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Moriori are the indigenous people of the Chatham Islandsmarker (Rekohu in Moriori, Wharekauri in Māori), east of the New Zealandmarker archipelago in the Pacific Oceanmarker. These people lived by a code of non-violence and passive resistance, which led to their near-extinction at the hands of Māori invaders. The term Moriori has also been used for hypothesised pre-Māori settlers of New Zealandmarker, linguistically and genetically different from the Māori. This story, incorporated into Stephenson Percy Smith's "Great Fleet" hypothesis, was widely believed during the early 20th century, but was discredited in the 1960s and 1970s.


The Moriori are culturally Polynesian. They developed a distinct Moriori culture in the Chatham Islands as they adapted to local conditions. Although speculation once suggested that they settled the Chatham Islands directly from the tropical Polynesian islands, or even that they were Melanesian in origin, current research indicates that ancestral Moriori were Māori Polynesians who came to the Chatham Islands from New Zealand before 1500.

Evidence supporting this theory comes from the characteristics that the Moriori language has in common with the dialect of Māori spoken by the Ngāi Tahu tribe of the South Islandmarker, and comparisons of the genealogies of Moriori ("hokopapa") and Māori ("whakapapa"). Prevailing wind patterns in the southern Pacific add to the speculation that the Chatham Islands were the last part of the Pacific to be settled during the period of Polynesian discovery and colonisation. The origin of the name Moriori is uncertain; it may have developed as a linguistic reduplication of the old Polynesian word Māori; if so, it would have the meaning "(ordinary) people".

The earliest indication of human occupation of the Chathams, inferred from middens exposed due to erosion of sand dunes,has been established as 450 years BP.

Adapting to local conditions

The Chathams are colder and less hospitable than the land the original settlers had left behind, and although abundant in resources, these were different from those available where they had come from. The Chathams proved unsuitable for the cultivation of most crops known to Polynesians, and the Moriori adopted a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Food was almost entirely marine-sourced - protein and fat from fish, fur seals and the fatty young of sea birds. The islands supported about 2000 people.

Moriori tree carving or dendroglyph
Lacking resources of cultural significance such as greenstone and plentiful timber, they found outlets for their ritual needs in the carving of dendroglyphs (incisions into tree trunks, called rakau momori). Some of these carvings are protected by the J M Barker National Historic Reservemarker.

As a small and precarious population, Moriori embraced a pacifist culture that rigidly avoided warfare, substituting it with dispute resolution in the form of ritual fighting and conciliation. The ban on warfare and cannibalism is attributed to their ancestor Nunuku-whenua.

"...because men get angry and during such anger feel the will to strike, that so they may, but only with a rod the thickness of a thumb, and one stretch of the arms length, and thrash away, but that on an abrasion of the hide, or first sign of blood, all should consider honour satisfied"

This enabled the Moriori to preserve what limited resources they had in their harsh climate, avoiding waste through warfare, such as may have led to catastrophic habitat destruction and population decline on Easter Islandmarker. However, when considered as a moral imperative rather than a pragmatic response to circumstances, it also led to their later near-destruction at the hands of invading North Island Māori.

European contact and invasion by Taranaki Māori

William R. Broughton landed on November 29, 1791, and claimed possession of the islands for Great Britainmarker, naming them after his ship, HMS Chatham. Sealers and whalers soon made the islands a centre of their activities, competing for resources with the native population. Between 10% and 20% of Moriori soon died from imported diseases.

In 1835 some Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama people, Māori from the Taranakimarker region of the North Islandmarker of New Zealand settled in the Chathams. On November 19, 1835, the Rodney, a chartered European ship, arrived carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs and axes, followed by another ship with 400 more Maori on December 5, 1835. They proceeded to enslave some Moriori and kill and cannibalise others. "Parties of warriors armed with muskets, clubs and tomahawks, led by their chiefs, walked through Moriori tribal territories and settlements without warning, permission or greeting. If the districts were wanted by the invaders, they curtly informed the inhabitants that their land had been taken and the Moriori living there were now vassals."

A council of Moriori elders was convened at the settlement called Te Awapatiki. Despite knowing of the Maori's predilection for killing and eating the conquered, and despite the admonition by some of the elder chiefs that the principle of Nunuku was not appropriate now, two chiefs — Tapata and Torea — declared that "the law of Nunuku was not a strategy for survival, to be varied as conditions changed; it was a moral imperative." A Moriori survivor recalled : "[The Maori] commenced to kill us like sheep.... [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies. It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed - men, women and children indiscriminately." A Maori conqueror explained, "We took possession... in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped....."

After the invasion, Moriori were forbidden to marry Moriori, or to have children with each other. All became slaves of the Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga invaders. Many died from despair. Many Moriori women had children by their Maori masters. A small number of Moriori women eventually married either Maori or European men. Some were taken from the Chathams and never returned. Only 101 Moriori out of a population of about 2,000 were left alive by 1862 (Kopel et al., 2003). Although it is commonly believed that the Māori invaders completely wiped out the Moriori, several thousand mixed ancestry Moriori descendants remain alive today.[38343] Tommy Solomon, the last Moriori of unmixed ancestry, died in 1933.

An all-male group of German Moravian missionaries arrived in 1843. When a group of women were sent out to join them three years later, several marriages ensued; a few members of the present-day population can trace their ancestry back to those missionary families.

Revival of culture

Today, in spite of the difficulties and genocide that Moriori faced, with unrelenting stoicism and peaceful resignation, Moriori are enjoying a renaissance, both on Rekohu and in the mainland of New Zealand. Moriori culture and identity is being revived, symbolised in January 2005 with the renewal of the Covenant of Peace at the new Kopinga marae on the Chathams.

Some Moriori descendants have made claims against the New Zealand government through the Waitangi Tribunal, a commission of inquiry charged with making recommendations on claims brought by Maori relating to actions or omissions of the Crown in the period since 1840 that breach the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Moriori in New Zealand

The genocide of the Moriori led to the belief in New Zealand popular culture of the early twentieth century that the 'Moriori', a small-statured dark-skinned race of possible Melanesian origin, originally inhabited New Zealand before the lighter-skinned Māori arrived and drove the Moriori out to the Chathams. This story promoted racist stereotyping and justified the idea of colonisation by cultural 'superiors'. Michael King's Moriori: A People Rediscovered (2000) provides an account of the Moriori.

Prior to King, a number of historians, anthropologists and ethnologists had examined and rejected a pre-Maori Moriori people. Among them, anthropologist H.D. Skinner in 1923, ethnologist Roger Duff in the 1940s, and historian and ethnographer Arthur Thomson in 1959. More recently, James Belich has rejected the myth, as has K.R. Howe in Te Ara.

See also

Waitaha—A Māori iwi who settled early in the South Island, and were subsequently taken over by Kāti Mamoe and Ngāi Tahu. In recent years a myth concerning Waitaha, with some parallels to that once held about the Moriori, has become popular in some quarters.


External links


  • Dave Kopel, Paul Gallant & Joanne D. Eisen (2003). 'A Moriori Lesson: a brief history of pacifism.' National Review Online, April 11, 2003. (URL [38344])

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