A statue of Captain Cook will be removed from a hill in New Zealand following protests by the local Maori community which says its ancestors arrived there long before the famous British explorer.
The council in Gisborne on the North Island said it will relocate the statue, which was erected in 1969 but has been repeatedly defaced by vandals who have daubed it in red paint, stolen its sword, and once covered Cook in a painted white bikini and sandals.
Critics have described Cook, who landed in the area aboard HMS Endeavour in 1769, as a “murderer” and “crooked Cook”.
Leaders of the local Ngati Oneone tribe say historical records show that Cook’s crew shot nine of their people, killing six. They say Cook’s arrival was eventually followed by European settlement, which led to their dispossession and the demise of their culture.
Meredith Akuhata-Brown, a Gisborne councillor, said the council voted unanimously to move the statue, which stands atop a local ancestral hill known as Titirangi, to a museum as part of the 250th anniversary commemorations of Cook’s arrival.
She said it might be replaced by a statue of Raikaitane, the Maori chief at the time of Cook’s landing.
"It’s significant because James never climbed Titirangi… and so for local iwi [tribespeople] it’s been a massive disappointment that he’s maintained that space for as long as he has," she told Radio New Zealand.
The statue has long been controversial, not least because it was apparently made by an Italian sculptor in Sydney who attired Cook in Italian clothing.
The council said the plaza at the top of the hill will be redesigned to “celebrate the Maori history of this area and the ancestors who arrived here before Captain Cook”.
"The Cooks Plaza will be upgraded so iwi stories and cultural design elements can be shared from this significant location… to create an aesthetic and safe gathering space," the council said in a statement.
Authorities will also consider renaming Poverty Bay, the local bay which was named by Cook after he landed there but could not resupply his ship.
The New Zealand Geographic Board this week indicated its support to adopt a dual name for the bay – Turanganui-a-Kiwa/Poverty Bay – to incorporate its Maori title.
Profile | Who was Captain Cook?
There has been a growing push in New Zealand to remove statues of colonial figures, particularly those involved in attacks on local Maori civilians.
Australia has also experienced growing debate about the role of Captain Cook in the nation’s history.
Several statues of him have been vandalised, including one in Sydney’s Hyde Park which was spray-painted with the words “no pride in genocide”.
Scott Morrison, the prime minister, has announced a £27 million revamp of the main monument in Sydney that commemorates Cook’s arrival in 1770.
He said it would be “sensitive” and would include a memorial dedicated to Australia’s first inhabitants.