Original Inhabitants of the Chathams.
The scientific expedition to the Chatham Islands, undertaken by the Philosophical Institute of Otago, may probably obtain further information regarding the original inhabitants of the islands, the Morioris. This possibility gives renewed interest to an article “Meeting with a Morioris,” which was contributed by Mr. T. H. Potts, to the New Zealand Country Journal, dated November 1, 1879. The New Zealand Country Journal was published by the Canterbury Agricultural, and Pastoral Association, and its contents were not rigidly confined to articles on farming subjects.
To Mr. Potts’ article is prefixed a photograph (not a reproduction of a photograph) of the Moriori he met; the photograph is still pretty clear; it was taken (as the text informs the reader) by E. Dossetter, Christchurch, New Zealand, January, 1879. Mr. Potts describes how he fell in with a small party of Maoris at Lyttelton and noticed amongst them a man whose features offered such a marked contrast to those of his companions that his curiosity was aroused. Inquiry elicited the information that the man was a Moriori on the eve of return to his island home.
“The Moriori,” Mr. Potts wrote, “was robust in figure, tall of stature, not darker in colour, perhaps, than many a Maori, but of a dull dusky hue, rather than of the rich brown that distinguishes, the great proportion of the Natives of New Zealand. The brows were prominent, the eyes of an almond or elliptical shape, whilst the somewhat fleshy nose curved with a fullness of form that is characteristic of the Jewish people. A full-face view was especially favourable for noticing the look of the eyes, which showed a contemplative watchfulness; it may be thought fanciful but their usual, or settled
expression conveyed the idea that they were patiently waiting for what was to happen; as they might have belonged to some animal which, though not yet attacked, was preparing, or prepared, for defence.
This quiet individual of stolid demeanour proved an excellent sitter before the camera, and some good negatives were successfully taken, from one of which was printed the photograph which appears with this brief notice. We thus possess an excellent likeness, a faithful record of the outer man, a fair type of the doomed Moriori.
"During a visit to Christchurch, in a quiet, undemonstrative way, he appeared much interested in the larger buildings of the town: the traffic of the streets he watched with some surprise, He seemed acquainted with the names of several of the natural features of Banks Peninsula, such as mountains, headlands, etc. —information which, by oral tradition, must have descended with the teaching of many generations. Some of the Raupaki [Rapaki] Natives say that Morions are descended from natives of this part of New Zealand, a few of their people forming a settlement in Chatham, Island".
The article also contains information regarding the Morioris gained by Mr. Walter Potts, a son of the writer, who paid a lengthened visit to the Chatham Islands in 1876. Mr. Walter Potts noted that few Morioris seemed to follow the Maoris style of living, as regards food, dwellings, clothing or occupations.
The greater number lived at Ohanga [Owhenga],” Mr Potts wrote. “Some of the older warris [whares] were constructed, of tree fern stems, raupo, or tohe tohe; these dwelling-places usually nestled close to the shore, near fresh water. According to the season, they engaged in the usual employment of the Maoris: he (Mr. Walter Potts) saw them shearing, and at times cultivating their potato patches. They have become owners of horses and pigs, probably the latter animal, with the addition of potatoes, furnished the chief portion.of their food, which, in former days, was gained principally by fishing, sealing, or bird-snaring; they joined with the Maoris in their hazardous expeditions, undertaken to carry off from the crowded nesting-places on the wavebeaten, well-nigh inaccessible islets, the ponderous offspring of the albatross; they draw from deep burrows the tender nestlings of the mutton-bird; in the woods they kill, for food, the tui and the wood pigeon. For their fishing they now use the whale-boat, which has entirely superseded the quaint kelp-sustained capoe (waka korere) formed by closely bound flowering stalks of the flax plant.
They hunt seals, the skins and oil of which are carefully preserved for sale. Immense piles of pawa shells (haliotis iris), heaped up just above the largely the substantial molluscs were consumed. Carvings of a rude character yet remain on the karaka trees. The trees on which these figures, or symbols, are cut may be found sometimes in groups of several, clustered together, or a solitary tree may be observed thus decorated.
Some curious examples of these efforts of the carver's or sculptor’s art in its infancy were observed near Mairingi Point; several also occurred in the woods about Wharekuri. Of other works in wood and stone, specimens, were seen; in the former material there was preserved a The Whakuru, a rare, probably unique piece of carving, representing a shag with neck and wings extended; of this figure the head and wings were tolerably perfect, and gave a fair presentment of the common water-fowl, the rest of the body was decayed, or otherwise imperfect. This relic was said to have been found inhumed with some skeletons; it was suggested that there was something like a tradition that it had been regarded as an object of worship of stone implements a varied collection was obtained, presenting many forms of different tools, or weapons; from the rough flake chert for cutting black-fish or seal, to finely smoothed axes and chisels. Many of these were found on the surface, or but partly covered with light soil or sand. In the neighbourhood of Wharekuri a finished chisel, together with the best preserved mace, or club, was discovered on a sandbank that still bore some remains that there once had stood an ancient whare; on the same spot there was found an old gun-barrel and iron axe-head.
Should it be inferred therefrom that the use of stone implements by Morioris has not been long abandoned? One of the stone clubs weighed about 5lb.; some other weapons were shaped like the mere mere of the Maoris. Some authorities say that the Morioris did not tattoo; but they have, in some instances, followed that custom of the Maoris. In the woods there are still indications, or rather remains, of an ancient form of funeral; it is not an uncommon event to meet with skeletons that have apparently fallen from trees, amongst the branches of which they had been deposited.”