TIDES OF CHANGE

Tommy Solomon (Tame Horomona Rehe) the last full-blooded Moriori
Comparing apples with pears—or is it?

Every time I fly to the Chatham Islands my eyes become fixated on the vast ocean of coloured sea below, seemingly stretching endlessly in every direction.

Thank goodness for GPS I think, as the islands of Rekohu (Chatham) and the smaller Rangihaute (Pitt) come into view and we soon find ourselves on firm ground again. Always a relief!

My thoughts on these trips always go back to a time of about 1500AD when it is thought the first humans, known today as Moriori, first arrived on these islands. How they got here and where they came from are questions that still remain definitely unanswered, but somehow they did and New Zealand’s history is all the more colourful as a result.

Moriori tree carvings Chathams

It is generally accepted those who first arrived came from somewhere in East Polynesia, today known as French Polynesia, possibly the Society Islands. It also seems likely they arrived here by good fortune, having earlier been blown off course during inter-island voyaging.

Many years later, in 1835, Māori came to Rekohu and immediately took advantage of the smaller more peaceful Moriori. So severe, well documented in reknowned historian Michael King’s book, ‘Moriori: A People Rediscovered’. Today there are no full-blooded Moriori but the 2006 census indicated 945 people with some Moriori ancestry connections.

Compare this to the voyage of Brendan about 600AD, when the Catholic monks of Ireland decided it was time to spread their religion to a wider audience. In a boat built entirely of natural materials found locally, wooden framing covered with leather hides, powered by oars and a sail, a crew of Catholic monks set sail from Cork heading north to take advantage of the well-known North Atlantic Drift.

The statue of Tommy Solomon, Chatham Island

A 12 month re-enactment now known as the ‘Brendan Voyage,’ took place in 1976/77. Following the known currents, Brendan visited Scotland, the Hebrides, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Labrador and Newfoundland in Canada. A similar distance to that covered by the Moriori, much colder but within regular contact with known currents and land locations. Parts of it sailed by others, such as the Vikings in earlier years.

The voyage from East Polynesia to Rekohu was at least warmer but, in reality, a frightening journey into the unknown.

How such a craft and its small crew survived the journey and then eked out an existence on an island in the middle of nowhere can only lead to amazement, bewilderment and admiration by the modern day traveller, as they prepare to land on Rekohu or Pitt.

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