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Barrister Maoi Solomon the modern voice of resurging culture

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On the Manukau Farm in Owenga, New Zealand, is a statue of Tame Horomona Rehe (Tommy Solomon). He is recognized as the last known “full-blood” Moriori, the first people of the Chatham Islands who were victims of a genocidal invasion in 1835. (Photo: Supplied) 

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(Editor’s note: In the summer of 1986 I was learning Jewish activism and organizing as the assistant to Lt. Col. Yoram Hamizrachi in Winnipeg, while moonlighting as a taxi driver. One day a striking young guy with an unusual-for-the-prairies accent got into my cab, a New Zealander touring across Canada. Like a 1980’s movie, the tourist couch-surfed his way into the cabbies’s house for two wild weeks and got a taste of the unique social scene of the era, meeting all my Jewish buddies and many other characters. He went off on his way to Vancouver, having made a lasting impression on us all. Now, 36 years later, his name appeared out of the blue a week ago – in the following story about his achievements in his  life since, that  I am honoured to publish – Marty)

Many New Zealanders believed that Tommy Solomon, who died in 1933, was the last survivor of a culture that was driven into extinction – the Moriori. But Tommy’s grandson, Maui Solomon contradicts this often repeated claim and says that the culture is in fact, seeing a “Renaissance” long after a genocide decimated 95% of their population.  

Going back in time, legend holds that their ancestors arrived on Rehoku (now Chatham Islands) from 2 different migrations – one from eastern Polynesia and a later one from eastern New Zealand, these were around 1000-1400 AD. In the 1800s, they were almost annihilated by two Maori Iwi (tribes) from the mainland. 

Maui says that for centuries, Moriori lived a “peaceful, pacifist life based on the teachings of their elder Nunuku, who banned warfare and killing.” This lasted for 600 years. They had no livestock like pigs or taro, which other Pacific Islanders grew. The volcanic islands have no native land mammals. It rains half the time and the average day was spent gathering nuts, seafood, hunting seabirds and seals. They used to harvest beached whales when they could. The language they spoke on this archipelago had a 50% lexical similarity to Maori. 

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Sadly, this ‘peaceful life’ wouldn’t last. In 1835, members of the Māori tribes Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Mutunga, from mainland New Zealand decided to “invade” the Chatham Islands with a hijacked European made ship and muskets. They settled wherever they pleased and Moriori who resisted were promptly executed. Although Moriori had met foreign traders before, an actual invasion was unprecedented.

A group gathered to discuss a course of action. The youngsters argued that they needed to retaliate or risk extinction. The older chiefs disagreed and ruled that Nunuku’s law was imperative and conceded. The Māori showed total disregard and wiped them out mercilessly and desecrated their sacred sites. “They commenced to kill us like sheep wherever we were found.” survivor Hirawana Tapu said. 

As reported in the Rotorua Daily Post, the Moriori “were duped into befriending the invaders, nursing them back to health after they landed enfeebled by seasickness and near starvation.”

Maui explained, “They were repaid by slaughtering, enslavement, cannibalism, it was genocide, Moriori were forbidden by their Māori invaders to marry among themselves, the New Zealand Government turned a blind eye… sealers and whalers introduced diseases that wiped out large slices of the remaining population, obliterating entire families.”

Within 30 years, there were only around 100 Moriori people left, down from 2000 when the Maori first came. In 1870, a New Zealand court awarded 98 % of the land on Chatham Islands to the invaders’ tribes and only 2% to the Moriori – something now viewed as a historic injustice. By 1900, the language was extinct. The genocide, was probably one of the most brutal in human history was ultimately stopped by the British, with their release from slavery via a proclamation by the resident magistrate in 1868 – far too late! Many had been taken to the mainland as slaves and others left voluntarily after losing land.  The remnants ended up marrying Europeans and Maoris and it is their descendants today who have spearheaded this revival. 

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In 1933, when the last known “full-blood” individual Tommy Solomon, died, many claimed that the Moriori were ‘extinct’. However, many descendants of mixed ancestry (European or Maori) sought to revive the culture.

Around 40 people in the Chatham Islands out of almost 780 people identify as Moriori, according to the 2013 census, with another 800 in mainland New Zealand. Maui points out that this emerged only in the 1980s.

“In addition there is a high estimate of 10 000 people who could have some Moriori ancestry in New Zealand and the diaspora, in Australia, the UK and elsewhere, so we have to set the record straight” Maui states.

Now, the Moriori are in the process of reviving the language and even have a language app (Ta Re Moriori).

“As Israeli-born linguist, Professor Ghilad Zuckermann who assisted the Barngarla Australian Aborigines, across the sea to revive their so-called ‘extinct’ languages said, “A culture that lives in its language, thrives.”  

Barrister Maui Solomon “Maui the Moriori” is the executive chairman of the Hokotehi Moriori Trust. He is seen at his wedding to longtime partner, archeologist Susan Thorpe, in January 2019. (Photo: Supplied)

Maui narrates Moriori mythology, which has similarities to Maori, Samoan and other Austronesian mythology but is definitely distinct. For example, they all believe in a homeland called ‘Hawaikii’. The ancestral trickster figure Maui, who was portrayed as a secondary protagonist in the Disney animated film Moana, is described as the older brother in Moriori stories but the younger brother in Maori mythology.

They also have folklore about albatrosses, seals, whales and other animals. Maui also describes shark deities and a ritual where a beached whale’s heads would be severed and prayers performed to facilitate the deceased to go on to the afterlife.

He says that a great debt is owed to Hirawana Tapu, his ancestor “who left behind a written record of our history and culture so we have something to reference with and revive.”

A Polynesian people, the Moriori migrated to the Chatham Islands around 1500. Their culture included the art of tree carving, (momori rakau), where human figures were portrayed on the trunk of a live kopi (karaka) tree. It is believed that this was a means of commemorating and acknowledging ancestors and the spiritual world. (Photo: teara.govt.nz)

In 1994, the Waitangi Tribunals began and in 2001, sided with Moriori. They view it as a major step towards recognition. The first Moriori Marae (meeting house) Chatham Island opened up in January 2005, attended by then Prime Minister Helen Clark. 

Then, in 2021 the Moriori concluded the treaty settlement to the New Zealand government which saw land and sacred sites restored, an apology and a cash settlement of 25 million dollars. More importantly the historical record “has been corrected” Maui stated and is now contained in its own special law known as the ‘Moriori Claim settlement act 2021’.

A statue of Tommy stands in the Chatham Islands as do ancient art scattered across the island, namely glyphs and carvings on limestone rock and trees which serve as a ‘permanent footprint’ which their forefathers left behind. Maui Solomon adds, “We will not be forgotten – for around 6 centuries, we lived by a covenant of peace and that’s a powerful philosophy in itself. Our renaissance has just begun”. 

Just like the descendants of Holocaust survivors, the Moriori continue to uphold their culture via long held memory and the culture lives on. 

Avi Kumar is a historian of Sri Lankan descent who lives in New York.

He has a unique spin on current affairs.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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