Rekohu Te Whanga -- The New Zealand Capital of Peace


Rekohu is a small, isolated South Pacific island six hundred miles off the eastern coast of New Zealand. It has a population of about one thousand people of three ethnic backgrounds: British, Maori, and Moriori.

Rekohu is a place unique on Earth. It is possibly the last island in the world to be discovered and colonized by humans. It is also a place of unique biodiversity, with a host of fish and bird species that can be found only in this one place. One of the unique species is the Chatham albatross, an elegant seabird with a beautiful dusky crown and an orange flare on each cheek.

The sea provides much of the economic sustenance for Rekohu’s human inhabitants, but because of overfishing and inappropriate net laying, many native fishes in and around the island’s lagoons have become rare and endangered.

Another problem is that due to coastal erosion (both natural erosion and manmade) the structure of Rekohu’s largest lagoon is bound to change over the course of the twenty-first century, becoming more and more silted up. This may very well contribute to radically endangering the biodiversity of the lagoon, perhaps pushing some species toward extinction.

The Rekohu folk are very sensitive to these extinction possibilities, so in this scenario for the future, represented below, the island’s largest lagoon is converted to sustainable aquaculture. Here, within a network of causeways, new sea farms are organized, where fish and shellfish are cultivated in an eco-friendly manner.

Some segments of the network also help preserve wild fish by allowing their young to shelter and grow before they reenter the wider areas of the lagoon or the open sea. With luck, the network of causeways will also stabilize the processes of erosion and siltation, and so help fish species escape extinction. At the center of the network is a newly formed lagoon city.

This scenario for Rekohu Te Whanga in 2121 shows an urban population of between two and three thousand. This new city has agencies devoted to three particular sectors: a peace center, a wildlife center, and a maritime industries center. All three have facilities devoted to teaching various skills to locals and visitors from islands around the Pacific Ocean.

In the past and in the present (and in the future, too), Rekohu is irrevocably tied to the ideals of pacifism. All of the residents in Rekohu Te Whanga2121 take a pacifist pledge, and they customarily use the Moriori greeting "me rongo", meaning “with peace.” The Chatham albatross has been adopted as the blessed symbol of this peace, and its silhouette adorns almost every building on Rekohu.

The history of Rekohu’s pacifism is inspirational but also quite tragic. The story is important to help us understand why the people here are so sensitive to the dying out of the birds and fish of the island.

For nearly five hundred years, from about 1350 to the 1830s, the Moriori were the sole inhabitants of Rekohu. Their origin is somewhat mysterious. Maybe they sailed as a tribe in large canoes directly from a Polynesian island, or maybe their ancestors settled first in New Zealand before sailing onward to find Rekohu later.

For reasons both practical and spiritual, the Moriori developed a covenant of peace on their new island home. They refused to wage war either among themselves or against others. Legend has it that this covenant came about in the time of Nunuku, a chieftain who, by the European calendar, lived in the sixteenth century.

Nunuku was so dismayed and disgusted when one Moriori killed another and ate his remains that he committed the entire society to peaceful coexistence by banning war, cannibalism, or killing of any kind. According to this moral and legal commitment, if a grievance arises among the Moriori, one person may strike another only until the first sign of blood. After that, the hostilities must cease and all honor will be acknowledged as being restored.

The Nunuku covenant seems to have been adopted in practice and then taken seriously as spiritual law for centuries. As a daily reminder of the covenant, the Moriori would wear the white feathers of the Chatham albatross in their hair.

This peaceful state of affairs was disrupted in the early nineteenth century when seal hunters came to Rekohu. The seal hunters were a mixture of European and Maori, and they were tolerated by the Moriori even though the seals were killed in great numbers and despite the fact that the seal hunters spread smallpox among the Moriori population. After decimating the seal population, the hunters left in search of seals elsewhere in the South Pacific.

A few decades later, a more permanent invasion tested the resolve of the Moriori even more. In 1835, a huge band of Maori warriors arrived unannounced on the shores of Rekohui n two stolen British ships. These warriors had themselves been displaced from New Zealand by British soldiers and were officially posted as outlaws. The Maori had chosen to escape to Rekohu because one of them had heard about the island from a returned seal hunter.

After weeks at sea, the Maori outlaws arrived in Rekohu severely weakened. They were nursed back to health by kindly Moriori hosts, who fed them and clothed them. Before long, though, when the Maori warriors had got their strength back, they revealed their hostile intentions. The Maori embarked on a reign of terror, hunting down and murdering, cannibalizing, or enslaving most of the peace-loving Moriori. The Moriori, in turn, refused to give up their pacifist ideals, declining to wage war against the invaders.

The result was genocide. The Moriori population plunged from some two or three thousand to just one hundred within the course of a few decades.

It might be easy to take from this story the idea that being a pacifist is a good way to get yourself killed or enslaved. The corollary is that it is much better to be a warrior, to fight for your life if someone wants to kill you or to invade your land.

However, nearly two centuries since the genocide, a wholly different narrative has taken root among the descendants of the Moriori who have survived to the present day. They believe that the sacred nature of their pacifism served their people well and enabled war to be avoided for more than two centuries. Surely, this is a record worthy of emulation.

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