Story: Moriori

Page 5. The second dawn

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The enduring Moriori

Despite the events of the previous century, Moriori held positions of prominence on Rēkohu (Chatham Island) in the 20th century. Tame Horomona Rehe (Tommy Solomon) was a successful businessman and farmer in the 1920s and early 1930s. Other descendants of Moriori, notably the Davis and Preece families, were influential in local government and community affairs from the 1940s. More recently descendants have been involved in claims to the Waitangi Tribunal and in Moriori organisations.

New beginnings

Moriori are engaged in a vigorous cultural revival which began with a New Zealand television documentary in 1980. In dispelling some long-held myths, it raised the consciousness of many Moriori descendants. Among the fallacies laid to rest were that the Moriori were a separate race, distinct from Polynesians, and that they had died out. It triggered a wave of activity that began in 1986 with the raising of a statue on Rēkohu of Tommy Solomon, once said to have been the last Moriori.

Telling the story

Moriori: a people rediscovered (1989), an account by historian Michael King, was prompted by a request from Moriori for their story to be told. It won New Zealand’s premier book award in 1990 and was widely acclaimed. In 1990 a collection of fragile papers written by kā rapuna (the ancestors) came to light when their tchieki (guardian), Wilford Davis, contacted King after reading his book. Further insights into Moriori culture were given in Barry Barclay’s dramatised documentary film The feathers of peace, which screened in 2000.

Political revival

Albatross feathers, once worn proudly in the hair and beard by Moriori as a symbol of peace, re-emerged as a political statement during the 1991 bicentennial celebrations of the Chatham’s arrival. They were worn by Moriori and their supporters, and presented to visiting dignitaries.

In 1994 hearings began for the Moriori claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. Moriori sought recognition of their continued identity as the rangata hunu (people of the land) of the Chatham Islands, along with compensation for cultural and material losses. The report, released in 2001, vindicated their stance.

After intense legal and political battles from 1988, Moriori finally won a proportion of the rich fishing grounds around Rēkohu and Rangihaute (Pitt Island), enabling them to re-establish a viable economic base. 

Cultural renaissance

In 1997 construction began on the first Moriori marae to be built on Rēkohu in over 160 years. Kopinga marae was officially opened in January 2005 with a celebration attended by Prime Minister Helen Clark, the Māori queen, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, electorate MP Annette King and local elders. Seen from the air, its design resembles the wings of the hopo (albatross), which has great symbolic resonance for Moriori. The name of the marae, Te Kopinga, refers to the sheltered groves of kopi (karaka trees) where Moriori held their meetings.

The Moriori language is Polynesian, closely related to early southern Māori dialect. In 2001 the tribe took the first steps towards reviving their language by compiling a database of ancient Moriori words. A newly coined Moriori greeting is used in all written communications – me rongo, ‘with peace’.

After applications by Moriori in 2002, Taia, a property on the east coast of Rēkohu with extensive wetlands and cultural significance for the people, was purchased by the Crown as a reserve. It is now being jointly managed by Moriori and the Crown. Moriori are also working with the government to protect the remaining Moriori rākau hokoairo (tree carvings).

Moriori unity

By the end of 1991, Moriori political organisation had split into two groups. After years of difficulties, but also many legal and political accomplishments, the two groups achieved unity in 2001, forming the Hokotehi Moriori Trust. The trust aims to seek redress for past injustices, and to revive the language, customs, and traditions of the Moriori ancestors. It also aims to build a sustainable economic future for the Chathams, and to broadcast a message of tolerance and peace to the world.

In 2020 Hokotehi Moriori Trust settled its treaty claims with the Crown. The terms included a Crown apology, an agreed historical account, the transfer of culturally significant land on Rēkohu, and a cash payment of $18 million.

How to cite this page:

Denise Davis and Māui Solomon, 'Moriori - The second dawn', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 April 2024)

Story by Denise Davis and Māui Solomon, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017