The first migration
In Hawaiki, the ancient Polynesian homeland, warfare escalated between the Wheteina and Rauru tribes. It was sparked off in part by a lovers’ spat, which ended in the death of one partner. This necessitated the hurried escape of the Wheteina people and their allies. The Rangimata and Rangihoua canoes were built during the fighting, but the Rangihoua was not completed before launching. Both canoes reached Rēkohu (Chatham Island), but the captain of the Rangihoua, along with most of the crew and their priest, had died on the voyage, and the canoe was wrecked on landing.
The Rangimata landed safely on the north-east coast of Rēkohu, and the crew planted kopi (karaka) berries at Wairarapa. They stopped at several points around the island and talked to the inhabitants, the Hamata people. The Hamata explained that their sealskin garments were much warmer than the migrants’ clothes. After the Rangimata was finally wrecked at Te Awapātiki, the crew went to other parts of the islands and lived peacefully.
The second migration
Moe, leader of the Rauru tribe, had been a youngster when the Rangimata and Rangihoua canoes set out. On reaching maturity (he was said to have ‘a bald patch on his head’) he captained the canoe Oropuke on a second migration from Hawaiki to Rēkohu. Before Moe left Hawaiki with his family and crew, his grandfather Horopapa told him to stop killing and live in peace.
On Rēkohu the tribes did live together for a time, but fighting broke out again and spread to Rangiaotea (Pitt Island). It is said that the conflict ended when Moe and his people were burnt in their huts at night. In other accounts Moe returned to Hawaiki, while yet another story says the Oropuke was wrecked on the cliffs of Rēkohu.
At this time, Nunuku-whenua, a high-ranking chief (said by Moriori to be one of the Hamata tribe and also related to Moe) forbade murder and the eating of human flesh. He proclaimed to the combatants, ‘From now and forever, never again let there be war as this day has seen!’ This covenant, known as Nunuku’s Law, was accompanied by Nunuku’s Curse: ‘May your bowels rot the day you disobey’.