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Hokopanopano Ka Toi Moriori (Reigniting Moriori Arts): Memory Work on Rekohu (Chatham Islands)

Kingsley Baird


Since European discovery of Rekohu (Chatham Islands) in 1791, the pacifist
Moriori population declined rapidly as a result of introduced diseases (to which
they had no immunity) and killing and enslavement by Maori iwi (tribes) from
the New Zealand ‘mainland’ following their invasion in 1835. When (full-blooded)
Tame Horomona Rehe—described on his headstone as the ‘last of the Morioris’—
died in 1933, the Moriori were widely considered to be an extinct people.

In February 2016, Moriori rangata matua (elders) and rangatehi (youth), artists
and designers, archaeologists, a conservator and an arborist gathered at Kopinga
Marae on Rekohu to participate in a wananga organized by the Hokotehi Moriori
Trust. Its purpose was to enlist the combined expertise and commitment of the
participants to hokopanopano ka toi Moriori (reignite Moriori arts)—principally
those associated with rakau momori (‘carving’ on living ko pi trees)—through
discussion, information exchange, speculation, toolmaking and finally, tree carving.
In addition to providing a brief cultural and historical background, this paper
recounts some of the memory work of the wananga from the perspective of one
of the participants whose fascination for Moriori and the resilience of their culture
developed from Michael King’s 1989 book, Moriori: A People Rediscovered.