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..

Changing Landscapes

Ngatapa Pā, site of battle of January 1-5, 1869. Image from Cowan, NZ Wars, II, p. 272.It’s interesting to compare historic sites as they once existed, to see how they appear today. This is because it enables us to observe how much the sites have actually changed, over time – or, how much they remain the same.

#Ngatapa Pā today.

This page illustrates some of the New Zealand Wars sites – then and now. This is a fairly random selection. In time, 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 Hunt for Willie Boy, by James Santos and Larry Burgess.

This amazing book, The Hunt for Willie Boy,  was published in 1994 and tells the story of a manhunt in Southern California in September 1929.

The focus of the manhunt was a young Chemehuevi Indian named Willie Boy who, it was falsely alleged, had drank too much, 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 fine 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.

They then present 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.

Banning, southern California

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.

Monument to Willie Boy - photo as it appears in the book, on page 51.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.

Voting for Māori

Harete Hipango, running for Whanganui MP this year

Ms Harete Hipango has been selected to run for National in this year’s elections, due to be held in September. Harete will be contesting the General Seat of Whanganui. Harete is Māori, from Whanganui, and is a prominent local barrister and solicitor. Harete is married to Dean, and they have three grown children.

Running for Parliament

Māori have had an interesting history in New Zealand, of running for General Seats. Normally, Māori have been nominated for the Māori seats, which were established as special seats in 1867.

In fact, one of the first Māori MPs to be elected to the national Parliament in 1867 was Te Rangi Paetahi Metekingi, also from Whanganui.

The Beehive, NZ's House of Parliament

Māori did not get the vote until the New Zealand Wars were substantially over; and, for Māori, they had been lost. Te  Rangi Paetahi won the seat of Western Māori, taking his place in the House in 1868, bringing vast experience of Māori lived realities to Parliament.

Te Rangi Paetahi Mete Kingi, of Whanganui, one of the first Māori to make it to Parliament, in 1867.Winning a General Seat

However, the first Māori to be elected to a General Seat was James Carroll, elected to the General Seat of Waiapu in 1893. Carroll held this seat until 1919, serving his East Coast constituents – Māori and Pākehā – for over 25 years.

James Carroll’s subsequent career as Parliamentarian was outstanding, especially his tenure as Native Minister from 1899 to 1912, when the Liberals went out of office. One of Carroll’s protégé’s, Apirana Ngata, would go on to great things, and generally eclipse our memories of James Carroll and his many achievements.

Sir James Carroll, from Gisborne, who served a MHR for the General Seat of Waiapu / Gisborne for over 25 years, from 1893 to 1919.

However, he remains a much revered figure in Māori and Pākeha political circles. (Danny is currently writing a political biography of James Carroll, due to be published in early 2018). Thereafter, despite the considerable inherent challenges, Māori have occupied General Seats with enormous success.

More recent Māori MPs in General Seats that spring to mind are Ben Couch (National, Wairarapa 1975-1984), Georgina Beyer (Labour, Wairarapa/List, 1999-2007) and of course Winston Peters (National/New Zealand First, Tauranga/List/Northland, 1996 – present).

It’s an interesting history, Māori political representation in General Seats, as an important part of the complex political fabric of our country. Perhaps a book, one day.

The read more on the awarding of the franchise to Māori, click here – the Māori vote.

Washington DC

Washington Monument, photo taken on 15 January 2009, the day of President Obama's inauguration.If you are planning to visit the USA sometime soon, you must visit Washington DC.

It’s a busy town right now of course; but, if history and monuments are your thing, then Washington is second to none when it comes to its array of memorials and monuments, to say nothing of its great museums, like the Native American Museum and National Archives.

Ngaire and Lauren, outside the White House, Washington DC, 2009.

Not all of Washington’s memorials signify past battles, but many do commemorate past American involvement in wars overseas, like the First World War and Vietnam.

And, surrounding the town and stretching south lie the amazing Civil War battle sites.

Most of the monuments in fact represent past American political history, centred on prominent and revered figures like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King.

Georgetown University, Washington DC, January 2009.Washington is also home to Georgetown University, one of the country’s finest centre’s of research and learning.

Academics from New Zealand get the chance to work there for a semester, courtesy of the Fulbright Foundation. Fulbright offer a very generous scholarship for those interested in teaching for a term with the Centre for Australian and New Zealand Studies (CANZ) at Georgetown.

For more on Washington DC, from our perspective at least, plse click here – Washington DC.

What is Māori history?

Huia Histories of Māori. Ngā Tāhuhu Kōrero, published 2012 by Huia Publishers, Wellington, edited by Danny Keenan.

‘Māori history’ can be defined in many different ways – it depends on which historian you are talking to, and whether that historian is Māori or not. But it doesn’t end there.

In this book, Huia Histories of Māori. Ngā Tāhuhu Kōrero, Danny has written an Introduction entitled ‘Land, Culture and History Interwoven’ (edited by Danny, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2012,  pp. xviii-xl).

In this introduction, Danny discusses different aspects and forms of ‘Māori history’, as seen in recent scholarship by Māori writers. He then sets these frames of reference against the histories of Māori and our country, as canvassed in the book by the featured17 Māori scholars. Watch this space – the chapter itself will be uploaded and will be accessible here, shortly.

Mā Pango Mā Whēro Kā Oti

Another chapter on the nature of Māori history by Danny appears in this book (right), Fragments. New Zealand Social and Cultural History, (eds) Bronwyn Labrum and Bronwyn Dalley (Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2000).

The chapter is entitled ‘Mā Pango, Mā Whero Ka Oti. Unities and Fragments in Māori History’ (pp. 38-53).  In this chapter, Danny argues that ‘Māori history’ is essentially (though not exclusively) framed by notions of customary lore and is centred upon iwi (the tribe) or hāpū (the sub-tribe). So, for example, whakapapa (genealogy) is a important customary framing device used by Māori when thinking about their past.

One of the suggested flags, that might have replaced our current outdated flag ..You can read this chapter by clicking here – Mā Pango Mā Whero Ka Oti.

See here also for further comments on Maori Land and History.



Right Day, Wrong Date?

Burial place of Rewi Maniapoto, Kihi Kihi, in the King Country.It’s a shame that 28 October has been chosen as the new New Zealand Wars Day. This is because the day has nothing to do with the New Zealand Wars. 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.

Statue of Major Te Rangihiwinui Kepa, Moutoa Gardens/Pakaitore, Whanganui. Old Native Land Court Building stands across the road.

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.


Te Kohia Battle Site, just out of Waitara, where, say some historians, the NZ Wars began in 17 March 1860.

Better Dates – 17 March, 20 November or 5 November ?

A better date might have been 17 March, when the wars started at Te Kohia, near Waitara. The Taranaki Daily News  has recently published an excellent article about the Te Kohia Battle site, written by Deena Coster  – you can read it here :  Te Kohia Battle Site .

Another date is  20 November, when Rangiriri was attacked by British forces. Rangiriri was the defining battle of the wars, where, for Māori, the wars were lost. You can read more about Rangiriri, and the Waikato Wars, here – the Battle for Rangiriri.

Or, 5 November when, say some historians, the Land Wars finally came to a close. On 5 November 1881, Parihaka was invaded and its leaders arrested. You can read more about this here – Invasion of Parihaka.

Memorial to the British Regulars and Colonial Troops who died during the latter wars in South Taranaki, 1863-1869.

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.

Young Jadyn exploring the Ruapekapeka Battlesite, Northland. Photo by Bryn Thomas.


‘NZ Wars Day’ on the way

Bella and Anais standing by the Whaka Rewarewa Bridge, New Plymouth. The bridge crosses the Waiwakaiho River near the historic Whaka Rewarewa Pā.

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.

Kaumātua Rangikotuku Rukuwai conducts a blessing at the Wahitapū Ūrupa, New Plymouth.

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.

Leah Bell speaks, with Waimarama Anderson and kaumātua Rahui Papa in support, at Parliament to the petition organised by Otorongonga students, calling for the NZ Wars Day. The Students who got the ball rolling

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 –

Memorial for Battle of Moutoa Island, Moutua Gardens, Whanganui.

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 –

Parihaka Peace Walk

Parihaka Peace Walk, on the stretch of highway between the old Pungarehu School and Parihaka Road.

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.

Mayor Andrew Judd (in blue jacket) and supporters approach Parihaka - Māori Councillor Howie Tamati stands just behind him, to his right.

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.