May 7, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Ancient Moriori tree carvings vandalised in the Chathams

2 min read

During the night of Wednesday 11th, 2011, one of the most photographed of the ancient rakau momori tree carvings at Hapupu was desecrated by vandals. Slasher marks consistent with someone hacking at the tree with a machete were first noticed by Rangata Matua, Tom Lanauze and Maui Solomon (GM of Hokotehi Moriori Trust) who had gone out to Hapupu to prepare for the work of removing some of the dead and dying trees before winter. The trees with carvings are between 200 and 500 years old.

The Chair of Hokotehi Moriori Trust, Shirley King, has said that she and all Moriori are stunned, shocked and deeply saddened by this mindless act of cultural vandalism. While our Trust Board suspects the person(s) responsible for this shameful act, we do not yet have hard proof. However, our board will be offering a substantial reward for information leading to a successful prosecution says Mrs. King. She said that the eyes and head of the carved human tree figure appear to have been deliberately targeted as some kind of sick message to Moriori. She and her Board believe that the attack on the tree carving is culturally motivated.

This cultural desecration follows the defacing of another ancient Moriori waahi tapu site on Chatham Islands known as Nunukus cave that occurred 2 years ago. Nunuku was the Moriori leader who established the ancient peace covenant some 600 years ago that forbade killing and warfare and which Moriori have observed ever since.

The Area Manager of Department of Conservation on the Chatham Islands, Ken Hunt, says that the damage to this tree carving is a matter of national and international significance given that the tree carvings at Hapupu are within one of two National Historic Reserves in New Zealand. The forest where these trees carvings are located was initially set aside as a reserve by the family of J.M.Barker in 1980 and the reserve gifted to the nation. The reserve today is managed by DOC in association with Hokotehi and is one of the most visited places on the Chathams.

I was shocked when I first saw the damage; I just cannot imagine how anyone could deliberately deface such an iconic symbol of the Chathams. These carvings are not only taonga to Moriori but also to the Chatham Islands as well as the rest of New Zealand said Mr Hunt.

Both Hokotehi and DOC are working with the NZ Police on Chathams to continue investigations into this shameful act.

For further information contact:

  • Maui Solomon, General Manager, Hokotehi Moriori Trust at 03 3050450 or Shirley King, Chair of Hokotehi on 03 3050070.
  • DOC contact Ken Hunt, Area Manager, 03 3050098

5 thoughts on “Ancient Moriori tree carvings vandalised in the Chathams

  1. It’s possible that it was just the result of a part of the island’s native wildlife, or perhaps an invasive non-human creature. It could also have been an accident, or someone human could have merely hacked the tree purposely but without realizing the etching beneath or not realizing its significance. It is also possible that a human person assaulted the image with the aim of desecrating it and sending a violent message to Moriori. It seems a bit rash, however, for an objective reporting of events to assume that it must be vandalism committed by something that can be prosecuted while not considering reasonable alternatives.

    On another note, What is the legal basis for the Chatham Islands’ incorporation into New Zealand and formerly the British Empire? Has it occurred to anyone that if the chiefs on Chatham hadn’t been allowed to sign any treaty stipulating a transfer of power then the Chathams can be classified as occupied territory and that the New Zealand government is extending its jurisdiction beyond its legal boundaries? I assume that no Moriori chief ever signed a treaty because they were enslaved by mainland tribes before Britian’s formal aspirations for colonizing New Zealand could even begin to be executed. Are people, then, to accept right of conquest as the basis for Wellington’s jurisdiction?

  2. I am sickened by this desecration of such important place to the Chathams. So much history about the islands has been lost and we need to fight to keep what has been left I have whanau from this area of the islands Let them know whanau is thinking of you and If I can help please let me know.

  3. My heart just dropped. I've been to Hapupu a number of times, it is such a place of peace and beauty. Then some thoughtless, intolerant, culturally-insensitive and spineless idiot(s) go and smash that peace. I hope they manage to prosecute. Me rongo.

  4. ka aroha to the rakau, ka aroha to those that desecrated the it, wouldn't like to be in their shoes!

    Ya know the saying what goes around comes around!

  5. so sad so sorry for the people of the moriori for this desacretion to their taonga so blatantly disgusting wrong …………they will suffer for this thats sacred so ….sad

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