Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Genocide of the Moriori on the Chatham Islands

I am currently reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. It is an excellent book. I have learned a lot already.

One new set of facts I have discovered is the fate of the Moriori who lived on the Chatham Islands. They were subjected to one of the worst genocides of the 19th century. The aggressors in this tragedy were Maori from New Zealand.

The archipelago of the Chatham Islands consists of about 10 islands. The islands are located at about roughly 800 km east of Christchurch, New Zealand. The islands have politically been a part of New Zealand since 1842.

Wikipedia has an account of the Maori invasion of the Chatham Islands. It notes, "On November 19, 1835, a British ship carrying 500 Māori armed with guns, clubs and axes arrived, followed by another ship on December 5, 1835 with a further 400 Māori. They proceeded to massacre the Moriori and enslave the survivors...After the invasion, Moriori were forbidden to marry Moriori, nor to have children with each other. All became slaves of the Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga invaders. Many died from despair. Many Moriori women had children to their Maori masters. A small amount of Moriori women eventually married either Maori or European men. Some were taken from the Chathams and never returned."

Diamond wrote, ""[The Māori] commenced to kill us like sheep.... [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies. It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed - men, women and children indiscriminately". A Māori conqueror justified their actions as follows: "We took possession... in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped....." (p. 54).

Diamond explained some of the success of the Maori on the fact that they were a society with an agricultural base which could produce luxuries like warriors while the Moriori were a hunter-gatherer society which did not have wars. In addition, the Moriori were pacifists and they were trying to negotiate a settlement with the Maori as they were slaughtered. They did not understand the nature of their enemy.

I am sorry to learn of this tragedy. However, I am still glad I am aware of it now. I am sure I will learn more from this Diamond book.


Anonymous said...

I've also enjoyed Diamond's works, but I think it's important to look at the big picture and read some criticism of his arguments. A lot of geographers take issue with many of his theories. This example you use certainly shows what he has to offer, but the overall context of what he's saying about the world is equally important.

Anonymous said...

I commend you for getting through Guns, Germs & Steel. Coincidentally I picked it up the other day but could not get past page 2 and opted for Flashman instead... Might try again now.

janneke said...

In the interest of history and general knowlege, it is most inportant that all historical events be recorded and be readily available to students of all kinds and ages.So ,congratulations for making this terrible event known to the wider community