Over the next short while, many of the earlier articles and opinion pieces thus far published on this interesting topic will be posted here, with some comment.
A gathering of tribal leaders has decided that commemorations on 28 October will begin next year, 2017.
But why has this date been chosen? It’s the day, we are told, that the earlier Declaration of Independence was signed, in 1835 in the Far North, between the tribes of Ngā Puhi and a British Resident Agent, James Busby. The date has no direct reference to the New Zealand Wars.
Pākehā historians like James Belich have long argued that the wars were ‘wars of sovereignty’. This date, 28 October, clearly buys into that argument, by foregrounding the issue of Māori sovereignty, rather than choosing an actual wars date.
Māori historians, by contrast, have argued that, for Māori, te tino rangatirantanga lay in the land, and was indistinguishable from the land, and the continuing possession of it. Tribes fought, and died, to protect this.
An over-arching ‘sovereignty’ sounds fine, but for Māori it was something always grounded in the land. October 28 denies to Māori the devastating costs of those conflicts, fought for their te tino rangatirantanga, embedded in the tribal estates.
A better date might have been 17 March, when the wars started in Waitara; or 20 November, when Rangiriri was attacked by British forces. This was the defining battle of the wars, where, for Māori, the wars were lost.
If anything, 28 October represents, not a sense of history, but modern Māori political realities, representing the state of Crown-Māori relations today which are centred on still outstanding issues of Māori autonomy, or sovereignty. The date is less about the wars, and more about Māori seeking constitutional or political leverage.
A date more reflective of the Māori experience of those wars, with all of the hurt, dispossession, loss and devastation has been by-passed, and that is a great shame.
The government has announced a New Zealand Land Wars Day will soon be introduced, to commemorate the wars fought on New Zealand soil between 1843 and 1872. Constabulary actions though continued until 1916, one whole year after Gallipoli where, and when, we supposedly ‘came of age’ as a nation.
Heaps of Māori political figures are now pronouncing loudly in support, all new adherents to the cause; and good thing too. Some historians have been arguing for this commemoration for a long time. Other historians are now hopping on board; it’s a strange thing, how it all works out in the end.
Historiography (the study of how history is written), however, is not about scholarship, it’s about politics; and it’s something even historians forget about. You will see this in a number of recent academic tracts published on the wars, to say nothing of comments appearing in the press. In New Zealand, historiography is not every historian’s fortē. You can read more about the New Zealand Land Wars historiography here – Wars historiography.
We should however acknowledge the students from Otorohanga College, in Ngāti Maniapoto/the King Country, who put the case before Parliament for such a commemorative day – Rhiannon Magee, Tai Jones and Leah Bell. They really did get the ball rolling. The students also organised a NZ Land Wars Day petition which was signed by 13,000 people.
You can read more about this here – http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/311482/nz-wars-day-from-street-petition-to-government-goal
What date should the NZ Wars Day be?
Wellington’s The Dominion Post also published an excellent editorial (on 25 August 2016) on remembering the New Zealand Wars – you can read it here:
Deciding which day should be our New Zealand Land Wars Days won’t be easy – there are so many good options, given that the wars lasted about 20 years or so, possibly longer.
If you want to look at some of the possible dates, here is a New Zealand Wars timeline – http://newzealandwars.co.nz/land-wars-timeline/full-timeline/
From 15 to 17 June, the Mayor of New Plymouth, Andrew Judd, led a peace walk of hundreds of supporters from New Plymouth to Parihaka, a distance of about 25 miles. The walk took place over 3 days, with stops at Oakura and Okato.
The walk happened because of Pākehā resistance in New Plymouth to the creation of a Māori Ward; 83% of the electorate there recently overturned a Council decision to introduce such a Māori Ward. But wider issues were also addressed – especially the woeful state of race-relations in Taranaki.
The walk was hugely successful and Mr Judd is to be applauded for his principled stand. Unfortunately though, it was noted that no other New Plymouth Councillors took part in the walk, except for Howie Tamati, the sole Māori Councillor. Other Pākehā Councillors ‘had other engagements’.
The truth is, as they well knew, given the nature of the New Plymouth electorate, their participation would likely rebound against them in the forthcoming council elections – politics over principle, in other words.
There is a really stunning epitaph inscribed on the memorial to the Japanese soldiers who died during a prison riot just outside of Featherston, in the Wairarapa – ‘Behold the summer grass, all that remains of the dreams of warriors’. The memorial commemorates the 64 Japanese prisoners who were shot during a prison riot on 22 February 1943, along with 94 who were wounded (of the 275 prisoners).
Remembering Our Own Dead
There isn’t much else either for Māori or Pākehā, around the hills of New Zealand, where 3000 or so died in our own wars. Here is a photo (below) of the rotting sign at Te Kohia, lower Waitara Road, Waitara, where the ‘great civil wars of the 1860s began’, says one J Belich. We have been pointing to this issue for awhile now, but there doesn’t seem to be much that can be done at the moment because the will amongst most New Zealanders just isn’t there.
Also, the RSA is too strong – their purpose is to promote the memory of our overseas dead, not those who died on our own battlefields. The myth that ‘we came of age on the beaches of Gallipoli, where our boys spilled their blood ..’ is also very strong – we hear it every ANZAC day.
A New Land Wars Veterans Association?
Perhaps we need a new organisation to speak for our own Land Wars veterans – Māori and Pākehā – whose passing goes largely forgotten, since the RSA is not interested.
We shouldn’t be too surprised at the RSA stance thō on the Land Wars. To acknowledge that men and women who died during our own wars is quite a subversive idea – it disturbs the popular notion that’ we came of age on the beaches of Gallipoli, fighting for Empire’ – when, in reality, we came of age as a troubled nation on our own battlefields. I’m not sure the RSA could live with that.
Incidentally, if you are trying to find the Japanese memorial, it’s across the road from the actual prison site – it’s not actually on-site because the RSA complained about memorialising the Japanese ..
Remembering all our war dead, whether overseas or local, shouldn’t be that hard ..
If you’d like to read more about our New Zealand Wars dead, click here – Our Wars Dead.
Prominent Māori historians like Dr Malcolm Mulholland of Massey University are calling for the New Zealand Wars to be taught in schools as a compulsory subject. You can read Malcolm’s comments on the issue here – Malcolm’s Comments.
We think the idea makes really good sense.
Those of us who used to teach the New Zealand Lands paper at Massey in the 1990s to about 2005 remember well the responses of students to the material imparted – always positive, especially on our field trips around Taranaki. Understanding why the wars happened, and with what consequences, especially for Māori, will do wonders for our appreciation of our shared past.
Well, we might, it seems. Māori ‘rebels’ who fought against the British Army and Armed Constabulary during the Land Wars may soon be officially recognised.
Recent calls have been made for the government to remember all Māori war veterans, not just those who fought overseas on the side of the Crown. See here for recent press article – Māori War veterans
Quite a few Māori died of course, during the Land Wars. Many of those were fighting alongside the Armed Constabulary, as well as against it. See here for more, Remembering our Māori Dead.
It is not at all clear how such remembrance will be arranged. But the idea seems timely and is similar to a proposal, raised in the 1990s, that a special Māori War Memorial be erected in Auckland.
Back then, negotiations were to have been arranged with iwi. But opposition from some Māori saw its demise. Still, with all the publicity now being given to remembering the Land Wars, perhaps the time for such a Māori War Memorial is now right.
Students from Otorohanga have been pressing the case for such a commemorative day, especially Rhiannon Magee, Tai Jones and Leah Bell who organised a Land Wars petition signed by 13,000 people.
Here is an article covering their recent submissions to Parliament – Students at Parliament. They are to be commended for this awesome initiative, which we wholeheartedly support. See here also for details of submissions, which close in late April – submissions sought.
Perhaps the time has come, in this post-Treaty settlement era, to commemorate such events, which James Belich once likened to ‘a nightmare’ which, like children, we hasten to forget.
And what day should it be? We suggest that 17 March would be ideal – 17 March 1860 was the day that the British Army opened fire on Te Ātiawa who were defending Te Kohia Pā, at Waitara.
This action by the British Army began what Belich calls ‘the great civil wars of the 1860s’. You can read about this engagement here – British attack Waitara.
However, appropriate days are many – see this link Dates of the Wars for some examples of important dates. The Māori King is contemplating calling all interested parties together, to settle on an appropriate day. This discussions will be interesting, for sure, not least for the names we use ..
New Zealand Wars Day, Land Wars Day, or Māori Wars Day – does it matter what names we use? Does it matter what we call the wars themselves – which name is the most appropriate?
Read here for more media reaction – Land Wars Day?
What’s in a name? .. see here for a discussion on what happens when we seek to give names to history .. Giving Names to History.
Finally, should the New Zealand Land Wars be taught at schools as a compulsory topic .. ? We think it should but it’s unlikely to happen. Ministry of Education officials and the Minister have poured cold water on the idea – see here – Education Officials Coy On Wars.
Green MP Marama Davidson has put the issue simply – teaching our children about the wars will act as a strong defence against racism – read her comments here – Defence against racism.
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