NEW ZEALAND: Chatham Islands and Moriori

The Chatham Islands – Source

When we think about New Zealand, we mainly just think about the North and South Islands, but there are others, including inhabited ones. Here’s a long-form slice of life documentary about life on the Chatham Islands – a series of small, extremely remote islands. They’re so remote that, while they are an integral part of Aotearoa, residents refer to the main islands as “New Zealand”. The way they build community and live with the isolation really reminds me of Newfoundland outports or the Arctic, though comparatively more temperate in weather!

(If you like this format and want another slice of life documentary from the opposite side of the world, I recommend Shqipëria – Notes from Albania.)

What really caught my eye was the statue of Tame Horomona Rehe (Tommy Solomon), believed to be the last Moriori person of unmixed ancestry. The Moriori are the indigenous people of the Chatham Islands, who diverged from the Maori on the main islands around 1500. After initial inter-tribal wars, the Moriori came to a commitment to pacifism under Nunuku’s Law. Unfortunately, this peace and relative isolation was shattered in the 1800s, when Maori began arriving following the Musket Wars – brutal inter-iwi wars fuelled by English weapons. The Maori seized much of the Moriori land and the combination of massacres and enslavement is known as the Moriori genocide – only about 100 Moriori survived. Most Maori later returned to New Zealand, and were replaced by white settlers.

Moriori culture has undergone a revival, especially in asserting culture, connections to the land, and debunking the very myth that they had been fully wiped out, which was taught for decades in New Zealand schools. Trips are organized to bring those with Moriori ancestry together to build on their cultural practices and knowledge, as well as protecting the traditionally carved living trees on the island:

While the Moriori language no longer has native speakers, there are efforts to revive and use the language – including this beautiful lullaby, E PōPō Tchimiriki (lyrics and translation in the vid’s description).

In 2020 a treaty settlement was signed between the Moriori and the New Zealand government, which both aimed to redress historical wrongs caused by both Pakeha and Maori, and give formal recognition to the Moriori. Here’s an interesting news clip from New Zealand’s Maori-language public broadcaster (with English subtitles) – it’s notable what is not mentioned:

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