Moriori settlement includes agreed account of their history

There have been a range of myths and claims about the Moriori over the last century, and some of them persist, with some using a false history to try to diminish Maori claims of ownership. But  part of a recently signed Waitangi settlement is an agreed account of actual Moriori history.

Key points:

  • Moriori are the waina pono – the original inhabitants – of Rēkohu/Chatham Islands.
  • According to traditions, the first ancestors arrived directly from eastern Polynesia and settled there.
  • Later, waka arrived – most likely from the east coast of the North Island – and settled with people already in occupation.
  • Two Taranaki iwi – Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama – invaded the islands in 1835, attacking and killing about 300 of the 2000 or so Moriori living on the island, and enslaved the rest.
  • By 1870, fewer than 200 Moriori remained; more than 90 percent had been wiped out.

Maui Solomon, the chair of Hokotehi Moriori Trust, estimates there are about 6000 people with Moriori heritage now scattered around the world, with more than 2000 registered with the Trust.

In Setting aside the Moriori myth he says:

“The reason [the myth of Moriori extinction] became so powerfully ingrained in the psyche of New Zealanders is because, if Māori could push Moriori out of NZ, then later European migrants could push Māori off their land,” he says.

“It suited the narrative, and it was a justification of European colonisation of Māori land.”

“…according to our traditions, there are two streams of settlement to Rēkohu: one directly from eastern Polynesia, and secondly, most likely from the east coast of the North Island.”

For hundreds of years, Moriori lived a peaceful, pacifist existence based on the teachings of tribal elder Nunuku, who banned war and killing from the islands.

Instead, disputes were settled through ritual, hand-to-hand fighting, using sticks twice the width of a man’s thumb; and which would finish, with no loss of honour, when first blood was drawn.

Everything changed, however, when two Taranaki iwi – Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama – invaded the islands in 1835.

Solomon says the invaders attacked and killed about 300 of the 2000 or so Moriori living on the island, and enslaved the rest.

For nearly three decades, Moriori lived in desolate conditions.

Banned from speaking their own language, and even from marrying one another, they begged for help from New Zealand’s governor George Grey in 1862.

No help was forthcoming.

Earlier this month…

…Moriori representatives met Treaty Negotiations minister Andrew Little to sign their Deed of Settlement.

The terms include an agreed account of Moriori history; a Crown apology; the transfer of culturally significant land on Rēkohu; and compensation to the tune of $18 million.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little…

…said the settlement seeks to acknowledge the Crown’s injustices, including its failure to protect Moriori.

“The claims by Moriori were first filed in 1988. However, Moriori have sought justice from the Crown since 1862 when they wrote to Governor George Grey seeking release from enslavement and the return of their lands,” Little said in a statement.

“The settlement is a testament to the courage, commitment and tenacity of Moriori.”

The settlement has to be passed into legislation. It also settles the actual history of the Moriori.

Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  25th February 2020

    It’s a fascinating place but a challenge there so remote and windy.

  2. This is bit related:

    • Corky

       /  25th February 2020

      One book publish by Ian Wishart had clips from a paper up north reporting skeletons of giant people had be found. Unbelievably the bones were rendered down for fertilizer if I remember correctly. The name of the book was something like ”Fascinating New Zealand.”


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