Approximately 800 years ago, the ancestors of today’s Moriori arrived at Rekohu. Moving down through the Pacific via Rapanui (known today as Easter Island) these sea-going explorers were escaping ongoing inter-tribal warfare in their homeland of Hawaiki. Researchers might tell you that Moriori stopped for a period in New Zealand, before heading East and landing on the shores of Rekohu.
Moriori tribal tradition tells a different story. Hokopapa (oral genealogy, passed down through careful re-telling in each generation) tells of the voyages of Kahu in his canoe, the “Tane,” and of his landing at Tuku on the South Western coast of Rekohu.
Much is known of Kahu and of his explorations. Details are provided of his travels around the island on foot, from Tuku around to Ouenga and on up to the Northernmost end of the island. Finally, after traversing much of the coastline he summoned his canoe to Whangaroa (Port Hutt) by lighting a fire which could be seen across Petrie bay and from the Tuku.
He also talked with two people “sprung from the earth” (Kahuti and Te Akaroroa) and it is those earliest inhabitants (the Hamata people) of the islands that Moriori became one with.
Kahu returned to Hawaiki and told of his travels.
His voyage was soon repeated by two other sea-going canoes (although the construction of one of these had not been finished) that left Hawaiki amidst inter-tribal fighting and war. These two canoes, the Rangimata and the Rangihoua, were carrying members of the Wheteina tribe. They arrived at Rēkohu, but the captain of the Rangihoua, along with most of the crew and their tohunga (priest), died on the voyage. The canoe was destroyed on landing.
The Rangimata arrived safely on the north-east coast of Rēkohu. They then travelled around the island, stopping at stopped at several places to talk to the Hamata people. The Rangimata was eventually wrecked at Te Awapātiki, (where a rock formation is said to be the crew of the Rangimata) but those that survived spread out around the island and peacefully became one with the Hamata.
A generation later, Moe, leader of the Rauru tribe captained the Oropuke on a second migration from Hawaiki to Rekohu. When they arrived, they managed to to live together for a time, but eventually, fighting started between the two groups, even reaching nearby Rangiaotea (Pitt Island).
There are several versions of legend around this. One version…
- Has it that the fighting only ended after Moe and his people were burnt in their huts at night.
- Says that Moe returned to Hawaiki,
- Claims that the Oropuke was wrecked on the cliffs of Rēkohu.
Irrespective of the actual events that took place, it is clear from tribal tradition and hokopapa that Moriori did originate from the same place as the ancestors of modern Maori. They share similar ancestors and stories and they have similar traditions and linguistic features.