From Academic Kids

Moriori are the indigenous people of the Chatham Islands (Rekohu in the Moriori language), east of the New Zealand archipelago.



The Moriori form an outlier, ethnically and culturally, to the Polynesians of the Pacific Ocean. Although speculation once suggested that they settled the Chatham Islands directly from the equatorial Polynesian islands, scholars now agree that ancestral Moriori migrated as Māori from the southern South Island of New Zealand about 1500 AD. Evidence supporting this theory comes from the similarity of the Moriori language to the Māori dialect spoken by the Ngai Tahu tribe of the South Island, comparisons of the genealogies of Moriori ("hokopapa") and Māori ("whakapapa"), and prevailing wind patterns in the southern Pacific. The Chatham Islands thus became the last outpost in the Pacific to be settled during the period of Polynesian discovery and colonization.

Adapting to harsh climate

The Chatham Islands have an environment colder and harsher than the one the original settlers had left behind, and they are barely capable of supporting a population. The Chathams proved unsuitable for the cultivation of most crops known to Polynesians, and the Moriori adopted a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Lacking resources of cultural significance such as greenstone and plentiful timber, they found outlets for their artistic impulses in making dendroglyphs.

Dispute resolution

As a small and precarious population, Moriori embraced a pacifist culture which rigidly avoided warfare, substituting it with ritual fighting and conciliation.

1835 invasion from Taranaki

In 1835 some Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama people, Māori from the Taranaki region of the North Island of New Zealand, chartered a European ship, the Rodney, and settled in the Chathams. They went on to slaughter and cannibalise the Moriori, enslaving the survivors. The pacifist Moriori refused to fight; thus the incoming Māori, who regularly resolved conflict through military means, easily defeated them.

The commonly-held notion that the Māori invaders completely wiped out the Moriori needs correction. Although Tommy Solomon, the last Moriori of unmixed ancestry, died in 1933, several thousand Moriori descendants remain alive today.

Revival of culture

Recent years have seen a revival of interest in Moriori culture and identity, and some Moriori descendants have made claims against the New Zealand government through the Waitangi Tribunal, a court set up to compensate Māori people for land obtained by fraud or by force since 1840.

The debunked myth of Moriori in New Zealand

New Zealand popular culture of the early twentieth century long held an unsubstantiated myth that the 'Moriori', a small-statured dark-skinned race of possible Melanesian origin, originally inhabited New Zealand before the fairer-skinned Māori arrived and drove the Moriori out to the Chathams. This story conveniently promoted racist stereotyping and justified the idea of colonisation by cultural 'superiors', but has no historical or anthropological merit.


The following book provides the only comprehensive and systematic account of Moriori. Its publication dispelled longstanding misrepresentations and untruths about Moriori which formerly circulated among the New Zealand population.

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