Early Wharekauri


When the first boatload of Māori arrived on Wharekauri in November 1835, they were not in a good condition having suffered through rough seas and stormy conditions on their first ever trip aboard a sailing ship. Fortunately the local people were good enough to provide shelter, food and warmth and looked after these aggressive but bedraggled visitors from afar.


Mana and utu are central to the culture of Māori and being set loose on an unfamiliar and distant shore only heightened those instincts. A distrust of everyone else, including those Māori yet to arrive, also contributed to the actions that followed.

These low slung islands with wide open spaces, no enemies of consequence and bountiful resources were the perfect solution to the troubles they had been faced with back in Aotearoa. They quickly discovered the variety of resources that had sustained the 2000 odd locals for hundreds and hundreds of years and in comparison to their own homelands that they had been dispossessed of (in Taranaki)  the eel, birds, fish and seals provided easy pickings. Of course, having a potentially free labour force to do all the mahi was another attraction in itself.

The fact that the local people were not aggressive and could not be sparked to anger was in itself almost provocation enough to attack them, but more pressing was the imminent arrival of the other boatload of Māori from Port Nicholson.


The custom was known as ‘takahi’ where the aggressor would ‘walk the land’ proclaiming his dominance and disposing of any who resisted. This they did. They started at Whangaroa where the local people had cared fro them and they spread out. Scouts had already explored much of the island, so they knew where they needed to go, where the resources were, the best and the locations of all settlements.


Once they had roughly established boundaries with each other, they put their efforts and energy into settling into their new island home. They had the slaves to do the hard work, gathering firewood, food and preparing their meals. They developed trade with the europeans living on teh islands and the increasing number that called in on their way to the rich whaling grounds to the south.

They lived in simple settlements, none that required fortifications initially, and were content to spend time exploring their new domain and enjoying the bounty.

Māori stopped the local Moriori from marrying so that there could be no more ‘pure’ Moriori children. They desecrated their places of tapu and they consigned the gods of the Moriori to history.

They did their best to stamp out the language that the inferior Moriori spoke, insisting on te reo and they did  their utmost to ensure that the traditions and culture faded into obscurity.

where Māori passed on their rich and lively histories and legends, Moriori were indoctrinated into believing that their histories were either false or worthless and there was no benefit to be had by admitting to being a Moriori.

There was no real timber on the islands from which to carve the meeting houses that Māori were familiar with from their homelands in Taranaki, and nor was there anything suitable to use for waka of any size, as they would have back on the mainland. The Moriori craft were not safe going to sea in those half submerged craft was not something that Māori were keen on, although they eventually did use them for trips to the bird islands.

The stone utensils, clubs and weapons of the peaceful Moriori were initially seen as laughable, particularly in the face of muskets and steel weapons that the Māori arrived with, but once peace had been established and a regular retinue of Europeans were transiting the islands, these suddenly became trade-able commodities and the trade was brisk.


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