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Portrayals of the Moriori people : historical, ethnographical, anthropological and popular sources, c.1791-1989 : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History, Massey University
Michael King’s 1989 book, Moriori: A People Rediscovered, still stands as the definitive
work on the Moriori, the Native people of the Chatham Islands. King wrote, ‘Nobody in New
Zealand – and few elsewhere in the world- has been subjected to group slander as intense and
as damaging as that heaped upon the Moriori.’ Since its publication, historians have
denigrated earlier works dealing with the Moriori, arguing that the way in which they
portrayed Moriori was almost entirely unfavourable.
This thesis tests this conclusion. It explores the perspectives of European visitors to the
Chatham Islands from 1791 to 1989, when King published Moriori. It does this through an
examination of newspapers, Native Land Court minutes, and the writings of missionaries,
settlers, and ethnographers. The thesis asks whether or not historians have been selective in
their approach to the sources, or if, perhaps, they have ignored the intricacies that may have
informed the views of early observers.
The thesis argues that during the nineteenth century both Maori and European perspectives
influenced the way in which Moriori were portrayed in European narrative. Moriori, in
accordance with the prevailing theories of race were deemed to be inferior to Maori, and
therefore Europeans. However, the thesis argues that despite this there does exist a literature
that holds Moriori in a more favourable light and that a shift in perspective was occurring
sometime before 1989.