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Published: 16 September 2022

By Andy Ross

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The Chatham Islands

This beach in the Chatham Islands looks just like Norwick in Unst, Shetland.

The Chatham Islands are also named Reekohu and Wharekauri for a complex and fascinating reason. 

First settled by Eastern Polynesians who came directly to the islands according to oral tradition, subsequent migrations came from the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, and so it was that the people known since colonisation as "Moriori" came to live on the isles in spendid isolation until the arrival of the outside world. The history of these people was subsequently lost, altered and mythologised for decades and what happened makes for sad reading, but these days there are three cultures co-existing in the archipelago: Moriori, Maori and Pakeha (White). 

A series of films, Chatham Islandershas been the viewing of an evening this week. In the films the lives of the islanders is explored through glimpses of this unique way of life out in the middle of the ocean. 

The similarities of this island life to that of Shetland are striking. Both have had immigration and emigration, both have suffered the loss of language and culture, and yet both are creative and resilient. Parts of Reekohu look very like Shetland and it appears that there is a strong community feel in these South Pacific islands, just as there is in the North Isles of Scotland. They are both very special parts of the world. 


(Image on this page courtesy of the Chatham Islands Council.)