10 Aug 2018

The Moriori – in their own words

From Afternoons, 1:25 pm on 10 August 2018

Moriori are sick of being used as a political football in arguments between Pākehā and Māori, leader Māui Solomon says. 

The chairman of the Hokotehi Moriori Trust, Mr Solomon was listening to Afternoons’ Jesse Mulligan interview researcher Keri Mills about the enduring myth that Māori killed all the Moriori, having debunked the idea - and the related myth that Moriori inhabited mainland New Zealand before Māori - on The Spinoff.

Mr Solomon says he doesn’t have any issues with the way Keri explained the history, but wanted to clear some things up and give a Moriori perspective. 

“If you want to know about Moriori, make contact with Hokotehi Moriori trust, or Moriori directly. 

“Don’t just assume or talk about our history as if we’re some figment of someone’s imagination … we are real, we have a voice, come and talk to us.” 

Still seeing the sun through the mist

Māui says despite the colonial myth, there are many Moriori like himself around. 

“What most astonished me was when I heard you ask - someone’s who’s obviously well informed and a national journalistic figure - ‘are there any Moriori still in existence?’, and that’s what really prompted me to contact your radio station.” 

“We have 1800 registered members but … there’s a higher probability there’s between 3000 and 6000 Moriori descendents out there in the wide world.

“We’re scattered all over New Zealand, there’s probably only 10 percent of our people live here [in the Chatham Islands], the rest live scattered between South Island and North Island, we have many overseas. 

“Part of what Hokotehi have been doing over the last 20 or so years is trying to reconnect our lost family threads back to the main bind here on Rēkohu, Rēkohu being the Moriori name for the Chathams which means ‘look at the sun through the mist’.” 

He says the myth that Tommy Solomon was the last Moriori was brought about by the media in New Zealand. 

“And Tommy Solomon’s my grandfather - in 1933 they declared the Moriori to be an extinct people.”

The history from Rēkohu

Mr Solomon says the Moriori keep their own traditions and history about when they arrived in Rēkohu. 

“It became ‘Moriori never existed or if they did exist they’d been a people who lived in New Zealand before Māori came, Māori came and then pushed them out and the remnant sought refuge on the Chathams’, but it didn’t happen that way. 

“Our traditions tell us … the first settlers to arrive on Rēkohu came directly from eastern Polynesia, probably from a very similar area as the first Māori settlers or Polynesian settlers to arrive in Aotearoa. 

“Then there was a period where some waka came from Aotearoa down to Rēkohu some 500 or 600 years ago but when they arrived they found the Rongomai Whenua in possession.

“For 500, 600 years we lived in splendid isolation here on the islands and evolved the culture which today is known as Moriori.” 

The covenant of peace

Māui says Māori sailed to Rēkohu and killed and enslaved Moriori, but Moriori have never accepted that there was a “legitimate conquest”. 

“Because we had held on to our mana as a people and our mana over the land by upholding our ancient covenant of peace. 

“Probably the most unique characteristic is Moriori had outlawed warfare, killing and cannibalism, and that was the law of this land down here for over 500 years. 

“That’s why when two Māori tribes invaded the Chathams from Wellington in 1835, Moriori made a conscious decision not to fight and kill. 

“They debated this at a place called Te Awapatiki what response they would make to the invasion. The young men wanted to fight back against the invaders because they could see the writing on the wall, but the elders said no, the law of the land is to live in peace and offer to share, and that’s what Moriori did. 

Te re Moriori

Māui says the Moriori language, te re Moriori, is sadly no longer a spoken language, with the last fluent speaker dying out in 1900, but a lot was fortunately written down. 

“We’re trying to reconstruct a dictionary and to help revive the language, it’ll never be a fully spoken language but it does have great commonality to Māori.

“A lot of the vowels are clipped off the words down here ... Someone came up with the theory because it’s so windy a lot of the vowels were blown away.” 

Modern Moriori

Mr Solomon says Moriori have struggled, and continue to struggle, but have very bright future.

“Thirty years ago we weren’t recognised as a people, we had no land, we had no resources. 

“Today we’ve built a beautiful marae … we’ve participated in the treaty fisheries settlement … we’ve purchased two farms on the island, a tourism lodge, we do a lot of conservation work down here, we employ 12 people, we put back about $1.5 million per annum into the local economy and we’ve got strong relationships with universities particularly University of Otago, and museums … Crown research institutes etcetera.  

He says Moriori were recognised by the Waitangi Tribunal.

“Moriori didn’t sign the Treaty and in fact the Treaty didn’t apply to Rēkohu until 1842 because the original letters patent to England had left it off. 

“I filed a claim for Moriori in 1988 and that was heard by the tribunal in 1995, and we were challenged at the time by Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri whether we had any standing and the tribunal found that we did. 

“They said that Moriori were effectively another Māori tribe but we think it was more to get the tribunal jurisdiction to enquire into the claim because otherwise we’d probably have to go off to the United Nations.” 

He says regardless of their past, the Moriori relationship with Māori is strong today. 

“We are members of the iwi chairs forum and I try to get along to that forum as often as I can. 

“The relationship here on Rēkohu, sometimes on cultural issues we can have pretty strong differences but on other things - on commercial enterprises such as fisheries - we work together.”