Nunukus Law

The abandonment of warfare and killing was an ancient covenant handed down from the earliest Moriori ancestors. The covenant was reaffirmed in the times of the Moriori karāpuna, Mu, Rongomaiwhenua, Pākehāu and Nunuku. The covenant forbade killing;

“It was passed down to Mu and Wheke, and from them and their descendants to Rongomaiwhenua, and from him to his descendants. You may continue to fight; the meaning of his word was, do not kill.

By abandoning warfare and placing their weapons on the tūahu, Moriori entered into a tohinga or covenant with their gods. It was a unique declaration that from henceforth, only the gods would have power over life and death and not the people. Fighting became ritualised – upon first blood being drawn, fighting was to cease. The law of Nunuku and his predecessors thus permitted an outlet for aggression and revenge but stopped short of inflicting the ultimate sanction of death.

From earliest childhood, male children were imbued with the significance of these laws. During the baptismal rites, or tohinga of male children, the father or male elder would perform a ceremony by removing the old weapons from the tūahu and returning them once the ritual was complete. In this way, the covenant was renewed and passed on from one generation to the next. This was and is a very tapu covenant to Moriori. It reaffirms and acknowledges that tuakana (senior) status of the gods as the final arbiters of life and death over the teina (junior) status of human beings.

In 1836, Moriori made the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs following the invasion by Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama. Moriori leaders, Torea and Tapata urged the gathering at Te Awapatiki to hold fast to the teachings of Nunuku and not to break with the covenant. Like their illustrious forbears, Torea and Tapata were reaffirming and renewing the ancient injunction “Do not kill”. To break with it would have been a betrayal of their gods, of their ancestor’s wisdom and a complete loss of mana for Moriori as a people.

Instead, they offered peace, friendship and sharing of the Island’s resources, as was their custom.

Despite the great suffering and loss that Moriori endured as a consequence of this decision, their legacy of peace and hope lived on.

The covenant has since been renewed at the following occasions;

  • the opening of Kōpinga Marae (2005),
  • the blessing for the World March for Peace and Non-Violence (2009) and
  • at the inaugural Me Rongo Congress for Peace, Sustainability and Respect for the Sacred (2011).