Beginning of this
century the newspapers of New Zealand announced that the Moriori were
officially extinct with the passing of the last full-blooded Moriori,
yet on the 1st of January 2000 they lead the world into the new millenium!
At the creation, the Earth goddess, Papa, and her husband
Rangi, the sky
god, were so much in love that they hugged each other and would not let
go. This meant that the earth and the sky were always joined solidly
together, and no light could come into the world.
Papa gave birth to several children, but they were stuck between their
parents and could not escape. Finally the children decided that they had
to get out. One of them, Tane, suggested that they force their parents
All of the children agreed that this was a good idea. One by one they
tried, without success to push their parents apart. Finally Tane had a
try. He folded himself up very small and slipped between his parents.
With his feet against Rangi and his shoulders against Papa, he pushed.
He pushed for hours, he pushed for days, he pushed for weeks, he pushed
for years and years.
And very, very slowly Tane managed to uncurl his body, straighten
himself, and finally push his parents apart. Light came into the world,
and for the first time since the world was created, plants started to
But Rangi and Papa were so sad to be apart that they cried and cried.
Rangi's tears ran into rivers. They became a sea. They even threatened
to flood the whole world. Something had to be done. One of the children
turned Papa over so that Rangi could not see her face. Now he doesn't
cry so much.
But you can still see his tears every morning; they are the dewdrops on
And the mists that rise from the ground are Papa's sighs.
The Moriori/ Maori are probably one of the least understood part of the
history of New Zealand and its people.
Myths were created last century
and are still believed today by many. Michael King in his book Moriori -
A People Rediscovered criticizes early writers such as Elsdon Best and
Percy S. Smith in their attempt to portray the Moriori as a separate
race of 'dark-skinned, repulsive looking and shifting . . .defeated by
Maori and taken refuge in the Chathams'.
Moriori arrived in the Chatham islands most likely around the 13th-14th
century, around the same time as Maori did on the mainland.
being of the same ancestry as Maori, voyaged the same seas in search of
new land, making landfall briefly in Te Waipounamu (South Island). From
there they sailed for unknown reasons, perhaps following the flight of
the Albatross knowing it led to more land, east to land first on Pitt
Tradition states that the inhabitants of Rangiauria (Pitt
island) eventually moved to Rekohu at a later date leaving
uninhabited. Other voyages are reported as well to have arrived in the
Chathams so all in all it would be fair to say that the Moriori arrival
and colonizing of the Chathams was perhaps more intentional than by
Moriori went through many cultural changes over the centuries to follow,
probably due to the climatic conditions of those Islands. Inter-tribal
warring took an enormous toll on Moriori and fearing total annihilation,
Nukunuku ordered there was to be no more warring, that all disputes
leading to fighting were to be restricted to using sticks no thicker
than a thumb and no longer than an arm. First to draw blood was the
The impact of this on Moriori was to change their culture radically from
that of their mainland cousins, the Maori. Hunting became the order of
the day in proving strength and manhood.
Living conditions on Rekohu can be described as nothing short of harsh.
Weather conditions that would take a huge toll on the worthiest of
peoples, served the same to Moriori and life expectancy was very low.
Birds and seals were their main source of food as well as shellfish.
Moriori were considered to be an intensely tapu people. Their connection
to the land and to their ancestors is remarkable, perhaps in comparison
to the most sacred of people groups in the world. Very much in touch
with the environment around them, and without the warring desire,
causing a need for improved technology, development was slow and
Though this simpleness is not to be confused
with their intelligence. Moriori were a brilliant people, excelling in
the use if resources to their benefit, although not exploiting these
resources to the point of extinction. As in the taking of fur seals,
Moriori took what they needed and only the older male seals were taken
leaving the younger seals and females.
They manipulated their
environment to serve them whilst not damaging it.
Eventually with the arrival of the Europeans to Aotearoa, Rekohu was to
be visited as well, though not intentionally. The Brigg Chatham, blown
off course, sighted the Islands in 1791 and headed into the harbor for
shelter. These first encounters of Moriori with these strangers were,
like in the Maori meetings, riddled with misunderstandings form both
sides, leading to several Moriori being shot and killed.
With the arrival of the Europeans came massive change for
Moriori as was
the same as Maori on the mainland, a people that had seen little change
since their arrival in these Islands.
Lt. William Broughton had claimed
these Islands for his king, George the III naming them after his ship,
Chatham. It was to be another 10 years before the next ships were to
arrive in the Chathams, except this time not accidentally but to plunder
the then ample supply of fur seals. With this came guns, alcohol and
diseases which began to take a huge toll on the population. By the
1830's fur seals on Rekohu were all gone and with that a major part of
Moriori resource and heritage. Fur seals were their main source of
Diseases like influenza wiped out almost a quarter of the population of
this people who had for at least 500 years, not been in contact with any
other people other than themselves. Also due to the attitude of many of
the sailors living in the Chathams, treating Moriori as nothing less
than dogs, the taking and raping of women was a frequent event,
introducing venereal disease as well.
Even through all of this though it must be noted that Moriori were
extremely careful to abide by the ruling of their ancestor Nukunuku and
not resort to fighting and to take care of the land in the way they new
best. But with the disappearance of many of their traditional foods and
the introduction of diseases that their gods seemed to be unable to cure
them from, Moriori confidence in themselves as a people began to wane.
Their environment was quickly deteriorating and their yearly rituals and
cultural schedules were now in upheaval, their source of clothing had
almost completely disappeared and the gods, seemed not to be answering
them. Many of their sacred sites had been desecrated by visitors and
many tapu laws had been broken.
But Moriori were about to be dealt a second blow, one that would seal
the fate of them as a people, if it hadn't already been sealed. The
Brigg Rodney brought with it 500 Maori, men, women and children
displaced from their tribal land in Taranaki. The intention of these men
was known by those in charge of the ship from the beginning of the
journey from Aotearoa to the Chathams. In actual fact the
Maori on board
had debated about which Island to invade, Chathams, Norfolk or Samoa!
The Chathams was chosen.
The Brigg Rodney arrived on the Chathams and the Maori began to, as
Michael King states in his book 'Moriori-The People Rediscovered', "walk
the land". This meant walking from place to place and taking whatever
they saw as their own. Anyone who disagreed was killed as was the Maori
custom of walking the land. Moriori quickly called a meeting of all the
tribes and able bodied men to decide what to do about these new
invaders. Maori had visited the islands many times in the past without
any problems but this was not the case with these Maori.
Moriori debated whether the ruling of Nukunuku applied in this case, as
this tapu ruling was given to them to prevent inter-tribal fighting not
a planned invasion.
It was noted later that if Moriori had chosen to fight at that stage
there was no doubt they could have easily repelled the invaders. But the
decision was made as was the custom for passive resistance. They would
carry on their lives and try to share what ever resources they had with
Maori. The Te Ati-awa Maori saw this as being weak. The giving up of
their land as Maori saw it, was an act of cowardice. Problem being that
Moriori culture and Maori culture differed greatly in this mindset so as
was the custom of most Maori of that era, the land was taken and the
customs for taking the land were followed with some Moriori being
ritually slain and the rest enslaved.
Moriori were to live in these cruel conditions with these
under the watchful eye of the Europeans for the next 30 years until the
Govt. made rulings to have the slaves freed. But this was one too many
nails in the already well nailed coffin of the plight to save the Moriori.
Moriori had remained strong in spirit through most of these
times but with the eventual taking of all of their ancestral lands by
Pakeha and Maori and the stripping of their intense sacredness as a
people, Moriori as with many other people groups around the world "turned to the wall and died".
Soon Pakeha and Maori were to realize that
Moriori were at the point of
no turning back. Numbers of Moriori dropped dramatically to the point
that by the turn of the century there were only a handful left. Tommy
Solomon was the last of the full-blooded Moriori of the Chathams. His
descendants still live in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and have through the
years managed to gather themselves together again.
So in my mind the
story of the Moriori is not over and a new chapter of this book is