Comedian Jim Gaffigan apologises after spreading Moriori myth

Comedian Jim Gaffigan has apologised for saying that the Moriori were the first people in New Zealand - before being killed and eaten by Māori.

Gaffigan has come under heavy criticism after spreading the Māori-Moriori myth in his new Amazon Prime special, Quality Time.

His claims have been widely debunked by historians and labelled as "offensive" and "ignorant" by New Zealanders on social media.

"The first people in New Zealand were the Moriori, and then the Māori came and ate them," Gaffigan said during his performance. "I'm not even making that up."

But Gaffigan has since backtracked on Twitter, admitting he was, in fact, making it up.

"Wow. I'm so sorry. I had no idea it wasn't true or there was debate on the issue. I honestly thought that was the universal belief. I was simply repeating what I was told," he said.

"I didn't think it was insulting or myth peddling. If I had known this before I would not have said it."

Who were the Moriori and what happened to them?


The Moriori were the native people of Rēkohu - the Chathams - who are believed to have come there from the Māori migration to Aotearoa in around 1500AD.

They lived on Rēkohu for hundreds of years following a law of peace called Nunuku's law, which forbade war and killing in any form.

That way of life was shattered in 1835, when a combined force of around 900 Māori - comprising of displaced Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama invaders who had been driven out from their own homelands during the Musket Wars - arrived from Taranaki in European vessels.

When conflict broke out, Moriori chose to obey their law and refused to fight back. In less than 30 years, 90 percent of the population - or 1561 people - were dead and the survivors were kept in slavery until they were freed in 1863.

In 1870, the Native Land Court heard from Moriori and Māori over their claims to the Chatham Islands. The court recognised the Māori people's conquest, and they were awarded more than 97 percent of the land.

The Moriori people then fell into further decline. By 1901, the population had dropped from pre-contact of at least 2000 to just 31, out of a total Chatham Islands population at the time of 418 including Māori and Europeans. 

Many on the Chathams now whakapapa - or hokopapa in the Moriori language - to Moriori and Mutunga.

Since the late 1970s, Moriori descendants have been working to rebuild their identity and culture as a distinct people with a unique heritage.


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