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Wednesday, 25 Jun 2008

Gift to preserve peaceful culture

Column: From The Paepae - What a multimillion-dollar boost means to Moriori
MAUI SOLOMON - The Dominion Post | Wednesday, 25 June 2008
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ROSS GIBLIN/The Dominion Post

WELL DESERVED: With the flax kete containing a $6 million deed of gift are Kyah Cook, left, Hinemata Solomon, 11, Shirley King, Lin Entwistle, Ahinata King, 9, and Mikaere Tuuta, 5.

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The Government has given $6 million to Moriori to revive our culture, identity, language and heritage.

An important aspect of that heritage is the 500-year legacy of peace practised by Moriori.

The initiative, signed on June 17, recognises that an indigenous culture of New Zealand remains a vital part of our collective history.

Before 1791, Moriori were a confident and robust people. Colonisation of Rekohu (the Chatham Islands) by Europeans and Maori was devastating, with the effects still felt today.

In just over 100 years, the Moriori population fell from about 2500 in 1791 to 100 by 1900.

We lost our land, lives, language and identity. For the following 100 years, Moriori had to endure what the late historian Michael King described as the "worst group slander" meted out to any group of people anywhere in the world.

Moriori became a political scapegoat for some historians seeking to justify the colonisation of Maori on mainland New Zealand.

For Maori, Moriori were a source of ridicule and a Pakeha-invented myth. These myths still have a strong hold on the public imagination.

Moriori, including me, were taught at school that Moriori did not exist. While I was always proud of my Moriori heritage (as well as my Maori and Pakeha), I knew nothing about who Moriori really were or what had happened to them.

Many descendants consciously hid their identity, fearing persecution and ridicule.

Since 1980, Moriori have worked hard to revive our culture and identity, including erecting a statue of Tommy Solomon on Rekohu in 1986, working with King to publish his book Moriori: A People Rediscovered in 1991, and opening a marae on Rekohu in 2005.

The $6 million gift from the Crown has been placed in a trust.

The income will help Moriori regain knowledge of our culture, language and traditions. It will be used to develop educational resources and work with the National Peace and Conflict Studies Centre being established at Otago University.

Although our Moriori ancestors suffered terribly, their legacy of peace lives on. It is a legacy which has emerged from a long darkness into the light to inspire not just Moriori but people everywhere. Me rongo (in peace).


* The Moriori are the indigenous people of Rekohu (Chatham Island) and Rangiaotea (Pitt Island), the two largest islands in the Chatham group.

* It is thought Moriori came to the Chatham Islands from New Zealand about 1500.

* They took a vow of peace, but later suffered the effects of colonisation by both Europeans and Maori.

* In 1835, Moriori were massacred and enslaved by Maori invaders from New Zealand.

* Their population plunged from about 2500 in 1791 to just 100 by 1900.

Maui Solomon is vice-chairman of the Hokotehi Moriori Trust.

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