Volume 3 1894 > Volume 3, No.2, June 1894 > The Moriori people of the Chatham Islands: their traditions and history, by Alexander Shand, p 76-92
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We have great pleasure in issuing to the Society an invaluable series of papers by Mr. Shand, knowing that in doing so we open up to the students of ethnology, philology and folk-lore some hitherto unbroken ground. For thirty years Mr. Shand has been living among the Morioris, and gathering the material he now presents to us; he holds the unique position of being the only scholar in the world acquainted with the language and traditions of this race, now almost extinct.—Editors.

Chapter I. Introduction.

[Note.—In the following articles, little attempt has been made to give the peculiar pronunciation of the Moriori people; it has been thought better to defer doing so until the Vocabulary is published hereafter. It frequently happens that the last letter in a word (always a vowel) is hardly pronounced at all, thus making it appear that the word ends in a consonant.]

THE following brief description of the Moriori people, their habits and customs, has been written as a preface to their traditions, in the hope that it may prove of interest and assistance in studying their beliefs and history, which follow. It does not pretend to be a scientific description, but rather a popular one, from which may be gathered some idea of what the people are like; and at the same time, it is hoped it will allow of a comparison, however rough, with their relatives of other branches of the Polynesian Race.

From their traditionary account of themselves, there is little doubt that the Morioris form a branch of the same race of Polynesians who colonised New Zealand;2 the race, that is, who were found in New

[Inserted unpaginated illustration]

Portrait of a Moriori. TE KARAKA NGA MUNANGA PAWA.
Illustration. Copied from a Photo, published in “Out in the Open,” by T. H. Potts, F.L.S.
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Zealand on the arrival of the historical canoes bringing the Maoris—properly so-called—from Hawaiki, about 22 generations ago. From this it will be understood that they are very similar to the Maoris in their physical aspect, as well as in their language, customs, and many other particulars, as will be seen by their traditions which follow. It is sad to say, that the people may be spoken of in the past tense, for there are only about twenty-five of them alive at the present time.3

Physical Characteristics.

In complexion, the Morioris bear a strong resemblance to the Maoris; in the aggregate they are, if anything, a shade darker; their features also strongly resemble the Maoris, but have, perhaps, more of a Jewish cast than even that people, their noses often being strongly hooked. Their eyes are of a dark-brown colour, sometimes black, but never light-coloured. The expression varies much, but generally it is dull, with an absence of vivacity, though in many cases they are full of fun. Their eyelashes are black, as also are their eyebrows, which are straight, like the Maoris'—never oblique. The hair is black and coarse, and either straight and lanky (mahora), or slightly curled (uru māwe). In a few instances the hair was of a reddish tint (uru kehu), in which also they resembled the Maoris, who gave the same name to that description of hair. Both men and women wore the hair long, reaching to the neck, as the Maoris sometimes did. The men wore a top-knot (hou), in which the hair was gathered together in a bunch on top of the head and bound with a string. This top-knot was adorned with an āwanga, an ornament in the shape of a small kite. This was formed of a groundwork of prepared flax (muka), on which were neatly bound in rows the light, red-coloured feathers of the parroquet (Kākāriki), and which, tapering off to a tail, was bound on to the hou in front above the forehead. The āwanga was also called a kura. Plumes, called piki-toroa (made of albatross feathers), were also worn on the head, stuck in front of the hou. The flat part of the scallop shell (Pure) was bored and worn pendant from the neck, with sometimes also a choice piece of flint, used as a knife. This latter was notched to form a handle, and was suspended from the neck, with a muka string tied to the handle. Sharks' teeth, and sometimes a piece of Tūhua, or obsidian, were worn in the same manner. Their principal neck pendant, however, was a sperm whale's tooth, reduced by grinding, and with a hole bored through it, called by them, rei (Maori aurei). These teeth were obtained in old times, when sperm whales were numerous and often became stranded on the shore. They were divided out among the owners of the land and their relatives. They also wore necklaces formed of strings of small Pauas, or Haliotis shells, or part of the skin of the albatross, with the downy feather attached, in which they placed scented herbs. This was called a hei. The Morioris, as far as can be ascertained, did not bore the ear, or wear any ear-ornaments. Strange to say, they did not tatoo the skin in any manner, which is remarkable, seeing that all other branches of the race used this form of ornament in some form or other.

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The teeth of the Morioris were brilliantly white, like the Maoris'; but in many of the skulls they are seen to be very much worn down, probably through eating the tough shell fish called Pāūa, or Haliotis.

The stature of the Moriori was, on the whole, somewhat under that of the Maori; but many men were well built, active, and strong, whilst at the same time there were many amongst them of a diminutive stature.

There appear to have been two tolerably distinct types—the straight-haired fairer people, and the curly-haired darker people, more approaching the Melanesian type.4 Like the Maoris, their hands were well-shaped, especially amongst the women. The feet were large, and the soles hard and horny from never wearing any covering, and the heels sometimes in old people much and deeply cracked. The skin of their legs was mottled and scaly—probably due to the habit of toasting them before the fire whilst squatting on their heels; hence the name of Kiri-whakapapa given them by the Maoris.

The ordinary mode of sitting appeared to be the same as with the Maoris (unless adopted from them), i.e., with the knees doubled up and the body resting on the heels.

Moral Characteristics.

The Morioris do not appear to have had the same amount of energy or vivacity as the Maoris, nor were they an agressive or war-like people, although somewhat quarrelsome among themselves, caused chiefly by curses (kanga) of one section or tribe against another, which generally originated in the infidelity of the wives. To obtain revenge for this, they organised expeditions (ka rangă i taūū, Maori taua) against their adversaries, in which they went through and recited incantations for the success of their party, just as if in actual warfare. All fighting, however, had been forbidden, and had ceased since the days of their ancestor Nunuku,5 shortly after their arrival in the island about 27 generations ago, since which time they have been restricted to the use of the tupurari (quarter-staff) only. It was ordered by Nunuku that man-slaying and man-eating should cease for ever—“Ko ro patu, ko ro kei tangată me tapu toake”—and that in all quarrels the first abrasion of the skin, or blow on the head or other part causing any blood to flow, was to be considered sufficient, and the fight—so-called—was to cease. The person sustaining injury in such cases called out, “Ka pakarŭ tanganei ūpokŏ”—“My head is broken;” but, although the quarrel ceased for the time, it did not prevent the injured party endeavouring at a later period to get satisfaction for his “broken head.” Nevertheless, apart from such disturbing incidents, their general life was a very peaceable one.


Marriages took place amongst them—as far as can be ascertained—at much the same relative age as with the Maoris, the women arriving at the age of puberty at from 13 to 16 years. Large families are said to have been common, prior to the arrival of the Whites and - 79 Maoris; but, on the advent of the latter, all increase ceased, which was in all probability due to change of habits and to the fact of their becoming enslaved. Some of the Maoris said of the Morioris, “It was not the number we killed which reduced them, but after taking them as slaves, we frequently found them of a morning dead in their houses. It was the infringement6 of their own tapu which killed them. They were a very tapu people.” With both sexes, fidelity after marriage frequently sat lightly on them; perhaps more so than with the Maoris, because there was not the same dread of active retaliation. Marriages generally were arranged by the relatives, and a feast made to celebrate the occasion.

Villages and Houses.

The people generally lived together in small communities, in huts thatched with Toetoe (Arundo conspicua) and rushes. For the sake of warmth, the houses were frequently lined with the bark of the Akeake tree (Olearia traversii), the heart wood of which is very durable and the most valuable found on the islands. Their huts were oblong and ∧-shaped, without walls, and the better class were carved and ornamented to a certain extent. Cooking was carried on in huts distinct from the sleeping-houses, and these were tapu to the men. The meals were taken separately by the two sexes, as with all Polynesians, and were limited to two a day for the adults. The morning meal took place from about 8 to 10 a.m., and the afternoon or evening meal from 5 p.m. till later on, varying according to the time of year. In years of plenty they had at times, in summer, three meals; but in years of scarcity, in winter time, only one meal a day. The villages or residences, (whare), were built in sheltered nooks, either on the borders of or in the forest, in suitable places—as a rule, never far from the sea, whence they drew their principal food supply. Their villages were never fortified, nor was the pa of the Maori known—they had no occasion for fortifications, having no wars—a state of affairs unique, perhaps, amongst the Polynesian race. They kept seagulls (Karoro), Terns (Tara), and Parroquets (Kakariki) as pets.

Social Relations.

The people met in assemblies occasionally to discuss tribal affairs, or other matters of interest; but the speakers were not so demonstrative as the Maori, nor did they taki or run up and down whilst delivering an oration, as the Maori does. Anything of importance, affecting the tribe or individual, was published, in many cases, by composing and singing a song in reference to it. Karikii, or incantations, were used to ward off evil or witchcraft, or in case of a stranger visiting a new place, or one at which he had not been for a long time. First, T'hokomaurahiri, the “making the welcome firm,” was recited; after this came the “Ta-hunua7—“slaying the land;” to wit, all the evil properties, witchcraft especially, which might attack the stranger newly arrived; then Ka hara nunui was recited, signifying the removal of offences, where possibly some old quarrel existed and was now for the first time set aside by the meeting together of the people. Then followed Ka pā-nui-a-Marama—“The - 80 great obstructions of Marama;” this was recited, and considered applicable more especially in the case where a man had lost all or some of his relatives since last meeting his friends, or in case of inability to meet and conjointly mourn over their losses till then. Last came Ka Rongo-o-Tamatea,8 or a Hou-rongo, a renewal or joining of friendship. After the recital of this, they then saluted by rubbing noses (hongi), as with the Maori, and wailed over their losses. The Rongo-a-Tamatea, when recited by chiefs on meeting long-parted relatives, was frequently accompanied by a recitation of their genealogy, apparently to indicate their common ancestry, and prevent it being forgotten. The Hou-rongo was used to friends and relatives; but there was another form called Hou-rongo-no-Tu used to their enemies, which was recited on meeting by the person who had lost a relative, after which they saluted one another and departed.

Occupations and Aliment.

Of work such as that done by the Maoris in clearing land, planting kumara, taro, &c., they had none. Their traditions assert that the kumara was brought to the island by Kahu,9 but did not grow, the climate being too cold. The men, nevertheless, were constantly occupied obtaining food, consisting chiefly of fish, which they caught either at sea in their canoes,10 with a circular net lowered by a line to the bottom, or with a scoop net having a long handle, used in suitable places on the rocks at low water and when the tide was flowing. In consequence of using these nets (Kupenga), the old bone fish-hook fell into disuse at a remote period of their history; the Kupenga proved to be much more efficacious.11 Eels (Tuna) in enormous quantities were found in Te Whanga and other lagoons, and in the streams, also formed a considerable part of their diet. These were killed in the shoal waters with a wooden sword, but were also caught with eel-baskets (Punga) in deep water and creeks. Other fresh-water fish, such as Takariwha, Rawea, Inanga, and Porure were also used as food. Of shell-fish they had an abundant supply, in the shape of the Pipi, found on the long sand beaches, with Paua (Haliotis) and other shell-fish on the rocks. For variety they had Fernroot (Eruhĕ) and Karaka nuts (of which latter, in good seasons, they preserved very large quantities); together with birds of the forest, such as the wood pigeon (Pare or Parea), Koko (Maori, Tui), Komako (Maori, Makomako), Mehonui, a species of the New Zealand Kakapo (Stringops habroptilis), larger than a goose, and the Mehoriki, a bird about the size of a small hen. Both the latter are extinct; they were wingless birds. There were also several varieties of the duck (Perer'), which were snared in pools or ponds, or driven ashore in the moulting season (Perer' mounu). They were driven from the lagoons into the rushes and coarse growth of the “clears,” or open land, where large - 81 numbers were caught. They also had the Pākura (Porphyrio melanotis). The Mehonui was usually captured on its sleeping place or nest, where several—six or eight—might be found huddled together, as the Morioris declare, like pigs in a bed. Having by observation, found its sleeping place on the “clears,” the Morioris made long tracks leading up to it, carefully removing any sticks or obstructions which might alarm the bird by cracking, and then, by making a stealthy rush, they pounced on and secured all in the nest or sleeping place. This bird had a powerful strident call, which could be heard at great distances. Its neck was said to be about as long as a man's arm. The Mehonui was peculiar in this, that if any one approached it in front it did not see him, and, approached thus quietly, was caught by the neck and strangled. It kept its head continually on the ground looking for food, chiefly fernroot, which it burrowed for and dug out with its powerful bill, making, it is said, a rooting like a pig; any one, however, coming from the side or behind was quickly detected, and the bird made off. Its colour was a reddish brown, something like the New Zealand Kaka. The Mehoriki was a very tame bird, but was only caught at certain seasons, being strictly preserved at others. The eggs were never eaten if in the least degree turned—children were always reproved for so doing. The birds were caught by preparing large traps with wide wings to them, between which they were quickly driven.12 The flesh was said to be very delicate, and much relished by sick persons. The Mehoriki was a very watchful bird; no stranger could approach without it uttering its warning cry. In colour it was light straw coloured, and spotted like the New Zealand bittern, but not so dull a grey as the latter. The eggs were spotted, and about the size of a medium or small hen's egg.

Native Rats, called Kiore, were common to the island; but it is believed they were not eaten by the Morioris, in which they differ from nearly all other Polynesians. The Native Rat was exterminated by the Norwegian Rat introduced from a wrecked whaleship. The young of many sea birds before they were able to fly were used as food, such as Kuaka (plover), young gulls (Ngoiro), shags (Kuau) and their eggs, Hōpo (the albatross), Hakoakoa (mutton bird), Taikō (a smaller-sized mutton bird of a slatey blue colour), Tītī (a still smaller size), Kupoupou (divers), Reoreo, Harua, and other aquatic birds, all of which deposited their eggs and bred in the peaty soil of the main island before the introduction of pigs, dogs, and cats. The albatross, however, must be excluded, for they build on the outlying islets, to which places expeditions were made at the season just before the young birds were capable of flight. The young were potted (huahua) for use; after cooking in the oven (umu), the birds were buried in the soil (carefully covered over to preserve them for future use) for some time, in the same manner as the Rongomoana, or black-fish, and other kinds of whale, which—excepting the sperm, black, and right whales—were eaten. Another important item of diet was the seal, which in former times frequented the coasts in great numbers; but they served an equally important use to the Moriori, inasmuch as most of their clothing during the later generations, if not from the first arrival of the Rangimata canoe, was composed of seal skins. When the first - 82 Heke—immigrants—enquired of the Autochthones, said to have been found here, “What is that you wear?” the reply was, “Puhina—seal skins—which cannot be borne for their warmth; but your garments (weruweru) are mataānu—very cold.”

The procuring of the young Hopo (Maori, Toroa) was a work of great danger and difficulty, with the peculiar style of raft-canoe they used, great skill being required to manage them on account of their deep hold in the water, which also made propulsion very heavy, although they were far less liable to capsize than a Maori canoe. In judging of the proper state of tide and current to avoid being carried away to sea, when crossing over to the outlying reefs and islands, great judgment was required. By taking advantage of the proper state of the wind and tide, they were enabled to make voyages which the appearance of the canoes would seem to forbid. “The nights of the moon” (the moon's age) was their chief guide in all these expeditions. Beginning with the first night of the moon, when she appears as a thin slender crescent (Oterē13 1st night, Tirea in Maori,) from this onwards to Omutu or Owhiro—nothingness; each night conveying to them a certain idea in relation to the tides, especially Ka Tai Tamate(ă)—spring tides—when it was very dangerous to venture forth to sea. Ko tc' hinapouri—nights when the moon did not appear till late—were the favourite ones, both in sea night fishing as well as on the rocks, and in eel-fishing. All fish dislike the strong moonlight.

Beyond the fernroot, they had very few vegetable foods—only roots of the Toetoe, used as a medicine for sick persons; rushes (Wi), the heart of the Nikau palm (rĭtō), and the root Kakaha, called by the Maoris, Kowharawhara (Astelia banksii). As already mentioned, the kernels of the Karaka tree (Corynocarpus lavigata) in good seasons formed a very considerable addition to their food, and Karakii—invocations—were used to induce a prolific crop. The kernels, when gathered, were cooked in a native oven (umu), then put into baskets and stamped with the foot in water, to get rid of the outside pulp; after which they were steeped in water for not less than three weeks, to remove the poisonous elements, just as the Maoris do; after which they were quite safe to eat.

The Karaka tree, which is identical with the Karaka of New Zealand and the Kermadec Islands, grows nowhere else in the world. It is found growing plentifully not far from the sea-shore on the main island and in Pitt Island, wherever the soil is at all suitable; but not on the higher parts of the southern portion of the main island, which is too peaty for it. It is one of the largest trees in the group, and is, as in New Zealand, a very handsome tree. The Morioris say that Maruroa and Kauanga brought the Karaka berry from Hawaiki in the Rangimata canoe, and planted it all over the island, the places where it was set being named.

The Morioris procured fire in the same manner as all other Polynesians, by the friction of a pointed stick—Ure—the rubber (Maori, Kaureure) on a piece of wood of slightly softer material. By the quick and vigorous use of the rubber, a slight groove was formed in the Kăhŭnăkĭ, which rapidly widened by vigorous chafing (hokowawewhakawawe, in Maori), to hasten the kindling of the fire—and formed - 83 a light dust which was pushed together by the working, and caught fire with the heat engendered. The operation was called Hika-ahi or ehi—raising fire. Experience soon showed the most suitable kinds of wood to use; and the women, who were adepts at raising fire, treasured with great care their Ure and Kahunaki, which were kept in a dry place for use when required. Inihina—Hinahina or Mahoe, in Maori—was considered the best wood for the rubber; but Karamu, Karaka, Ake, Rautini, and Kokopere (Maori, Kawakawa) were used as the Kahunaki, or grooved piece of wood. When the people were living on the outlying islets engaged in bird-catching, where no wood is available, they used a kind of peat called Pungaingai as fuel, as well as seal bones, which burnt well owing to the oil in them.


Originally, i.e., from the date of their arrival at the group, the people used mats for clothing, the general name of which was Weruweru. These were made of scraped flax (muka), and were fine in texture and warm; but, owing to the number of seals to be found there, this kind of clothing was abandoned and sealskin universally adopted, so that the art of making the mats became lost. The skins were used fur inwards. After the arrival of the English sealers in the early years of this century, a ruthless destruction of the seals—young and old—took place, by which they were all killed or driven away, thus depriving the Morioris of their clothing supply.14 They then attempted to recover the art of mat-working, but at this juncture the Maoris arrived and taught them their own art. They also made use of a fine kind of net, Kupenga, as a substitute, manufactured from muka; and also plaited a rough kind of mat, called Tukou, from broad strips of flax leaves, which on shrinking formed a very indifferent protection from the cold. It is believed that the loss of their warm sealskin clothing, together with the rough treatment they received from their Maori conquerors, had not a little to do with the rapid decrease of the people which had set in prior to 1835—the date of the Maori conquest of the group—but which increased with rapid strides subsequent to that date.

A kind of belt, called a Tahei, made of muka, was worn, together with the Marowhara or war girdle, which was put on when going to a fight (so-called), when also certain Karakiis, to be described hereafter, were repeated. The Marowhara was made of scraped flax—not scutched, like muka—and was about five yards in length, worn cris-crossed over the shoulders and round the waist, with the ends ultimately brought through the Tahei, or girdle, to allow of one end hanging in front and the other at the back, and coming down nearly to the knees. These were supposed to be worn by people of rank.

As a rule, however, the people went half naked, and when engaged fishing on the rocks or elsewhere—not at sea—were quite so. They were excellent divers, and frequently dived to a depth of five or six fathoms after Koura, or Crayfish, bringing up one in each hand and sometimes a third pressed against the chest.

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Arms, Tools and Utensils.

The Morioris were a very peaceable people, and therefore had little use for arms; as a matter of fact, during many generations they only possessed one offensive weapon—the Tūpūrărĭ, a pole about eight or ten feet long, and made either of heart of Akeake or Houhou, which they used somewhat as a quarter staff, but apparently with no particular amount of skill, although some of them were alleged to be very expert in warding-off blows. From their account, it was used solely to strike downwards with, and not to thrust—more to hit a blow with than anything else. Very awkward blows must have been received at times, but, as before stated, the first injury sustained ended the fight, for by their laws killing was prohibited, nor, apparently, was it ever attempted. Other weapons were known to them traditionally however; such as the Tao, or spear, ten or twelve feet long, made of drift Totara wood, of which there were quantities on the island. It is also alleged by the old men that Totara wood was brought with them from Hawaiki.15 These spears, after going out of use as offensive weapons, were placed aside on the Tŭāhŭ—sacred burial places—on rests, and there allowed to remain until some Tohinga tamirīkĭ,16 or baptism of children occurred, when they were brought forth, but duly returned after the ceremony. They also had short spears called Kaukau. There were also certain stone weapons—the Okewa, a curved, flat stone club, or weapon, of which some specimens are still in existence; the Pohatu taharua, a stone weapon shaped like the Maori Mere, and made of basalt or schist, but chiefly of the latter stone. Some years back, there were many of these latter scattered about everywhere. There was also a Patu paraoa, made of sperm whale-bone, of the same shape, but with a notch and round hole on the back edge, precisely like those of the Maoris, all of which weapons were thrown aside and neglected. The Toki, or stone axe, was also used in old time as a weapon of offence; but the use ceased, like that of the other weapons enumerated, and it was relegated to its own more especial purpose—to cut timber with. The people made use of the ordinary Toki—stone axe—shaped like those of all the other branches of the Polynesian races; these were generally made of basalt or other hard or volcanic stone, of which many varieties are found in the islands. They also used smaller varieties of the Toki, called Panehe, for fine work, besides Titi—wedges—for splitting, and Whao—chisels—for making holes.17 Like the Maoris, they had Putē, or Putea—fancy baskets—to keep their choice ornaments in; as also a box with a lid like the carved boxes of the Maori, the name for which they appeared to have forgotten, but it is alluded to in a hokehakahaka, or haka tamiriki—children's song, or, in Maori, haka—as a Kawa Muruwhenua. Kete, baskets for general purposes; Rourou, small baskets for food; and Konă, small, round, rough baskets, were used for much the same purposes. They also possessed fishing-nets (Kupenga) of various kinds; seines (Kupenga-hao-ika), made of ordinary flax; Kupenga-kowhiti (shrimp nets), made of muka twine; Kupenga-titoko, a scoop net with - 85 a long pole for fishing on rocks in the surf, made of common flax; and lastly, a deep-sea circular Kupenga, the same shape as the Kupenga-titoko, suspended by four cords, equally divided, on a Pirita, or rim of supplejack (Rhipogonum scandens). These cords converged, and were tied to one long line, by which the net was lowered and hauled up. The bait was fastened firmly in a tokere mounu, a small meshed bag in the bottom of the pendant Kupenga, and held in its position near the bottom; it was hauled up quickly when required. The Morioris do not appear to recollect any distinctive name for this class of net; it was made chiefly of muka twine, but sometimes of ordinary flax, and was exceedingly effective, catching sometimes 15 or 20 fish at a time. Captain Cook makes mention of seeing natives fishing, in Queen Charlotte's Sound, with a net evidently of this character; and it is said the Ngapuhi Natives were acquainted with it, although, apparently, not known to the Maoris generally.18

The Calabash, so useful to other branches of the race, did not grow on the island; the Morioris were, therefore, reduced to carrying water in a Puwai, or horn-shaped utensil made of green flax leaves, such as the Maoris use for temporary purposes; they do not mention ever using any other by way of substitute.


In the matter of canoes, the Morioris differed essentially from all other branches of the race; in fact, they possessed none, properly so-called, but used a kind of built-up craft, very clumsy, especially for pulling, but otherwise very safe, so long as the fastenings were sound. In heavy weather, they were not liable to fill and capsize like a Maori canoe, being really, from their construction, more rafts than canoes. Their sea-going ancestors from far Hawaiki would have scorned the use of such a vessel, and certainly could not have under-taken a distant voyage in one—the material of which they were composed would not have held out. On the other hand, considerable ingenuity was shown in utilising such unpromising material as they were possessed of. The absence of canoes arose from the fact that the islands possess no timber of a sufficient size and quality to make canoes from. The flooring of their rafts was made of Korari—the flower-stalks of Phormium tenax—with kelp placed in the crate-like frame beneath, to render the vessel buoyant. The kelp was of the large broad-leaved kind, and was inflated with air; it was taken out on landing, dried, and re-inflated as before. Nothwithstanding the flimsy character of these vessels, the people were accustomed to cross from Chatham Island to Pitt Island, a rough sea strait of twelve miles in width, and to undertake far more dangerous voyages to the small off-lying islands, some of which are 15 to 20 miles away from the main island, although closer to Pitt Island. It very often happened however, that these raft-canoes and their crews were caught in a storm and were carried out to sea, there to perish. They were large enough to carry 60 to 70 people, and were propelled by paddles (Hiwa), which, contrary to the method of all other Polynesians, were used by the crews sitting with their backs to the bows, as with Europeans, and by making use of a support, or thole-pin, against which the paddle worked. They carried fire with them for warmth, which - 86 was placed on stones and earth on the floor of the raft-canoe. Their raft-canoes never had sails; the larger and sea-going ones were called Waka-Pahii, or Pēpē.

The following brief account of the Moriori canoes, written by the author in 1870, is abstracted from Vol. IV. of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, page 354:—

“The Morioris had four kinds of canoes, but each much of the same kind or shape. One was called a Waka-puhara, or Waka-korari, and was made like the model now deposited in the Colonial Museum, Wellington. It had two keels, and a carved stern-post called Koua; the two pieces of wood projecting from the stern were called Puremu; these were also carved. This kind of canoe was generally from 30 to 35 feet long, 4 to 5 feet deep, and of the same width.
“The Waka-rimu was another kind similar to the first, but had no Korari about it, but had kelp placed in the body of the canoe. The Waka-pahii was of the same build as the model in the Colonial Museum, and was used in excursions to the islands, &c. The size of a large one was—the keels each 30 feet long; the Koua, 12 feet; the Puremu, 10 feet: a total length of about 50 feet; the breadth was 8 feet, and the depth 5 feet. The keels were made of Matipou wood, the Koua and Puremu of Akeake, the rest of such timber as the island affords. The kelp used to make it buoyant was of the Rimurăpă, or broad, flat, bull kelp. The fourth kind of canoe was like the New Zealand Mokihi (or raft made of Raupo leaves tied in bundles), but formed of Korari (flax) and Rarauhe (fern) stalks. It was quite low, and had wooden images of men placed on it, from twelve to twenty-four in number, each with a paddle tied to its hands. With a fair wind, the canoe was started off to sea as a messenger to the god Rongotakuiti, who, in response, sent ashore shoals of seals and black fish. It was called a Waka-ra.


For amusements, the people had high-jumping, called Poi and Hiti; skipping with a rope; cats' cradles (Whai), &c., but no musical instrument, although they knew traditionally of the Koauau, or flute of the Maoris, the use of which, however, was neglected. They had also Kapa, a kind of dance, somewhat similar to a Maori Haka, in which the people were arranged in two parallel rows one behind the other, the front row swaying from side to side, from the hip joints upwards, in an awkward sidelong manner, and it was accompanied by a song. During the performance, the back row changed places with the front row. It is somewhat difficult to accurately describe such a dance in all its minutiæ, having only been witnessed once or twice; but the impression left on me was that, generally speaking, it was tame, and lacked the energy and “go” of a Maori Haka; possibly this arose from the quiet habits of the Moriori. It is quite possible, however, had it been represented by younger people, and those accustomed to it, much more energy might have been imparted to the performance. In the long winter nights they varied the monotony by reciting Ko Matangiao,19 and all their legends, by way of keeping up the know- - 87 ledge of their history and traditions, as well as for amusement, but this was generally done in houses set apart for the purpose; when once commenced, the songs and chants were frequently kept up till day-break, so no one could sleep. Unlike their Maori brethren, who had supplies of kumara and taro as their main staple of food, the Morioris had to procure their's almost daily, and their time was well filled up, on the whole, in fishing in all its branches, snaring and killing birds, digging fernroot, cutting firewood, &c. They chipped the bark round the trees intended for firewood, leaving them to die. A very favourite kind of firewood was a long log—dry, but brittle—broken in half, and ignited at the ends, which were worked together until consumed; this saved cutting—a great undertaking with stone axes!

Sometimes a neighbour thievishly inclined would steal some of the trees thus prepared, in which case the owner, indignant at his loss, would level witchcraft against him in the shape of Te horo no Waihoro20, a Karakii, or incantation, especially intended for firewood stealers, and which was supposed to be very effective.

Tribal Divisions.

The Morioris were divided into tribes, like many branches of the Polynesians. The word Ngati, which precedes the tribal cognomen in New Zealand and Rarotonga was not known in that form to the Morioris, but the other form, Ati (Maori), Etchi (Moriori)21 appears recognisable in the names of some of their tribes, sections of which came in the canoes from Hawaiki to the Chatham Islands, ex: Tch Eti-ao22, Tch Ei-tara23. Tch Eti-ao appears also to assume another form, thus:—T' Etchi-ao, Tchi Eti-kohē. The other names of tribes were Whetēina, Hārua, Makao—divided into Makao-a-uhă and Makao-a-tō24—Matangă, Poutama, and Rauru.


In each tribe there was a chief who was the eldest born of the principal family, who was called the Ariki. Sometimes the Ariki was the Tohunga, or priest, as well, but not always; all chiefs, indeed all old men of any rank were exceedingly tapu; no one ever presumed to pass behind a priest or elder, but always in front. If any one did so inadvertently, the individual whose back was thus desecrated would call out, “My back! My back!” This offence was called Pikitua25. There - 88 are two small rocks at Okahu on the north coast of Chatham Island, where the canoe Rangihoua was wrecked, as tradition asserts, called Pikitua and Pikiaro, who were members of her crew. These rocks were also called Kiore and Tumoana, and it seems probable that these were the real names, and that Pikitua and Pikiaro were really atuas. The persons so named may have come in Rangihoua, but the names are known to their Maori brethren as mythical personages belonging to Hawaiki.—Vide Sir G. Grey's “Nga Moteatea.” It is not improbable, from the signification of the names, and from the fact that they were known to both races, that the custom referred to was an old one common to both before their migration from Hawaiki, but retained only by the Morioris. They appear to have been recognised as Atuas, or mythological personages, by all.

The Ariki took precedence of all, and no one would dare to meddle with their functions. The Tohungas, or priests, were the most able men of the tribe, and their functions were similar to those of the Maori Tohungas in everything, excepting this, that, as the Morioris did not fight, the Tohungas, of course, did not lead their people in war—a thing that very frequently occurred in New Zealand. There were no other distinctions of rank beyond those mentioned. The common people were called Raurā. Slavery was unknown—a natural consequence of there being no wars. There do not appear to have been any Arikis among the women, who exercised the same commanding influence, or took an active part in any matters concerning their tribe, as some of the Maori women of rank did.

Rights of Property.

Each tribe owned its own section of country, and, as they did not cultivate, such rights resolved themselves into the exclusive privileges to all game, whether birds or fish, found within their bounds, and also to all stranded matter, such as whales, &c. Where whales or other large fish were stranded, it was the duty of the Tohunga to perform the prescribed rights necessary on such occasions, before any of the people were allowed to desecrate the beach on which the fish were either stranded or in the act of stranding. Any one coming by chance, and seeing such an occurrence, went away at once and informed the Tohunga of the district, lest his presence should prevent the fish from stranding. It was considered of the first importance that appropriate invocations and offerings should be made to Pou and Tangaroa, the head of the first fish stranded26 being placed on the Tuāhu, sacred to them, to induce a future recurrence of the like good fortune. The stranding of a “school” of Rongomoana—black fish—and all small whales, grampus, &c., was always attributed to the power of the spirit of some one who had died recently, and especially to that of a Rangatira, or Chief. It was not in the power of any common person to send Rongomoana ashore in large numbers; hence when the Tohunga proceeded to view the fish, he ascertained whose spirit or ghost it was that sent them, and thereon recited his incantation, standing by the head of the first fish. He would first mention certain Pu—stems—of people, and, while doing so, with the finger extract the eye of the fish. Should this happen at the mention of any - 89 particular line of ancestry, he at once assumed that he had formed the clue to the sender of the fish. One Tohunga who practised this declared that it was the force of the incantation which extracted the eye, and that it came out without any exertion on his part, but that no one else could perform the same feat. He did not know of any knack in the matter, but thought it was caused by the incantation. The necessary incantations over, all could then come down to the beach, and, after the division, join in cutting up the fish. In this operation people from miles around assisted, such a stranding being considered a great event. There were also certain restricted individual rights to places where birds, fish, &c., were procured, which were transmitted to posterity, but not nearly to so great an extent as amongst the Maoris.

Religion, Witchcraft, &c.

Like all other branches of the Polynesian race, they possessed the tapu in all its forms and terrors, which apparently differed not from the same institution elsewhere. The first fish caught were always kept and thrown on the Tuāhu, as an offering (whakahĕre) to Pou; and so with eels—their heads were cut off and thrown before a Tuwhatu,27 in some places represented by a stone, but ordinarily by a lump of pumice very rudely shaped to represent a man's head, and which was sacred to Tangaroa and Pou, of whom these rude carvings were symbolical. Fish thus thrown before the Tuwhatu or the Tuahu were left to rot there. It may also be added that people going to fish were tapu, and might not eat abroad, but must bring the food home, where a Taumaha—thanksgiving—was first offered, then they might eat. If the food was fish, Pauas, and fernroot it might be eaten outside; but if birds, Porure, and Patiki were included, it must be taumahatia and eaten inside the house.

Of gods, they had many; numbers were shark gods, but what were the peculiar offices of several of them does not appear clear, and would be difficult to state. The following is a complete list, so far as is known:—

Tu was the god of war; his name was generally so abbreviated, but in some Karakii or invocations he received other appellations, such as Tu-matariri—angry face; Tu-matawahi—dreadful face (Maori, Tu-mata-wehi); and so on.

Tane was god of the forest.

Tangaroa, a god of fish.

Pou, a god of fish.

Rongo appears to have been partly the representative god of Rongo-moana, or Blackfish, and not god of cultivation, as with the Maoris; possibly because the Rongo-moana was an article of food.

Heauoro and Maru are referred to in connection with war, and this may be assumed to be their principle function, though Maru was supplicated in healing wounds, severe cuts, or broken bones. Thus Whakatau asks his god Maru, at Te Uru-o-Manono, to open a passage for him.

Tami-ta-ra, the Sun god. It appears doubtful if this may not be Tama-te-ra, and not Tama-whiti-te-ra, as stated by some people.

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Tamarau-ariki, a shark god.

Tu, a shark god.

Rangi-hiki-waho, a shark god.

Rongo-mai-tauira, the god of lightning, of eels, and “Will of the Wisp.”

















It is said there were many more besides these.

Certain of these gods were represented at various places by carved images. There were five or six of them at Ouenga, on the S.E. coast of the island; amongst them were included Maru and Rongomai. They are said to be hidden in an inaccessible cliff at Tupouranga, and are believed to be made of Totara. It was customary to bind the image of Maru with a plaited rope made of Pīngao (Desmoschœnus spiralis), and certain individuals claimed the right to operate on particular parts of the body, each in his turn working downwards from the head, those binding round the head considering themselves the chief people in this office, whatever it implied. This performance was like some in Central Polynesia, where the emblems of the gods were bound round in sinnet. The a representatives of divinities were usually kept in caves, or on the burial places (Tuāhu), but were generally concealed, for fear of their being stolen. Incantations were offered to these images, but how far they proceeded in their invocations appears uncertain. Although possessed of much sanctity, and much dreaded, they were evidently only emblematical of the gods after whom they were named, and were not idols in the true meaning of the word.

Makutu, or witchcraft, was practised and believed in as much as by any other branch of the Polynesians. The causes originating it were various, such as theft, e.g., stealing food; firewood; having intercourse with their neighbours' wives; jealousy and curses; for any of which witchcraft was practised, but with the strange effect that the spirit of the person bewitched returned from the Shades, and in its turn killed the bewitcher—a circumstance which nevertheless did not appear to deter them from the practice of the art.

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With reference to the subjoined collection of Moriori traditions and legends, the first attempt to gather them was made in 1868 and 1869. They were then written both in Maori and Moriori, as the Morioris spoke Maori generally at that time, although the old people could speak their own language, and gave all the incantations in that tongue.

The collection has been increased since then from time to time, as occasion offered, but great difficulty has been experienced in the translation of many words now either archaic or obsolete, which the Morioris repeated with fidelity as handed down to them, but appeared quite unable to give the meaning of in Maori, whatever sense the words may have conveyed to their own minds. Many of the translations then given were quite incorrect. It is proposed to treat each subject as far as possible in its sequence, and exhaustively, so far as the material—which is somewhat fragmentary—will permit. Commencing with the “beginning,” the existence of Rangi and Păpă—heaven and earth—who dwelt in darkness, until separated by Rangi-tokona—heaven-separated, or propped up—not Tu-matauenga, as with the Maoris. Tu-matauenga appears on the scene some considerable time after the creation of man, or, perhaps, more correctly, of the Whanau-o-te-rangi—the heaven-born—of one of which he was the great grandchild.

The creation of man—Tu, standing erect—the forming of him under the similitude of a tree, by heaping up earth out of Păpă—earth, foundation—follows. Subsequently the “gathering in,” the placing of the spirit in the body thus formed, causing life, with the accompanying incantations, comes next.

After the story of the creation of man and the “heaven-born,” the story of Maui and Mauhika28 is set forth—Maui's going to Mauhika to get fire; his tying the sun, and killing, by witchcraft, his wife Rohe, who was the sun's sister, and for her beauty was likened to his rays. Her spirit returned, however, from the Shades and killed Maui; hence death, witchcraft, and all the evils men are subject to, came into the world.29 Contrary to the Maori tradition of Maui (wherein Maui-tikitiki-o-Taranga, the youngest of the family, was the actor), it was the eldest Maui—Maui-mua—according to the Morioris, who tied the sun. Among other doings of Maui, was the trick he played on the people of Tangarō Monipū.30 These people were supposed to be represented by the vermin and insects which, on a still night, startled by a passer-by, are heard to rustle and fall down from the trees. Maui discovered them to be people.

The Moriori genealogy, if possible, will be dealt with next, as it was considered by them to be of the first importance, and that everything was subordinate to it. Comparing the Moriori genealogies with those of the Maoris', it seems strange that such a difference should exist in the number of generations from the time of leaving Hawaiki. Practically, Maori genealogy begins with New Zealand. Excluding the parent left in Hawaiki, the so-called generations prior to him or her are periods of “nothingness,” and the like. No attempt is made (or recorded) to bridge the long period antecedent to their coming from Hawaiki. This the Moriori genealogy attempts to do, starting - 92 with the children of Rangi and Papa, “the heaven-born,” and thence descending in succession until the departure of their canoes from Hawaiki.31

Their incantations, and all information collected in respect of birth, marriage and death—many of the rites of which are closely allied to those of the Maori—will be given. Both races laced up the bodies of their dead chiefs, or people of rank, in coffins hollowed out like a small canoe, with a corresponding piece as a lid, along the edges of which holes were made to permit of lacing up. These were called Păpă by the Maoris, and Hakănă by the Marioris. One of these Moriori Hakănă, made of Totara, may be seen in the Wellington Museum.

To the arrival of their canoes in the island, and its discovery by them, may be added its first discovery by Lieut. Brougton, and the Moriori version of the same.32

The incantations for war are very numerous, and show a great likeness in general character to those of the Maori; and there are a considerable number of legends called Ko Matangi-ao—wind of light, or dawn of existence—treating of matters which happened in Hawaiki. Some relate to feuds, which were said to be the causes of their leaving Hawaiki; such is the story of Manaii,33 recording the infidelity of his wife, and the making of spears, which closely resembles in many respects the Maori story. The burning of Ta Uru-o-Monono34 also resembles, in general features, the Maori account of the same incidents, together with the wail of Pukura ‖ for her son. The last battle among themselves, prior to the leaving of the Rangihoua and Rangimata canoes, does not appear to be known to the Maoris, nor the names of those taking part in these scenes. From the time when these canoes left began the series of stories called Hokorŏngŏ tiring'—hearing of the ears—in contradistinction to the former, “dawn of existence.” There are also several other subjects, which need not be particularised, but will be treated of in connexion with the incantations referring to the same.

The description and translation of the traditions, incantations, &c., will adhere as closely as possible to the idioms and structure of the Moriori language; by so doing, it is believed they will be of more value to those who wish to compare the language minutely with that of the Maori.

1  It may be necessary to explain to readers outside New Zealand, that the Chatham Islands are situated in the South Pacific, in Latitude 44° South and Longitude 176° West, and are distant from Wellington, New Zealand, 480 miles in a south-east direction. With the exception of the south end of New Zealand, this group of islands is the most southerly of all the islands inhabited by the Polynesian race. The group contains about 360 square miles of surface, nine-tenths of which is included in the main island, called by the Morioris, Rekohua, and by the Maoris, Wharekauri.—Editors.
2  Whether the migration of the Morioris was prior to or synchronous with that of the historical canoes of the Maoris about 22 generations ago can scarcely be decided definitely, although, by accepting the genealogies of the two races as of equal value, the migration of the Morioris was prior to that of the Maoris.
3  At page 161, Vol. I. of the “Journal of the Polynesian Society,” an estimate is given of the number of Morioris alive at the date of the Maori conquest of the island in 1835. There were at that time about 2000 of them.
4  Those who are interested in craniology will find descriptions of some Moriori skulls in Crania Ethnica, the great work of A. de Quatrefages and E. Hamy, and a description of a Moriori skeleton in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. V., p. 304.—Editors.
5  Co-existent with the first immigrants in the Rangimata canoe.
6  Being compelled by the Maoris to do things which desecrated their tapu.
7  Hunua = Maori, whenua.
8  Ka Rongo-o-Tamatea (Tamatea's peace, or friendship making), generally pronounced Ka Rongo-o-Tamatē(ă).
9  Kahu occupied the same relative position to the Morioris as Kupe did to the Maoris.
10  Raft-canoes: Perhaps this term may be accepted as more explanatory of the kind of canoe used. Those accustomed to Maori canoes might otherwise be misled regarding their form.
11  The Matau, fish-hook, was made of whalebone, and had no barb (Năkŭ), which was compensated for, no doubt, by its peculiar shape.
12  These birds lived in and preferred the undergrowth of the bush, which afforded them concealment.
13  This O is apparently a prefix to the word. Moon not seen.
14  The rule with the Morioris in regard to the seals was to kill only the old ones (the males), and to remove the carcases from the rocks, otherwise the seals would not return.
15  No Totara grows on the island, although the name, with those of many other trees peculiar to New Zealand, are preserved.
16  A ceremony performed over children somewhat akin to baptism.
17  For illustrations of Moriori tokis, see Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. I., p. 80.
18  The Ngati-whatua tribe, of Kaipara, used a similar net 35 years ago.—Editors.
19  Ko Matangiao was the name given to all the legends and stories of Hawaiki, in contradistinction to Hokorongo-tiring'—hearing of the ears, which referred to events occurring after the canoes left and came to the islands (Chathams). Although I cannot understand wherefore, Tapu asserts that this is Ko Komatangiao. It appears contrary to all reason that such should be the case, nor can I find reason to place Ko otherwise than as printed in the text.
20  From Horo wahii, dry firewood trees..
21  Moriori Etchi = Eti = Maori Ati.
22  Ao or aw' (ă) evidently = awa, manao or manaw' (ă) = heart.
23  Ei; this appears to be the other form in combination of Ngati = Ngai, this in Maori would be Ngai-tara—thus Ngai-terangi (Maori).
24  Uhă, female; to (ă), male. It does not appear why female should take precedence. There is something akin to this in the Rivers Waiau-uha and Waiautoa in New Zealand.
25  This custom of not passing behind a Tohunga, or any sacred person of rank was also common to the Maoris—to do so would have been a grievous insult to any tapu person. All this was changed by a Maori Tohunga leading his tribe to battle when he placed all his tapu with the power of his god in his front, so that the army following might not be injured by the power of the god residing in him—until he ordered the army to close; he then prevented any injurious effects that might otherwise have arisen by going in front of him in this case. This appears to explain the meaning of Pikitua and Pikiaro as held by the Maoris.
26  From the position of the fish, if there were many, if not by observation, the Tohunga assumed to know which was the first fish stranded.
27  One of the best existing specimens of these is deposited in the Museum in Wellington.
28  Mahuika, in Maori traditions.
29  The Maori story of Maui's death is quite different.
30  Also known as Motipū. It does not appear clear what this name means; possibly it comes from Tipū(a), weird-like, elfish.
31  We cannot agree with Mr. Shand in this. Whilst it may be true of many genealogies, it certainly is not so for others. We have in our possession several which go back for a great many generations prior to the heke from Hawaiki.—Editors.
32  Lieut. Broughton's visit is alluded to as, “Ko tere i tapatahi a kura,” or the “wonderful advent.”
33  Manaia in Maori.
34  Te Uru-o-Manono in the Maori story. Maori, Apakura.