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170: Moriori Differences

Yes, we are still on this, and for a good reason. It is easy for an academic to condemn such comparisons from the perspective of 2021 observations. So we have gone back to 1871 to get a clearer written picture of what was observed by those doing the observing... not some academic sitting in an office in 2021.

The bulk of this account below comes from E. A. Welch and J. Barnard Davis from 1870-71. We have summarised in the way of isolating statements into separate paragraphs, and we do not intend to comment much on them but just provide them as they are, and let you arrive at your own conclusions. Once again, view this from the observation of someone way back in 1871, some 150 years ago, as seen with their very own eyes, still only 36 years after the invasion of the island by Maori who killed, enslaved and likely bred with some of them. The basic physical structure and appearance of the Moriori was still very evident then. Old cultural practices were almost gone by then due to the Maori enforcement and banning old practices. We cannot find anything written in such detail prior to 1871, but when we do we will post that at another time.

The Chatham Islands were discovered, about the year 1792, by Lieut. Broughton, one of the expedition under the celebrated Vancouver. The islands are situated about four hundred and seventy miles east of New Zealand. At the time of the discovery of the Chatham Islands, they were inhabited by a peaceful, harmless, and inoffensive people, who were then supposed to be identical with the natives of New Zealand, or Maoris. Such is what I have been informed, as I have never seen any account of the discovery, and, of course, there is no early information concerning the natives to speak of, except what is gleaned from themselves and the earliest residents among them.


These people are called Morioris, a title, I believe, bestowed on them by the Maoris. (In fact - The name Moriori comes from the term Tchakat Moriori – meaning ordinary people. The name was only used after contact with Europeans. Prior to that only tribal and personal names were used. That means they had no name as a group and no tribal names are now known that are historically accurate. Indeed no legend exists of any tribal links canoes or immigration to NZ; from where they are supposed to have traveled east (and why would they do that?).

They appear, from the evidence of a white man named "Coffee", who lived amongst them some years before the conquest of the islands by the Maoris, to have been a simple, harmless race of people, living in the most primitive style, without any fixed residence, without huts or dwelling places, except of the most frail description, these consisting of two poles stuck in the ground, and a cross-piece from one to the other, against which a few branches of trees were placed in a sloping position, with some flax leaves to form a shelter. These were their only dwelling places, and were mostly at the outskirts of the bush, where the surrounding timber sufficed to break the wind, and shelter them a little from the rain. These huts were used for a day or two, as they wandered about from place to place, wherever food was most abundant. Their only garments were flax-leaves plaited or woven into mats, and worn round the loins. They were idle in the extreme, only seeking food when pressed by hunger, and depending mostly on what was cast ashore by the sea... a stranded whale or porpoise being an especial delicacy, as was also a seal or mass of whale blubber, which being often cast ashore was looked upon as the gift of a good spirit who supplied their wants.

Having no land animals, they depended upon such means and the abundance of shell-fish for their subsistence, crayfish, eels in lagoons. Their vegetable food consisted of the root of a plant which was generally dried in the sun and roasted. But the most peculiar part of their vegetable diet was the fruit of the Karaka tree called Kopi. This fruit, when ripe, has very much the appearance of a small apricot, and is similar in taste, but much stronger. After the fleshy pulp is removed, there remains a stone with a thin shell, containing a kernel. This forms the edible part, and the method of its preparation is as ingenious as the South American mode of preparing cassava... the umu.

Though the Morioris are devoid of any chronological knowledge, they have a tradition of their ancestors having come to the islands in two canoes, but are totally unable to fix even approximately the date of such arrival : they cannot surmise how many generations have lived and died since that time, nor have they any means of counting days or years, or of conveying any correct idea whether an event occurred twenty years or only a week ago. (That is very odd for those who are supposed to be 'Maori' don't you think?)

They say that one of these canoes was preserved for a long time, and the other was blown out to sea ; but they do not know what their form was, and have no idea of boats or canoes except their basket craft.

Still it has been supposed by some that the Morioris were the original inhabitants of New Zealand, and were driven from that country by their Maori conquerors. The Morioris appear to have been a cheerful, good-tempered race of people, fond of singing and telling stories, and ardent believers in spirits, both good and evil. They believed that all food was given them by a good spirit named Atua. They evidently entertained a belief in a future state, as, when one of their number died, it was believed that his spirit would descend into the sea and send them some large fish ashore, and after a death they usually made fires on the sea-beach, and watched anxiously, day and night, for the expected gift.

Even their conquest by the Maoris, their assimilation to the habits and manners of the latter, and their intercourse with Europeans, had failed to shake this belief, as, in September 1867, one of the oldest of their people died at Waikarapi, four miles from the settlement of Waitangi, and was buried near his hut, and it was believed that when his spirit descended into the sea he would send them some large fish ashore. So strong was the impression, that fires were lighted on the beach, and they watched day and night for four days, when a large fish was cast ashore within half a mile of the old man's whare, and a general rejoicing followed to celebrate the event. Their belief in evil spirits was, I rather think, confined to the idea that, after the death of one of their number, an evil spirit came to carry away the soul of the deceased, and, in order to prevent such an occurrence, a fire was usually lighted, round which they ranged them? selves, each holding a stick, tied to which was a bunch of spear-grass, meantime chanting a monotonous song. This was supposed to keep away all evil spirits, and was an in variable occurrence on the death of one of their tribe. This ceremony has died out from amongst them now (within 36 years of invasion), and when one dies they usually hold a tangi or wail for the dead, in the same way as the Maories.

Their language was, or is believed to have been, a dialect of the Maori language, or one so near to it as to have become easily assimilated to it, as at the present time there is no appreciable difference between them. But it is not at all improbable that theirs was a separate language, and that the slaughter of the greater portion of them, and the slavery to which the rest were condemned, may have obliterated their language entirely, and compelled them to use the Maori tongue, as being most intelligible to their masters.

The Morioris do not appear to have had any hereditary chiefs or leaders. From what I have been able to learn from them, it appears that their usual method was to elect such as were considered the most useful. Thus anyone who was distinguished for stature or prowess, or was a successful bird-catcher or fisher, was usually chosen as a leader, but did not possess more than ordinary power.

War was an art they did not understand, and therefore, they clid not require a chief to lead them in battle. Quarrels were very rare. A fight generally ensued between the two parties, in which, it is said, they used wooden clubs and spears, or their stone axes, and whoever first drew blood was considered the victor, and the affair ended. This is a pleasing contrast with their conquerors, the Maoris, who seem to be never so happy as when engaged in a war.

I have never seen any weapons amongst the Morioris ; nor have any of the oldest white settlers on the islands. Probably what weapons they possessed were taken from them at their conquest, and destroyed by the invading Maoris.

Their method of disposing of the dead was peculiar, and had special reference to the avocations of the deceased. A successful fisherman would be lashed to one of the frail rafts which would be sent to sea with its curious freight. A bird-catcher would be lashed to some tree near where he had been successful or placed upright in the hollow of a tree. Women, and those of no particular merit as sportsmen, were generally taken to some sand hill overlooking the sea, where a hole was made, into which the body was placed, doubled up, so that the chin rested on the knees, and the head was always left above the surface of the ground. This is a style of burial that I have not heard of being practised by any other people.

They have been thought by many people to be a tribe of Maoris; but, from what has been said, it will be seen that their manners and customs differ very materially from those of the Maoris in nearly everything.

There is also a great deal of physical difference between the two races. The Morioris are shorter, stouter, andl more pleasing in expression than the Maoris; they are darker in colour, have the same lank black hair, have aquiline noses, and do not tattoo themselves. The difference between them is so marked that one Moriori may be easily picked out from a hundred, or an indefinite number of Maoris.

The Maori know well the difference, and know them to be a different race, speaking of them with contempt as " black fellows".

It is said that they originally practised cannibalism, but had discontinued the practice before the arrival of the Maoris. Cannibalism on who... their own? That's both ludicrous and incorrect.

The conquest, or rather the genocide, of the Morioris took place about the year 1835. Some authorities have stated that the expedition to the Chatham Islands was undertaken for the purpose of a raid on these islands. For some years previous to the year 1835, the Ngati Mutunga tribe in Taranaki were continually harassed by a powerful chief of a neighbouring tribe, named Raupahara, and were decreasing very fast, being unable to withstand the continual assaults of this powerful chief. They had recourse to a system of emigration to Whare-kauri, the Chatham Island, they having given it that name on hearing of it from one of their countrymen who had been there, and carried a good account of it to the natives of Taranaki. The Maoris, after landing, began to feel that there was a considerable difference between New Zealand and Whare-kauri, and that the latter lacked many of the advantages of the former. The absence of land animals, to which they had been accustomed, made animal food a delicacy. It is probable that this was the cause of the commencement of these cannibal orgies that so nearly depopulated the islands. Certain it is that once having begun, they carried their horrid practices to such an extent as almost to exterminate the original inhabitants. The usual way in which these feasts were conducted was to select a certain number of victims, who were made to carry the wood, light the fires in which they were to be cooked, and make all ready for the feast. They were then laid in rows on the ground, and killed by a few blows on. the head with a " mere" by one of the chief men present. At this day (1871), the remains of these cannibal feasts are to be seen in every part of the island. At Tupuangi, on the western side of the island, there are hundreds of the skeletons of these unfortunate wretches lying near the sea-side, where the feasts took place. At Okawa, on the north-east side, there are also a great many, this like-wise being one of the chief scenes of their cannibal festivities. And even in the most secluded spots you frequently come upon the bones of some unfortunate victim: the larger bones broken to extract the marrow, and the skull also broken to get at the brain. The Morioris say that, prior to the coming of the Maoris, their people were as numerous as the flax-stalks, and that, notwithstanding their great number, there was never any lack of the necessaries of life, but that, after their conquest by the Maoris, and the introduction by them of the potato and other vegetables, and land animals, as pigs, sheep, cattle, and other domestic animals, they have had to work for their food, and that the former supplies have gradually failed and become less every year. This method of counting of their people is very similar to the old American Indian saying, "As numerous as the leaves of the forest", as indicating a number beyond their comprehension, and conveys no accurate idea of what their numbers were. However, there is no doubt that they were very numerous for the area of the islands. The number of skulls that are to be found in certain parts goes far to prove this fact; but, owing to the causes before mentioned, they have dwindled down to a very limited number, and at the present time do not exceed eighty or ninety altogether.

Those who were saved from the general slaughter were held as slaves by their conquerors, and being denied the privilege of intermarrying, they have not increased since, and are becoming fewer every year, and in a few years may be expected to become totally extinct.

During my residence on the islands, I was fortunate enough to procure a few skulls and an imperfect skeleton of the Moriori race, which I brought to England for anthropological purposes. The Morioris appear to have suffered from but few diseases; the commonest being a pulmonary affection and were also troubled with a virulent form of scabies, which is a really loathsome disease, aggravated very much by the determined scratching which they persisted in to allay the intolerable itching.

With these few exceptions, I believe the Morioris to have been a fine healthy race of people. They have been said by some people to bear a strong resemblance to the Stewart's Island Maoris; but I think this is without foundation, as is also their fancied resemblance to the generality of the Kanakas ( meaning Fijians, Solomon Islanders, those from Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea etc. In other words - MELANESIANS. The Moriori resembled Melanesians - to the earliest Europeans to observe them.

At the present time, the islands are inhabited by as varied and motley an assemblage of people as can well be imagined. There are Morioris, Maoris, Kanakas, Negroes, Chinese, Spaniards, Portuguese, Danes, Germans, English, Irish, Scotch, Welsh, Yankees, natives of South America, a Manilla native, a Laplander, a Russian Finn, a half-caste native of New Holland, several Maori half-castes, and a few whose nationality it is almost impossible to determine, forming as curious a mixture of races as could possibly be got together in such a small aggregate number.

The natives saluted in (1871) by the New Zealand manner by rubbing noses, " hongi". Broughton said they had stone weapons, like those of the Maoris, which they concealed by wrapping them up in a mat, and lances from six to ten feet long, two of which were carved.

Broughton in 1791 describes the natives this way. The men were of middle stature, with their limbs full and robust. Their hair and beards were black, and some wore them long. The youths had their hair tied in knots on the top of the head, and intermixed with black and white feathers. Some among them had eradicated their beards. They all have a dark brown tint, with decided features and bad teeth. Their skins showed no signs of tattooing, and they seemed very clean. For clothing, they had the skin of a seal attached round the neck by a netted cord, which fell clown to the hips, with the hair outwards. Others had, in place of these skins, mats made very artistically, attached in the same manner, which covered their shoulders and backs. Some were naked, with the exception of a fine netted tissue, worn as a cord round the loins. We did not observe their ears to be pierced, nor that they wore ornaments on their persons, except some who had a necklace of mother-of-pearl.

Many had their lines, which were made of the same substance as their nets, passed round the body like a belt, but we did not see their hooks. Three old men did not seem to be clothed with any authority.

It will be seen that Broughton not only speaks of their stone weapons, but says they were like those of the Maoris of New Zealand. Yet those stone implements that have been brought by Mr. Welch are not of the same pattern as those of the Maoris. They are made of a very hard dark stone, which has a loud clinking resonance, yet is not so hard as the jade employed by the Maoris. They appear to have been of the adze kind, andl bear perfect cutting edges, which are remarkable for the obtuse angle at which they are formed. They are now only to be found in the woods, and are very scarce, iron being of universal use at the present time.

Both in skeletal evidence as well as observational. both in the robustness of the bones and in stature, all this agrees closely with what has been said respecting the natives of Chatham Island. Broughton stated that the men were of middle stature, with their limbs plump. Mr. W. Travers says that "they are much shorter, but stouter built than the New Zealanders." Mr. Welch's testimony is, that the Morioris are shorter and stouter than the Maoris. We thus arrive at decided physical differences between the two races ; and, according to the evidence of Mr. Welch, there are striking moral differences also.

It is a similar case to that of the Australians and Tasmanians, two races which have been so frequently confounded by superficial and prepossessed observers. Tasmania which is only one hundred and twenty miles off reveals the people are totally different from the Australians. This is the case between the Moriori and the Maori.

Mr. Welch affirms the hair of the Morioris to be black; and in some cases curly. .

Now, although there was a considerable resemblance between all the Polynesian dialects, there was not much in common between the geographical names in the Chatham Islands and those in any other part of Polynesia.


Lets recap the differences...

  1. Temporary lean-to structures

  2. No permanent villages

  3. No concept of time or lineage

  4. No ancestor history (whakapapa)

  5. Vastly different burial styles and customs

  6. A different language (although similar as many Polynesian languages were)

  7. No chiefs, nobility or slaves

  8. No war

  9. Fighting limited to the winner being who draws first blood

  10. Weapons ceremonial, and totally unlike Maori or Polynesian weapons

  11. No tools/weapons/tonga resemble anything from the mainland where they are supposed to have come from (!)

  12. Different wood carving styles

  13. Different art forms

  14. Dendroglyphs (only found here and Australia; near the east in upper Queensland, 880km from Melanesia)

  15. Materially different customs and manners to Maori

  16. Physical differences in - face, hair, limbs, even skin colour

  17. Maori disdained them, and saw them as different to Maori (ie of a lower class - think about that one!)

  18. Early early European sealers regarded them as similar in appearance to Melanesians rather than Polynesians (this was the pure-bred Maoriori - prior to Maori knowing Moriori existed).

  19. No tattoos or body marking at all, no scarification either.

  20. Geographical names different to where they are supposed to have come from (as in NZ).

So yeah, it seems they were Maori aye..... ! (Note the heavy cynicism). Here are a selection of tools ceremonial weapons and dendroglyph designs that came from the island which is supposed to have been populated by Polynesians who arrived in around 1200 and suddenly left to sail east to land no one knew existed. What do you think? More importantly, what do the academics think?

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