Chatham Islands Culture & History

The Chathams are unique in New Zealand in that there are 3 cultures of people specific to the islands. Firstly and historically are Moriori. They settled these islands over 800 years ago. Kōpinga Marae is the base for Te Imi Moriori and is adorned with carvings and artworks from contemporary Moriori artists. The revival of Moriori culture and language is facilitated from there.

The second group to arrive here were the Europeans. Among the locals are descendants of those early pakeha arrivals.

The third group to settle here after invading and claiming the islands in 1835 are Māori that whakapapa to Ngati Mutunga o Wharekauri. They have a marae and an office building here on the islands and the Māori culture is very strong on the Chathams.

But the 3 distinctive cultures (Moriori, Māori and European) all combine to create one “Chathams” culture, that has been shaped by the environment, the lifestyle, the contributions from each “ethnicity’ and a community that has learned to rely on each other and deal with whatever is thrown their way, usually with a grin and a great deal of determination. Kiwi ingenuity has nothing on Chatham Islands know-how.

Like many places around New Zealand, the Chathams has suffered a turbulent past. Like many other places, remnants of the past lay among the fields, forests and sand dunes of the present and often rise to the surface after a passing storm.

Much of the cultural and commercial history of the islands has been recorded, as it unfolded, and much can be learned from a tour through the local museum or a guided visit to Kopinga Marae.