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The Moriori
Early settlers of the Chatham Islands

The Moriori people are thought to have arrived in the Chatham Islands off the coast of New Zealand either just before or at the same time as the first Māori were busy settling on the mainland. It is sometimes claimed that the Moriori were a race that settled in New Zealand previous to the arrival of ancestors of the Māori; however it appears that there is no evidence to support this belief.

The Moriori named these islands Rekohu, after the mist which hangs over the area. Here, the Moriori remained isolated until the European discoverers arrived in 1791. Although the Moriori are close relatives of the Māori, they have distinct features which indicate an independent colonisation from tropical Polynesia.

These first settlers were said to be descended from Te Aomarama and Rongomaiwhenua (which is Moriori for Sky Father and Earth Mother). The names of the three canoes bearing the first Moriori settlers were : Rangi Houa, Rangi Mata and Oropuke.

Similarly to the Māori, inter tribal warring led to a dangerous decline in the number of the Moriori population, and this was said to have been stopped by the chief Nunuku Whenua, who ordered no more warring to take place so that the population would not become decimated. If a dispute took place, the custom was to cease immediately at the first drawing of blood. In this way, the Moriori became a totally peaceful people.

The main activity in the harsh conditions of these islands at that time then became hunting birds, seal and shellfish for survival. The Moriori population increased to an estimated 2000, but later fell to around 1660 after the arrival of the first Europeans.

The Europeans arrived in the Chatham Islands (Rekohu) in 1791, as part of George Vancouver's expedition. The British Lieutenant Broughton sailed in on the brig "Chatham", took possession of the islands in the name of King George III, and gave them their present day name. As with Abel Tasman and Captain James Cook, the first confused encounters led to violence, with some Moriori being killed.

From 1793, whaling and sealing ships from Europe and North America began invading New Zealand and the Chathams, making the Chathams the centre of this industry. They largely ignored the Moriori "tapus" which were directed against killing on breeding grounds, and this European activity killed off one of the main sources of the Moriori diet.

In 1835 Māori tribes from the Wellington area arrived in the Chathams, driven south in search of new land, and claiming ownership of the Chathams. A number of Morioris were killed and others captured.

The Moriori numbers fell to 101. Most of the Māori eventually left the Chathams by 1870. It was Solomon's grandfather, the chief of the Rauru tribe, who convinced the Moriori to remain pacifist during the invasion of their land. Tame Horomona Rehe Solomon, known as Tommy Solomon, the last full blooded Moriori, died in 1933.

The Chatham Islands make up a group of ten islands, within a 40k radius, separated 800k from the city of Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand. Only the two largest islands are inhabited, Chatham Island, with a population of around 700, and Pitt Island, with a population of around 70. The Chathams are part of New Zealand territory.

Pitt Island was named after William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham.


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Related Links
The Moriori - from Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
The Chatham Islands
More about the Chatham Islands, the Moriori, and land claims from The Knowledge Basket (PDF document)




 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.