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A Survivor from Rekohu

for flute, piccolo and Maori instruments. Anthony Ritchie Opus 122

Programmatic piece, lyrical and dynamic for a versatile performer.

Click this link to hear Alexa Still playing A Survivor from Rekohu on Spotify

Performance notes

Taonga puoru:
small kauaua
large nguru

Classical instruments:
Flute (with B extention)

Electronic recording of wind, to be played throughout the piece. This is optional, but is to be recommended.

The kauaua, nguru and putorino may be replaced by other appropriate instruments is necessary. There is freedom in the interpretation of their melodic lines and rhythms. Although each section should flow from one to another without a break, it is up to the performer to gauge how much time should lapse during the change of instruments.

Programme note


The Moriori were the indigenous people (tchakat henu) of Rekohu, which is now commonly known as the Chatham Islands. They migrated there some time between 1400 and 1600 from NZ. They share common ancestry with the Maori, and Polynesians, but developed their own distinct culture over a period of 400 years isolation. Their first contact with the outside world was in 1791, when a British ship stumbled upon the islands. They lived in relative peace with both Europeans and Maori until 1835 when the islands were invaded by Taranaki Maori tribes. A fifth of the population of Moriori were slaughtered, and the rest taken into slavery. Over the next 30 years of slavery the population sharply declined, and eventually the last full-blooded Moriori, Tommy Solomon, died in 1933.
Before contact with the outside world, the Moriori had adapted superbly to their harsh environment, eking out a subsistence living based mainly around fish, seals, and birds. A unique feature of their culture was a taboo against the killing of another human. According to their ancient traditions, a chief named Nunuku stopped warring parties from fighting to the death, as he realised this was counter-productive to survival of the small population on the islands. Men still fought, but only until blood was drawn - then they stopped.
When the Taranaki tribes commandeered a British ship to the Chathams in 1835, the Moriori at first welcomed them. The Maori initially ignored them, as they explored the islands ('walking the land'). Concerned by the possible threat, the Moriori held a large gathering, discussing whether or not they should fight the Maori (who they greatly outnumbered). The older chiefs prevailed, citing Nunuku's law of non-violence. The Maori, on the other hand, did not hold back: they massacred 300 Moriori (men, women and children) and held a large cannibal feast in accordance with their tikanga, or fighting customs. The treatment of the survivors was horrendous: they were subject to very harsh labour, beatings, rape, prohibitions against marriage with their own people, and so forth. This continued until 1863, despite slavery being officially abolished in NZ in 1842 (the Chathams were not part of NZ until 1845). Even then, the Moriori continued to be treated poorly. They were regarded by most Europeans as an 'inferior' race, low in intellect, lazy, degenerate, etc, because they only saw the remnants of a down-trodden and oppressed people. Despite all these injustices, the land courts of the 1870s awarded the vast majority of the land to the Maori, and not to the Moriori.
In the later 19th century and early 20th century many myths developed surrounding the Moriori, mainly peddled by Europeans such as Best and Smith. One was that the Moriori were the first inhabitants of NZ, and were driven away to the Chathams by the 'Superior' Maori. Another was that the Moriori were Melanesian rather than Polynesian, a completely distinct race from the Maori. This is despite the obvious similarities in language and other cultural cross-overs.
It was not until later in the 20th century that the true story of the Moriori became better known, thanks largely to Michael King's book Moriori: A People Rediscovered (1989). The marae on the Chatham islands has been restored, and in 2005, relatives of Moriori submitted a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal which is still being considered.

A Survivor from Rekohu

A Survivor from Rekohu was commissioned by Alexa Still. It is a solo piece, for flute, piccolo and Maori instruments, and is programmatic in content. It is based around the main events in the life of a Moriori by the name of Koche. He witnessed the 1835 massacre, survived years of slavery under the Maori chief Matioro, and made many attempts to escape from captivity. Eventually he did escape permanently on a ship to the USA. On board the ship he told his story to an American lawyer. His whereabouts after this are a mystery.
The music recalls three main passages from Koche's life:
his childhood on Rekohu in the days before the invasion
the massacre of 1835
slavery and escape

These are framed by four little melodies (variations on a theme) played on different Maori instruments, acting as meditations on the events. They are each labelled 'Kopi Grove', after the sacred place on Rekohu where the chiefs would meet and ceremonies were carried out.
Each section should flow from one to another without a break. Ideally, the whole piece should be played over a recording of wind. This serves as a backdrop to the events in the piece, and also covers silences between changes of instruments.


I would like to thank the late Michael King for his book Moriori: A People Rediscovered, which inspired this work. I also want to thank Alexa Still for asking me to write this piece, and the University of Otago for providing the funding.
Anthony Ritchie

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