Maoris, Morioris and projection of power

Quoting Jared Diamond

According to Wikipedia, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel “attempts to explain why Eurasian civilizations, as a whole, have survived and conquered others, while attempting to refute the belief that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral, or inherent genetic superiority. Diamond argues that: the gaps in power and technology between human societies originate in environmental differences amplified by various positive feedback loops; and that, if cultural or genetic differences have favored Eurasians (for example Chinese centralized government, or improved disease resistance among Eurasians), it is only so because of the influence of geography.”

It has an account of an encounter between two Polynesian groups that nicely illustrates why “projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development”.

In the Chatham Islands, 500 miles east of New Zealand, centuries of independence came to a brutal end for the Moriori people in December 1835. On November 19 of that year, a ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs, and axes arrived, followed on December 5 by a shipload of 400 more Maori. Groups of Maori began to walk through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing those who objected. An organized resistance by the Moriori could still then have defeated the Maori, who were outnumbered two to one. However, the Moriori had a tradition of resolving disputes peacefully. They decided in a council meeting not to fight back but to offer peace, friendship, and a division of resources.

Before the Moriori could deliver that offer, the Maori attacked en masse. Over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of the bodies, and enslaved all the others, killing most of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim. A Moriori survivor recalled,

“[The Maori] commenced to kill us like sheep.. . . [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies. It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed””men, women, and children indiscriminately.”

A Maori conqueror explained,

“We took possession. . . in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped. Some ran away from us, these we killed, and others we killed”” but what of that? It was in accordance with our custom.”

The brutal outcome of this collision between the Moriori and the Maori could have been easily predicted. The Moriori were a small, isolated population of hunter-gatherers, equipped with only the simplest technology and weapons, entirely inexperienced at war, and lacking strong leadership or organization. The Maori invaders (from New Zealand’s North Island) came from a dense population of farmers chronically engaged in ferocious wars, equipped with more-advanced technology and weapons, and operating under strong leadership. Of course, when the two groups finally came into contact, it was the Maori who slaughtered the Moriori, not vice versa.

The tragedy of the Moriori resembles many other such tragedies in both the modern and the ancient world, pitting numerous well-equipped people against few ill-equipped opponents. What makes the Maori-Moriori collision grimly illuminating is that both groups had diverged from a common origin less than a millennium earlier. Both were Polynesian peoples. The modern Maori are descendants of Polynesian farmers who colonized New Zealand around A.D. 1000. Soon thereafter, a group of those Maori in turn colonized the Chatham Islands and became the Moriori. In the centuries after the two groups separated, they evolved in opposite directions, the North Island Maori developing more-complex and the Moriori less-complex technology and political organization. The Moriori reverted to being hunter-gatherers, while the North Island Maori turned to more intensive farming. [via Coming Anarchy]

Mr Diamond’s book tries to explain why some peoples become Morioris and others Maoris. But the immediate practical issue is that since there are Maoris out there, it is rather prudent to not to allow them to invade you.

6 thoughts on “Maoris, Morioris and projection of power”

  1. I think your last line is meant to read Maori, and not Moriori? (The folks who _do_ project power?)

  2. TTG,

    Thanks for spotting the mistake. It has been corrected. The Maori replaced the Moriori.

  3. Nitin – if you have not already, I highly recommend reading Collapse, Jared Diamond’s other book. It talks about why societies fail or succeed and has plenty of lessons for geopolitics. The context is especially relevant in today’s world where power and geopolitics are becoming means of access to resources.

  4. I think Jared’s explanations are too simplistic. One sees similar explanations in Collapse of how some societies destroyed their own civilizations – with obvious refer to global warming and what not. The examples may apply for small groups attacking each other in primitive settings, it doesn’t explain why some groups such as European imperialists could conquer most of Asia. Surely the subcontinent was not cut off, peaceful society waiting to be trampled.

    So Morioris and Maoris doesn’t explain our world.

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