The Moriori of the Chatham Islands

The Moriori people were estimated by Broughton to number 1,600 at the time of his visit. The Maori invaders of 1835-36 killed a number and took many of their women as wives.

Introduced diseases and intermarriage reduced the number of full-blooded Moriori. Bishop Selwyn, in 1848, estimated their number at 268, and Skinner, in 1920, found that there were only two full-blooded Moriori living on the island.

Eventually the Moriori became extinct as a separate people, but their blood is present in some mixed Maori families.

Traditional history has been recorded by Shand who obtained his information from a Moriori named Hirawanu Tapu.

Baucke, who was born in the Chatham Islands, held that Hirawanu knew his own Moriori dialect imperfectly, asked informants leading questions, made suggestions to fill in gaps, and used Maori parallels.

The information was written out first in Maori, which had become the current speech of the Moriori, and then translated by Hirawanu and Shand to provide a Moriori text. Baucke also blamed Shand for his uncritical adoption of doubtful parts of the stories.

Te Matorohanga also recorded traditional history concerning the Moriori but though some of it may have been composed within the walls of the house of learning, there are strong indications that much was added after the walls of the academy had fallen into decay.

The earliest inhabitants of the Chatham Islands according to Shand, were sprung from the soil (no ro whenua ake), being descendants of Te Aomarama and Rongomaiwhenua.

Te Aomarama (World of light) probably personifies space and light and Rongomaiwhenua may personify the earth (whenua) and the two may be a local form of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother.

Such an origin does not need ocean transport and the theory of divine ancestry is a convenient substitute for forgotten history. Those who came later, however, had to be provided with canoes.

The first canoe to arrive in local tradition was the Tane, commanded by Kahu. One version states that he landed at Kaingaroa and another, at Tuku. Kahu brought his god (kikokiko) also named Kahu and fern root (eruhe) and sweet potato (kumara).

The introduced fern root had more starch and less fibre than the local variety and it was given the honorific name of Kahu's vine (Te aka a Kahu). The sweet potato was planted and the following are the opening lines of the ritual chant to promote growth:

Kumara no Aropawa i ko Sweet potato from distant Aropawa,
Kumara na rau toro, Sweet potato spread out your leaves,
Tinaku… Grow…

In spite of the chant, the sweet potato refused to grow so Kahu left the island declaring that it was a wet land (whenua rei). In a chant to speed his departing canoe, mention is made of Aropawa, Aotea, and Hawaiki.

Shand states that the kumara chant was old and thus infers that it was known to the Moriori before the Maori invasion of 1835.

The reference to Aropawa and Aotea indicates that Kahu came from New Zealand and if he really did bring the sweet potato, he must have come after the arrival of the Fleet which introduced the sweet potato to New Zealand.

However, the canoes which came after Kahu predate the arrival of the Fleet and hence Kahu could not possibly have brought the sweet potato and the chant with him. It seems as if Shand's informant Hirawanu had added these items to the original Kahu tradition.

Troubles in Hawaiki such as the war of Manai (Manaia), the burning of the house named Te Uruomanono, and the slaying of Rakei, led to the coming of two ancestral canoes.

The two first incidents are well known in Maori tradition as occurring in Hawaiki long before the coming of the Fleet and this forms further evidence against Kahu's introduction of the sweet potato.

The troubles in Hawaiki reached a climax in the war of the Wheteina tribe, under Tumoana, against the Rauru tribe led by Pohokura. The Wheteina tribe was defeated and the survivors left Hawaiki in a number of canoes.

Apparently only two, the Rangimata and the Rangihoua, reached the Chatham Islands.

The Rangihoua was commanded by Te Rakiroa and his priest Te Honeke brought the symbol of his god Rongomaiwhiti. The Rangimata was commanded by Mihiti who evidently had no priest.

A number of chants recorded in the text indicate that adverse winds, storms, shortage of water, and other hardships were encountered on the voyage. Land was made at Chatham Island but in attempting to land, the Rangihoua was wrecked and most of the crew, including the commander and the priest, perished.

The Rangimata, without a priest or a god, made a safe landing without loss of life.

The crew of the Rangimata landed on the north coast. They are said to have planted the karaka and the marautara, a member of the convolvulus family which is now extinct. No mention is made of the sweet potato.

The members of the two canoes settled down and lived peaceably with the local inhabitants. One of the local chiefs living at the time was Rongopapa. Shand, from a lineage of 28 generations from Rongopapa to modern times, estimated that the Rangimata canoe arrived at the Chatham Islands 700 years ago or roughly about 1200 A.D.

The Oropuke arrived some years later under the command of Moe, the grandson of Pohokura, chief of the Rauru tribe. The newcomers of the Rauru tribe came in contact with their hereditary enemies and after a period of peace, war broke out between them.

A local chief named Nunukuwhenua was able to establish peace between the warring tribes. He established a law prohibiting the use of any weapon except a quarter staff for settling quarrels.

If blood was drawn, the wounded one had to call out, "I bleed" (Ka toto au) and fighting had to cease immediately. The law of Nunuku was strictly observed until the Maori invasion of 1835 broke the long period of peace.

The Matorohanga account is exasperating in its copious details which make one wonder how anyone in New Zealand could possibly know more about the people on a distant island than the people themselves.

The account commences by stating that a party of the early Tini o Taitawaro tribe, after suffering defeats in Taranaki, crossed to Aropawa, the northern part of the South Island. There they were attacked by Tamaahua and his men who were seeking greenstone in the South Island.

After two defeats, the Tini o Taitawaro fled in six canoes. They were seen going south and were assumed to have reached the Chatham Islands. Tamaahua was stated to have come to New Zealand with Whatonga in the Kurahaupo canoe.

This would place the date as somewhere about 1175 A.D. which would probably fit in with the arrival of the Rangihoua and Rangimata canoes in Chatham Islands. However, the story of where the remnants of the Tini o Taitawaro went is pure conjecture on the part of the Maori historians. The Moriori have no record of the name Taitawaro.

The Matorohanga version of the Kahu tradition is an extraordinary compilation of so many details that nothing is left for doubt except its authenticity. Some further details are added to Toi's voyage for after leaving Rarotonga, he is stated to have visited other islands including Pangopango, Hamoa (Samoa) from whence he sailed for New Zealand.

He missed his objective and, getting too far to the east, sighted a small island but did not land. He evidently reshaped his course and landed at Tamaki. The report of the island was spread later and reached Kahu who was living at Whakatane.

Kahu with 27 persons migrated to the west coast to a place named Te Houhou on the banks of the Rangitikei River. After much building material had been cut, Kahu's son Tamauri dreamt that the timber had been floated away to an island out in the ocean.

Kahu took the dream as a favourable omen and determined to seek the island. He moved to the mouth of the Rangitikei River and proceeded to build a seagoing canoe. His daughter, Hinetewaiwai, found a kauri log stranded on the beach and this was split to form beams, sprits, and masts for the canoe.

Akaaroroa, an expert canoe builder, opportunely arrived from Whanganui and completed the building of the canoe. Three varieties of fern root and some seed kumara and taro were placed aboard. The canoe named Tanewai sailed and in due course landed at a bay on the north coast of the island they sought.

The bay where they landed was named Kaingaroa in remembrance of the New Zealand plain near Kahu's temporary home at Taupo. The kauri timber on the canoe was used to build a house and hence the island was named Wharekauri (house of kauri).

The fern roots were planted and the spot named Tongariro after the mountain in New Zealand. The sweet potato and taro were planted but did not grow. Hence Kahu determined to return to Arapaoa in New Zealand.

The expert canoe builder, Akaaroroa, and others who had married local women refused to leave the island. Kahu, his daughter, and some of his people embarked on the Tanewai canoe and disappeared from mortal ken.

An analysis of the Kahu story, as told in detail in the native text of Te Matorohanga, indicates strongly that it has been elaborated around the simpler Moriori story by adding details as to personal and place names and rationalizing some of the events.

Thus Toi was deflected out of his course so as to report an island to the east of New Zealand. Kahu was located at Whakatane in order to hear the report. He was moved to Rangitikei as the best place for departure, and the names of various places at which he stayed are included to give that detail which carries conviction to the Maori mind.

It is absolutely certain that the compilers of the story had heard that the island was named Wharekauri. This information could only have come from some Taranaki source after the year 1835. It is on record that Te Matorohanga exchanged information with some Taranaki chiefs in 1841 and with Whanganui chiefs in 1855 or 1856.

Thus he was able to provide for the naming of the island by including some kauri spars on Kahu's canoe. However, there were no kauri trees in the Rangitikei district so a kauri log was conveniently floated down from its natural habitat in the north and cast ashore near the canoe builders.

On landing on the island, the kauri spars were used to build the house in order to account for the name of Wharekauri. In the Moriori account, Kahu introduced one new variety of fern root and the sweet potato only but Te Matorohanga introduced three varieties of fern root and the taro in addition to the sweet potato.

The addition of the taro does not strengthen the story for we know that neither the taro nor the sweet potato were in New Zealand until about two centuries after the advent of Toi.

The manner in which the Kahu story was brought back to New Zealand was told to Te Matorohanga by the two Whanganui chiefs whom he visited in 1854 or 1855. They stated that Akaaroroa had descendants in the Chatham Islands and of these, Te Hautehoro in the fourth generation from Akaaroroa, returned to Whanganui, where he and his descendants remained.

Though sea-going canoes could be made in New Zealand to voyage to the Chatham Islands, there was no material in the Chatham Islands to make a seaworthy canoe for the return of Te Hautehoro to the land of his ancestors.

It is hardly likely that he could have covered the 536 miles of rough sea in a raft made of the flower stalks of the native flax. Thus the explanation imposes another burden on our credulity.

The Matorohanga narrative is lengthened by further references to events in Hawaiki and the sailing of the Rangihoua and Rangimatawai canoes but as Percy Smith explains that this part was probably added by Te Whatahoro, the scribe, it may be ignored.

It is interesting to note, however, that Te Whatahoro's literary method included increasing numbers such as three varieties of fern root instead of one, adding extra place and personal names, and lengthening or altering the Moriori names.

Thus the Moriori names Rangimata, Rongomaiwhiti, Kauanga, and Tarere become Rangimatawai, Rongomaiwhitiki, Maruakauanga, and Tareremoana in the Whatahoro version.

The Moriori names Kirika and Te Rakiroa were changed to Arikikakahu and Rakeiroau. Such changes may have been due to lapses of memory but they are so consistent that they seem to indicate a deliberate plan of conjuring up extra details.

Moriori Genealogical Dates Ancestor Number of generations
to 1900 A D. Total years Date
Toi 167 4,175 2275 B.C.
Rongomaiwhenua 137 (129) 3,175 1275 B.C.
Kahuti (con. of Kahu) 101 (101) 2,525 625 B.C.
Rongopapa (con. of Rangimata canoe) 28 (31) 700 1200 A.D.

Two Moriori lineages recorded by Shand are extremely interesting. One of 183 generations supplied by Tamahiwai in 1868 commences with Tu, Rongo, Tane, and Tangaroa, passes through Toi, Rauru, and Whatonga, through Rongomaiwhenua (the first inhabitant), and ends with Tamahiwai himself.

The first four are major Polynesian gods and they supply genealogical evidence that the Moriori ancestors came originally from central Polynesia. The group of Toi, Rauru, and Whatonga is important for if it was not added to the lineage after Maori contact in 1835, it proves that the Moriori ancestors were in New Zealand after the arrival of Toi and Whatonga.

Such a lineage could not have come direct from central Polynesia. On this line, the contemporaries at the visits of Kahu and the Rangimata canoe were Kahuti and Rongopapa respectively.

The other lineage of 129 generations was given by Maikoua. It commences with Te Aomarama and Rongomaiwhenua and includes contemporaries of Kahu and the Rangimata canoe.

By adding two generations to bring the lineages down to 1900 A.D. and giving each generation a value of 25 years, amazing results are obtained as regards the dating of Toi, Rongomaiwhenua, and Kahu. The foregoing table is compiled from the Tamahiwai lineage and the corresponding number of generations in the Maikoua lineage is shown in parentheses.

The dates obtained for Toi, Rongomaiwhenua, and Kahu are utterly fantastic and show that these lineages, like others, have been built up to acquire the prestige of length.

Though we cannot accept them as a measure of time, we can admire the two Moriori genealogists for committing such long lists to memory.

But though lineages may be unreliable in the part dealing with remote ancestors, the latter part covering more recent ancestors may still have some value in dating events.

Thus the date of 1200 A.D. for the Rangimata canoe with its unfortunate sister ship, the Rangihoua, may be approximately correct.

 

 


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