Wars Without End

Danny Keenan, 'Wars Without End,'The Land wars in 19th Century New Zealand', revised Edition, published by Penguin Books (Auckland, NZ), September 2009.The New Zealand Wars ended in 1872, at least, according to most historians. And, militarily speaking, this makes perfect sense.

But for Māori, the wars never ended, with the conflicts over land and te tino rangatirantanga – or sovereignty – moving from the battle fields into the Courts and Parliament.

John Ballance statue, Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

The Native Land Court, in particular, proved to be a blunt weapon used by the Crown to acquire customary Māori land.

Parliament enacted the legislation necessary for this to happen.

This section examines this process in detail.

The Words We Use

The Statue at Moutoa Gardens, Whanganui. Called 'the weeping woman', it was erected in 1864.

Moves to change the language on old monuments in Whanganui are annoying some people. Plans to update colonial descriptions of Māori have been mocked in the local press.

Words like fanaticism and barbarism are due to be qualified, with an interpretation panel to be added. But some locals are arguing that these words should stay as they are, because Māori really were ‘fanatics’ and they really were ‘barbaric’.

The continuing use of such words though, as if still historically relevant, shows how much the language of colonisation is still being accepted uncritically by some people.

The monument in question is the marble ‘weeping woman’ (right), erected by Whanganui Pākehā on 26 December 1865. The statue commemorates 15 local Māori, and one Pākehā, who died at the earlier Battle of Moutoa Island, fought on 14 May 1864.

Moutoa Island lies up the Whanganui River, about 80 kilometres from Whanganui, just above Ranana.

The wording on the statue at Moutoa Gardens, Whanganui.Cousin Fighting Cousin’

In early May 1864, threatening word was received in Whanganui of a war party approaching the township, intent on destruction. The taua was from Taranaki and the Upper Whanganui River and included adherents of Pai Marire, a new faith founded in 1862 by former catechist Te Ua Haumene.

Pai Marire is much misunderstood today. It combined elements of peaceful Māori and Christian spirituality.  Māori saw in Pai Marire a passive means to resist the increasingly violent encroachment of Pākehā. But when some adherents spurned its peaceful ethos, in response to the continuing violence visited on Māori by the British Army, the Hauhau militants emerged.

Led by a prophet named Matene Rangi Tauira, the war party was now approaching Whanganui,  then a frontier town built around two British Army Stockades. Both Stockades were on full alert, following the earlier unprovoked British attack on Waitara in 1860, and Governor Grey’s pre-emptive attack on Waikato Māori in 1863. Not surprisingly, some Māori responded with ‘fire against fire’.

Moutoa Island, Upper Whanganui River, between Ranana and Hiruhama. Photo from J Cowan, NZ Wars Vol II, p. 34. Matene Rangi Tauira requested free passage to Whanganui, but this  was refused by the rangatira of Ranana, especially Haimona Hiroti, Mete Kingi and others of Ngāti Hau and Ngāti Pamoana. These rangatira wished to preserve the mana of the river, as well as protect the town.

Matene was told that, if he wanted a fight, he should head for Moutoa Island where lower river Māori would be waiting.

The flag of Pai Marire.When Matene did move south, his 120 warriors were engaged at Moutoa by  Whanganui Māori numbering about 100 men, led by Tamehana Te Aewa and Haimona Hiroti.

After bitter fighting which lasted about an hour, the Hauhau were forced to retreat, leaving 50 dead behind, including the prophet himself, Matene Rangi Tauira.

Whanganui Māori lost 17 men including Kereti , Hemi Nape and Riwai Tawhito Rangi. The monument to the memory of these rangatira and others, plus those who had survived the fighting, was erected eighteen months later in 1865 and unveiled by Wellington Superintendent, Isaac Featherston. As he unveiled the statue, Featherston referred to the campaign soon to be launched by General Chute, attacking and destroying Māori villages around Mount Taranaki.

We don’t know today how many hundreds of Māori were killed in this three-month ‘scorched earth’ campaign. But, said Featherston, he hoped that the Moutoa stature would encourage Māori to continue in their aggressive pursuit of the ‘treacherous, plundering, murdering tribes’ to the north.

The words we use

‘Fanaticism’ and ‘barbarism’ were words used often against Māori during the 19th century. The words appear constantly letters, diaries and private journals, as well as government documents and records.

The Whanganui River, near the river mouth.

Census reports are a prime example. Official and enumerators often called on Māori villages, all over New Zealand, recording population numbers as well as observing – and reporting on – village conditions.

The poor state of papakainga, with widespread evidence of poverty and sickness, gave rise to an official language that included words like savage, barbaricretrogressive, impertinence and indolent.

Sicknesses for example like impetigo, respiratory disease and tuberculosis were ascribed equally to degeneracy, as well as deplorable living conditions. The causes of such grievous sickness were not only environmental, they were seen as inherently genetic as well.

Terms like these were used to both describe Māori living conditions as well as to attribute the cause, all captured in such colonial semantics which served as a thinly-disguised coding for an unfortunate degree of racism.

Warriors on the Whanganui River, a scene from the movie River Queen.The term Hauhau is another example. This word came out of the Pai Marie faith of course, but was soon being used as a term of derision aimed at any Māori who stood against the Crown and Pākehā interests.

It’s use throughout the 19th century was widespread. It was even used as a term of derision against Te Whiti O Rongomai, yet he had broken with Pai Marire long before establishing his village at Parihaka.

Such terms, words and language contributed little to the understanding and resolving of Māori-Pākehā shared histories of earlier centuries.

Their continued use and justification by Pākehā today serves little purpose, in the modern era, except to demean Māori. Surely, we have moved on from the use of such colonial language.


Further reading: James Cowan, ‘The Battle of Moutoa’ (Chapter 3) in The New Zealand Wars, Volume Two (Government Print, Wellington, 1924), pp. 30-36). 








Reconciliation at Parihaka

The tomb of Te Whiti O Rongomai, at Parihaka. Te Whiti passed away in 1907.On 9 June 2017, the Parihaka community  met with Crown officials to receive a reconciliation apology, and $9m restitution for past Crown actions. Looking back  over the history of Parihaka since the invasion of 1881, this was a truly momentous occasion, as many have rightly said.

Enormous credit must go to the Parihaka negotiators and people who made this possible; history was certainly on their side, as it was on the side of Māori in 1881, though of course that provides little consolation in the wake of hurts, losses and dispossession suffered by Taranaki Māori.

Lauren standing beneath the Parihaka Stockade, photo taken about 1988. Te Whiti and Tohu were held in this stockade, after their arrest, on their way to trial in New Plymouth.

Credit must also go to Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson and his officials who were equally determined to bring this day of reconciliation forward. Reading the 1881 Parliamentary accounts of the invasion again, it’s nothing short of amazing how things have turned out. As many as have said before, history does have a certain sense of irony. You can read more about the invasion of Parihaka by clicking here – Parihaka invasion.

The Spinoff Online Magazine invited Danny to assess this reconciliation and its importance for Māori and the country. You can read his essay here – Reconciliation at Parihaka.

The Taranaki Daily News also carried two really good pieces about the ceremony, written by Deena Coster and Tara Shaskey. You can read their articles here – Apology at Parihaka and a New Peace at Parihaka.

Danny Keenan, 'Te Whiti O Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka', published by Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2015.Finally, Danny’s book on the invasion of Parihaka, with background and consequences for Taranaki Māori, was published in 2015 – Parihaka and the Resistance of Parihaka (Huia Publishers, Wellington). You can read more about the book here – Te Whiti O Rongomai.

The prologue to this book was also published on the Spinoff Online Magazine – you read this extract here – Prologue to Te Whiti book.


The logo used to celebrated the centenary of the Pungarehu Primary School in 1992.

Pungarehu Primary School Centenary 1992 

Interestingly, the local primary school near Parihaka, at Pungarehu (where some of the invading troops were housed) celebrated its centenary in 1992.  Danny and his two older sisters, Wikitoria and Jennifer, attended the school in late 1950s. Sadly, the school was closed down in 2003, and the buildings were subsequently demolished.

The Pungarehu School Centenary 1992 - new Prime Minister Jim Bolger chats with Te Ru Koriri Wharehoka, kaumātua of Parihaka. Far left (sitting) is Te Miringa Hohaia, alongside Aunty Poppy Bailey.A centenary in 1992 means of course that the school was opened in 1892, which is eleven years after the 1881 invasion. By then, the area was deemed to be ‘safe enough’ to open a primary school, especially since Native Minister John Ballance had earlier decommissioned and disbanded the Armed Constabulary.

We don’t really use the ‘frontier’ framework in New Zealand history – it’s popular of course in the USA.

The people from Parihaka approach Pungarehu Primary, on the day of official proceedings.

We didn’t have the conditions here which set up a ‘frontier’ situation – like the widespread dispersal of Pākehā populations, and the setting up of ‘new identities’ well away from the influence of urban centres and elites.

The ‘frontier’ framework has some uses in countries like Australia and Canada, though some historians do question its relevance for native peoples. But, all the same, you could say then that, by the 1890s, the frontier in NZ had ‘closed’.

Māori Historians of the Wars

Awesome image used to promote the movie The Dead Lands. Many historians have written about the New Zealand wars; and most have done a fine job of their research and publications. The New Zealand Wars literature, as a result, is quite extensive.

You can read about some of these publications, and how they have contributed to a wars historiography, by clicking here – writing about the wars.

However, the number of Māori historians who have written about the wars is quite limited. Perhaps best known amongst Māori writers of the wars is Buddy Mikaere (below, right), a former Director of the Waitangi Tribunal and most accomplished writer.

Buddy is possibly best know for his book Te Maiharoa and the Promised Land, published in 1997, thō of course he has done heaps since then.

Buddy Mikaere, foremost Māori historian of the NZ Wars.

Other Māori of note include filmmaker and historian Brad Haami (below, left),  and tribal historian Tony Sole. Brad is possibly best known for two of his books, Golan Maaka: Māori Doctor, which was a personal memoir, and Love Stories: Mate Tau. Tony is well-known for his hugely-detailed tribal history, Ngāti Ruanui (see bottom, right).

Brad Haami, well-known Māori historian and filmmaker Monty Soutar (below, right), is also well established as a wars historian. Monty is perhaps better known for his work on Māori and the Second World War, but he has written about the 19th century wars featuring his Ngāti Porou people.

Dr Monty Soutar, accomplished Māori military historian, perhaps NZ's foremost Māori historian at the moment .. (with Buddy and Brad ..).Monty’s PhD thesis focussed on Ropata Wahawaha and his war against Pai Marire adherents who encroached into the East Coast. As Monty argues, these were significant campaigns for Ngāti Porou, as they fought to bring stability of the Coast, whilst keeping a wary eye on the Crown.

Monty is possibly best known for his book Ngā Tamatoa: The Price of Citizenship. C Company 28 (Māori) Battalion 1939-1945 (published 2008). This huge book tells the story of Māori soldiers fighting in Europe  during World War Two.

Danny Keenan, of Ngāti Te Whiti (New Plymouth).

Danny Keenan (left), who is the writer of this website, has also written on the New Zealand Wars. Danny’s research area of interest is Māori political history, specifically the history of Māori-State relations during the 19th century, i.e. until 1912, when the Liberals went out of office.

The wars were of course an integral part of this history. Danny’s PhD examined the Native Land Court in Taranaki, after the Taranaki wars of 1860-1861. You can see some of Danny’s published work here – publications.

The Land Wars on Film

UTU, a movie set in the later NZ Wars of the 1870s, directed by Geoff Murphy, released in 1984.There is no doubt true that the movies possess an enormous power to shape historical images, and memories.

We see this of course in the USA, where popular perceptions of the West – and how it was won from Native Americans – continue to influence how ordinary American folk see their founding years.

The Dead Lands, a movie set in the earlier musket war period of the 1820s, directed by Toa Fraser, released 2014.We don’t have anything like this in New Zealand, given that our movie industry isn’t as all-encompassing as that of the USA. Our homemade movies don’t make such inroads into – and frame – our cultural beliefs.

But we do have some movies that have examined the wars, telling various tales about Māori and Pākehā, and how they fared in times of national and civil conflict. Depicted here are some fine examples which we’ll be reviewing here shortly.

A more recent movie about the wars - River Queen, directed by Vincent Ward, released in 2006.     Rewis Last Stand, directed by Rudall Hayward in 1925.    Pictures, a movie about the Burton brothers who were early photographers of Māori, with the wars as a background, directed by Michael Black, released in 1981..

The Changing Land

Ngatapa Pā, site of battle of January 1-5, 1869. Image from Cowan, NZ Wars, II, p. 272.It can be revealing to compare historic sites, as they once existed, to see how they appear today. This allows us to observe how much the sites have changed, over time – or, how much they remain the same. Landscapes change over time for many reasons, not least which is agricultural development, a real feature of this country’s past of course.

#Ngatapa Pā today.

This page illustrates some of the New Zealand Wars sites – then and now. This is a fairly random selection. In time, thō, these comparative images will be arranged by field of engagement.

The siege of Ngatapa Pā

See images above, left and right, of the site of the Ngatapa battle, then and now. This engagement was fought between January 1-5, 1869, and involved Te Kooti’s people being held under siege by East Coast Māori. To read more of the East Coast wars, of which Ngatapa was a part, see here – East Coast Wars.

Sentry Hill in the 1860s.

Attack on Sentry Hill

Sentry Hill is located mid way between Waitara and New Plymouth, on the road that deviates toward Lepperton and Inglewood.

Sentry Hill today.

On 30 April, 1864, members of a Hau Hau war party attacked Sentry Hill, where a British Army Redoubt occupied an old Pā site named Te Morere. This attack brought the war back to North Taranaki, following an earlier truce of 1861.

The attack proved disastrous for Māori, with about 50 men killed and a further 40 seriously wounded. Today, Sentry Hill is a fairly desolate place, part of a dairy farm, just beside a very busy road. To read more about the battle fought at Sentry Hill, see here – Sentry Hill.

Volkner's Church in 1865.The Death of Volkner

Julius Volkner was a minister of the Lutheran Church based at Opotiki, near Whakatane.

Volkner's Church today - St Stephens, Opotiki.

On 2 March 1865 , Volkner was hanged by Māori, from a tree just outside his church. The Māori were members of Hau Hau war parties, who were raiding in the area at the time. The accused Volkner of being a spy, and meted out this summary and tragic punishment.

Today, Volkner lies buried behind his church, which now stands in the main street of Opotiki. The Māori involved in the hangings were later apprehended by the Armed Constabulary and most were themselves later hanged in Auckland.

Te Pou Tuataki, erected just outside New Plymouth in 1847.Fitzroy’s Pole, New Plymouth

Fitzroy’s Pole, as it is commonly known, was erected by Te Ātiawa just north of New Plymouth in 1847.

Te Pou Tuataki - FitzRoy's pole - today, standing on a busy highway corner near a large shopping arcade.

The pole was erected to signify to Pākehā that no more land would be sold, north of the pole, that is, in the direction of Waitara.

At the time, Māori in the area were involved in a ferocious civil war, between those who wished to sell land, and those who did not.

Māori called the pole Te Pou Tuataki, or the blocking pole. The pole was put in place by Parata Te Huia and Waitere Katatore, and stood 25 feet tall.

The civil conflict amongst Māori however was never satisfactorily resolved, especially once the Crown began taking sides, thus contributing to the outbreak of the war at Waitara in 1860.

You can read more about the war at Waitara, see here – War at Waitara.

Omata Stockade, Omata, which overlooked the road south from New Plymouth.Omata Stockade

The Omata Stockade was built at Omata, just south of New Plymouth, during the turbulent 1850s, when wholesale war threatened North Taranaki.The site of the Omata Stockade today.

The stockade was manned by British troops. Their task was to guard the southern entrance to the town, apprehending any hostile Māori observed moving north, possibly endangering the town.

However, very little action was seen here, with the notable exception of the battle of Waireka, which was fought nearby on 28 March 1860. War had just broken out to the north of New Plymouth, at Waitara, on 17 March. Southern Māori were suspected of trying to move north, in support; they were intercepted at Waireka Pā, and an engagement followed.

The Hunt for Willie Boy

The book ‘The Hunt for Willie Boy’ was published in 1994 and tells the story of a manhunt in Southern California in September 1929. Written by two fine ‘white’ historians (as Pākehā are called in the USA), the book’s essential point – how ‘Indian-hating has so uncritically permeated popular culture in the USA – certainly resonates here in New Zealand.

The Manhunt

The focus of the manhunt was a young Chemehuevi Indian named Willie Boy who, it was falsely alleged, had consumed too much liquor, stolen a rifle and kidnapped a 16 year old girl named Carlotta, shooting her father in the process. He then fled into the desert. When Carlotta was later found dead, the manhunt went into overdrive, with numbers of possees combing the desert.

The book is hugely interesting, written by two accomplished academic historians from Redlands, California, where the book’s action is set – James A Sandos and Larry E Burgess. Sandos and Burgess examine the various ‘white’ versions of the story.

Banning, South California, where the hunt for Willie Boy took place.The book also includes a Chemehuevi version of events, strengthened with a careful reading of the documentary sources. This ethnohistorical approach is masterful, revealing a sad and tragic story, recovered from the layers upon layers of false and misleading ‘white’ versions (‘white’ is used in the USA for Pākehā).

Their research was extensive, and included working with elders from the Chemehuevi tribe, plus members of Willie Boy’s and Carlotta’s families, based around Banning and the Morongo Indian Reservation, in the desolate American south-west desert.

This tragic tale was made into a movie by Abraham Polonsky called Tell Them Willie Boy is Here in 1969. The movie starred Robert Redford, Katherine Ross, Susan Clark and Robert Blake as Willie Boy. Polonsky had earlier been blacklisted by Hollywood as a communist sympathiser.

The screenplay was based on an earlier ‘gripping non-fiction novel’ published by Henry Lawton in 1960. However, as the authors point out, the Willie Boy story had been published some 30 times in various forms by the time the movie was made; and both the movie, and Lawton’s book, possessed serious flaws.

New Indian History / Ethnohistory / New Western History .. ?

When the book was published, in 1994, histories of Native American peoples were undergoing some critical analysis, especially those written over time by ‘whites’.

Historians like Patricia Limerick and Richard White were re-examining the writing of Native history, insisting that, for starters,  Native peoples ought to be both central to the story, and involved in the research and writing.

Santos and Burgess analyse the narrative and writing of the Willie Boy story against the complex historiographical background, including the work of New Indian historians. They also comment on historians positioned within the (then) emerging field of American Ethnohistory, like Fred Hoxie.

What is interesting is these debates in the USA found their way to New Zealand, and did influence how some Māori at the time went about writing our own Māori/tribal histories. Our impression, then, thō, was that the Native American voice wasn’t really coming thrū, unlike in New Zealand where Māori voices were being heard, and acknowledged by academic historians.

Native Historians Write Back, edited by Susan A Millar and James Riding In (2011).

Native Historians Write Back

In light of this, one of the best books recently published by Native American historians is undoubtedly Native Historians Write Back. Decolonising American Indian History , edited by acclaimed Native American historians, Susan A Miller and James Riding in, published in 2011.

Susan A Miller, Native American historian

This book is hugely important; it examines from varying native and tribal perspectives the writing of Native American history. When discussing indigenous historical paradigms, Susan actually discusses briefly some of the work then being done by Māori historians in New Zealand. Her comments in part arise from a panel discussion that Susan and Danny did together (with Donna L Ackers) at an Ethnohistory conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2009.

Huia Histories of Māori. Ngā Tahuhu Korero, edited by Danny Keenan, published by Huia Publishers, Wellington NZ in 2012.

Native Historians Write Back is undoubtedly a landmark publication. In New Zealand, Māori were able to attempt something similar with our Huia Histories of Māori. Ngā Tahuhu Korero, published the following year in 2012.

Native Historians Write Back is a particularly interesting book when we consider The Hunt for Willie Boy. Published some 15 years earlier, The Hunt for Willie Boy raises important issues about the writing of Native American history, issues that fine Native American historians like Susan were able to address (and much more).

To read more on the work of native historians, click here – Native Historians.