Moriori history and Treaty politics: four myths
The Moriori are the indigenous people of the Chathams, which they call Rekohu, and their leaders have been trying to hammer out a Treaty of Waitangi settlement with Finlayson and the Crown. Back in the late '90s Moriori appeared before the Waitangi Tribunal, and talked about how their homeland had been invaded and enslaved by two Maori tribes in 1835, and how the New Zealand government had later allowed those same tribes to gain legal title to the land they had stolen from Moriori. In 2001 the Tribunal published its Rekohu Report, which backed many of the arguments Moriori had made.
Chris Finlayson is also negotiating with Ngati Mutunga o Wharekauri, a group descended from one of the two iwi that invaded Rekohu in 1835.
Last night's news report from the Chathams has prompted a long, ill-tempered, and often ill-informed debate on facebook, where many commenters have ridiculed the notion that the Crown should sign a settlement with Moriori.
Here are four misconceptions that I noticed recurring during the debate on facebook.
1. Who attacked and enslaved the Moriori?
The first misconception is that all Maori were somehow responsible for invading Rekohu and enslaving the .
Only two small iwi from northern Taranaki, Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama, invaded Rekohu in 1835. These iwi rejected Moriori offers of peace and partnership, defiled Moriori sacred sites, massacred hundreds of men, women, and children, and made the remnant of the Moriori population into slaves. The genocide that began in 1835 was recorded by both Pakeha residents of the Chathams and by Moriori, and it was proudly remembered by the members of Ngati Mutunga who appeared before Chatham Islands sessions of the Native Land Court in 1868, 1870, and 1872. Believing that their conquest of the Chathams gave them mana whenua over the islands, the iwi's elders described their killing and enslavement of Moriori in some detail before the court.
In the first decades of the nineteenth century iwi were regularly at war, as the muskets and cash brought by Europeans destabilised Aotearoa. The invaders of Rekohu had themselves been forced out of their homelands, and taken refuge on Somes Island in Wellington harbour. They were not acting on behalf of any Maori government or any other pan-iwi organisation. (It was in the 1840s and '50s, in response to pressure from Pakeha settlers and land speculators, that the concept of a pan-Maori identity developed. In the 1858 Waikato chief Potatau Te Wherowhero became the first Maori king.)
2. Are Moriori just Maori with a funny name?
The second misconception is that are Maori.
Many Maori commenters on facebook have insisted that Moriori are nothing more than an iwi of Aotearoa. Tama Rua claimed that the language and culture of Moriori are 'almost identical' to that of Maori. Gerald Patena claimed bluntly that 'Moriori are Maori'.
Many of the Maori who want to claim that Moriori are merely an iwi are reacting to a myth that was created a century ago by the amateur scholars Elsdon Best and Percy Smith. After misinterpreting some Maori oral history, Best and Smith decided that both the Moriori of the Chatham Islands and the Tuhoe were the remnants of a Melanesian people who had lived all over New Zealand for centuries, then been driven into the Ureweras and out to the remote Chathams by the ancestors of the Maori. Best and Smith's theory was destroyed by HD Skinner, New Zealand first professional anthropologist, who visited the Chathams after World War One and discovered skeletal, linguistic, and cultural evidence to show that the Moriori were a Polynesian people closely related to Maori. Skinner's findings have been confirmed and extended by later generations of scholars.
Unfortunately, many Pakeha still hold to the old myth of the Moriori as a pre-Maori people. New Zealanders exasperated by the persistence of the myth sometimes create their own falsehood, by claiming Moriori are not only Polynesians but a tribe of Maori.
It is true that , as a Polynesian people, are related by blood and language to Maori. But are not Maori and they do not claim to be Maori, as a look at the publications of the Hokotehi Trust, the organisation that represents them, will very quickly show. Moriori claim that they arrived on Rekohu about a thousand years ago from an island or islands in tropical Eastern Polynesia, then travelled to mainland New Zealand, where they intermarried and traded with Maori, before becoming isolated on the Chathams. Some scholars prefer to think that are descendants of very early Maori from the Cook Strait region who got blown to the Chathams and were isolated there.
Whatever the truth about the exact origins of the ancestors of the Moriori, there is no doubt that during centuries of isolation the people of Rekohu developed a culture very different to that of their fellow Polynesians in Aotearoa. Moriori called themselves tchakat henu, not tangata whenua; the gorgeous, freeflowing artworks Moriori made on trees and rocks lacked the hei tiki motif and the complex patterning of classical Maori carving; Moriori lived without the complicated social hierarchies of Maori; Moriori became pacifists while Maori became expert in warfare.
It is reasonable, then, to say that and Maori belong to the same extended family, but that they are different peoples: the two indigenous peoples of our country. If Maori are the tangata whenua of Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu, then are the tchakat henu of Rekohu.
In recent decades, faced by a Moriori cultural renaissance and by Moriori Treaty claims, Ngati Mutunga and their allies have tried to claim that Moriori are no longer a distinct people, but have instead assimilated to Maori. Such rhetoric reminds me of the way redneck Pakeha often insist that Maori are no longer a distinct people but simply New Zealanders.
The assimilationist argument is wrong when it is made by Pakeha against Maori, and wrong when it is made by Ngati Mutunga and their supporters against Moriori.
3. How did early European visitors to the Chathams treat Moriori?
The third misconception is that Europeans did not commit atrocities against in the nineteenth century.
Few of the Pakeha who talk about the evil deeds of Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama know that the population had already declined by about a third during the decades between the 'discovery' of Rekohu by Europeans in 1791 and the invasion of 1835. Parties of sealers and whalers often landed on the Chathams in the early nineteenth century, and eventually established settlements. Although some of them established friendly relations with , others killed and raped islanders. All of them spread diseases to which had no immunity.
In the decades after Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama massacred , Europeans harvested hundreds of skeletons from the beaches of the Chathams. Skeletons and skulls were sold to collectors and museums in Europe, and thousands of teeth ended up in the surgeries of European dentists, where they were attached to European mouths.
4. Why should the Crown be responsible for Moriori suffering?
The fourth misconception is that the Crown has no responsibility for the suffering of , because that suffering was caused only by Maori, and occurred before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.
Many of the Pakeha who make this argument also insist that by signing the Treaty in 1840 Maori accepted that British law would prevail over all of New Zealand. If they hold such a view, then they logically should consider that the British Crown had an obligation to protect the legal rights of the . For twenty-two years after the signing of the Treaty, the remained enslaved in their homeland. The British annexed the Chathams to New Zealand in 1842, but did little or nothing to assert Moriori rights. They neither intervened to free from their Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama captors, nor tried to stop the harvesting of Moriori skeletons by European graverobbers.
It was not only in the Chathams that the Crown showed itself indifferent to Moriori suffering: in the 1840s a group of Ngati Mutunga and their Moriori slaves emigrated to the Auckland Islands, where they lived close to Hardwicke, a British colony that boasted several hundred inhabitants and a magistrate. No attempt was made to free the Moriori slaves brought to the Auckland Islands.
Even after the freeing of the , the Crown continued to act against the interests of Rekohu's indigenous people. In 1868, 1870, and 1872 the Crown organised Native Land Court sessions on the Chathams to decide who should have title to the archipelago. As I noted earlier, Ngati Mutunga elders spoke at length to the court, describing how they had conquered the Chathams and enslaved its people, and claiming that these deeds gave them ownership of the islands. The Crown agreed, giving 97% of disputed lands on the Chathams to Maori and only 3% to Moriori. It is this injustice, in particular, that Moriori are hoping to undo in the settlement they are now negotiating with the Crown.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]