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Moriori: A People Rediscovered

Issue date: 
Sunday, 5 November 1989
The Hon and the Rt Rev Sir Paul Reeves, GCMG, GCVO, QSO

Michael King tells of a Moriori ancestor, Nunuku Whenua, who, sickened by bloodshed among his people, issued an injunction which by and large was obeyed: only fight till you draw blood, then stop.

To ritualise aggression and to keep disputes within acceptable bounds was sensible. Nunuku's injunction was not broken when Maoris from New Zealand reached the Chathams in 1835. The Morioris offered to share the good things of Rekohu with the new arrivals but the result was not partnership but great slaughter and much bloodshed.

In spite of all that has happened to them, the mana of the Morioris remains intact. In 1835, they lived and they died in a way that protected their honour and expressed their deepest cultural and spiritual beliefs. I stand here to acknowledge that mana that now resided in the descendants of these people. It was very important for Michael King to write the book Moriori: A People Rediscovered. The fact that you have asked me, a member of Te Ata Awa who also happens to be Governor-General, to launch the book is a profound gesture for which I am most grateful.

I did not find it easy to read Moriori. It was a painful experience. Not simply were you ravaged by the aggressive Maoris and deprived of your land by successive decisions of the Land Court, you have also been wounded by the opinions of pseudo scientists who said Morioris did not exist or came from some early and inferior Pacific people. The insidious impression spread that to be a Moriori was something shameful, something to be denied and hidden. Many of us have had to struggle with issues of identity and who we are. From my own experience, I can understand a little of what this has meant for Moriori people.

Michael King emphasises the Morioris are Polynesians and the probable source of their immediate migration to the Chathams was New Zealand. Rekohu was an isolated situation but the Morioris recorded their history in waiata, genealogy and story. Theirs was a rich culture attuned to the environment of land and sea.

Captain William Broughton and his crew, European sealers and whalers, the Māori invasion, were all expressions of an outside world whose aspirations were disastrous and calamitous for Moriori society. Michael King tells of that encounter with all the pain and resultant bitterness that it produced. The telling of history is never neutral and the challenge in this book is for us to make our own response to what happened.

Morioris still feel strongly about the events of 1835 and the subsequent decisions of the Land Court. Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga may feel defensive about a story being told in which they were the aggressors. And on a wider front, there may be another group of people only too willing to allow the story to feed their own prejudices about Maoris or anyone whose skin is brown.

I want to say two things. One is that as the Waitangi Tribunal stated in its report of the Manukau Harbour, the starting point for any reconciliation must be an acknowledgement of what actually happened even if to make that acknowledgement is painful. Secondly, once the story has been told, Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama need feel no shame about what happened in 1835/36. As the book and the evidence make clear, what they did was tikanga or custom at that time, in those circumstances. On the other hand, it was not tikanga according to the custom of the Moriori as spelt out by Nunuku. That is the source of frustration and hurt.

The climate is right for this book. It brings to light a history which has been partly hidden and misunderstood by many New Zealanders. It will help restore Moriori self esteem and confidence. It could be the basis for better communication between Moriori and Māori.

It is with gratitude and with a sense of hope that I launch this book, Moriori: A People Rediscovered, by Michael King.

Last updated: 
Sunday, 5 November 1989

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