Not all the errors in the interpretation of the past can be related to the evolution of myths: only the interesting and significant ones. They may be made simply by mistaking the nature and the tendency of evidence. Generations of New Zealanders have learned (and perhaps still learn) to distinguish sharply between the so-called “Moriori” and the Maori, the first and the second wave of pre-European inhabitants. The term Moriori should, in fact, be limited to the inhabitants of the Chatham Islands, people who were largely killed and assimilated by Maori invaders early in the nineteenth century. It should never be employed to identify a very dark-skinned, primitive non-Polynesian (perhaps Melanesian) race of New Zealanders, an inferior people wiped out by the superior, subsequent, and conquering Maoris. All early inhabitants of New Zealand were certainly Polynesian and the likelihood is that Maori culture developed continuously from the time of the first settlers from the Pacific Islands, without sharp breaks, and determined by isolation and by the conditions of the environment.
And yet, one may be permitted to wonder, is not this “error” strangely related to the myth of the possessors? If the Maoris themselves could be represented as an invading, conquering, expropriating people, would not this story serve to justify the activities of a race of subsequent conquerors, to turn the charge of expropriation upon the victims themselves?
by William Hosking Oliver, M.A.(N.Z.), D.PHIL.(OXON.), Professor of History, Massey University of Manawatu.