the novelty value wears thin.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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