17 Sep 2020

The story every New Zealander needs to know: Moriori history

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:25 pm on 17 September 2020

Moriori are the indigenous Polynesian people of Rēkohu (the Chatham Islands) who likely arrived there around 1500 and developed their own distinct culture.

Contemporary New Zealanders don't give Moriori language and culture the attention it deserves, says historian Grant Morris.

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Photo: Supplied / Hokotehi Moriori Trust

Moriori had a pacifist philosophy which chief Nunuku-Whenua introduced to his people around the 16th century.

The Moriori flourished on Rēkohu until 1791 when the Europeans arrived on the HMS Chatham and introduced new diseases. Between 1835 and the early 1860s the Moriori population dropped from 1700 to about 100 after Rēkohu was invaded by two Māori tribes from Taranaki, and the local people were enslaved and killed.

It's estimated there are now between 3,000 and 6,000 people of Moriori descent.

It's fascinating to compare te re Moriori – the Moriori language – with te reo Māori, Grant says.

Although te re was last spoken in a regular conversational way about 125 years ago, historians have enough source documents to put the jigsaw together of how it sounded and the Hokotehi Moriori Trust have started that project, he says.

Currently, the best example of what it might have sounded like is in Barry Barclay's 2000 part doco/part dramatisation film about the Moriori invasion The Feathers of Peace, Grant says. That film isn't easy to get hold of but includes about ten minutes of spoken Moriori.

A great vocabulary list and analysis of te re Moriori can be found here.

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