WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Michael King, the country's leading historian of the indigenous Maori and a respected literary biographer, has died with his wife in a car crash, police said Wednesday. He was 59.
Mr. King, a former journalist, most recently published the best-selling "History of New Zealand," which he said was "inescapably" a history of race relations between European settlers and Maori tribes.
Mr. King and his wife, Maria Jungowska, were killed Tuesday after their car hit a tree and burst into flames south of the northern city of Auckland, police said. The cause of the accident was unclear.
Mr. King, unlike many non-Maori New Zealanders, became fluent in the Maori language as he documented the culture and history of the nation's indigenous peoples.
His historical works ranged from biographies of noted Maori women leaders such as Princess Te Puea Heringa and activist Dame Whina Cooper, to studies of Maori facial tattooing, known as moko, and of the Moriori peoples of the Chatham Islands, 312 miles east of New Zealand.
In the 1980s, Mr. King wrote his groundbreaking study, "Being Pakeha," the first book to examine the non-Maori ingredients of New Zealand society and culture. Pakeha is a Maori word used to describe European settlers.
Mr. King devoted much of the 1990s to literary biography.