The Dead Lands

Click to read advertising brochure - The Dead Lands movie.This recent movie by acclaimed New Zealand director Toa Fraser, The Dead Lands is a terrific film. The movie is totally recounted in Māori, too, appropriately since the action occurs in the days before Europe encountered New Zealand. The movie was released in New Zealand in 2014 and is now available on DVD.

James Rolleston (Hongi) and Lawrence Makoare (The Warrior) are also terrific in their respective roles as an aggrieved young warrior seeking the guidance of a reclusive but violent elder, who inhabits a desolate landscape known as the Dead Lands. Hongi seeks advice on an urgent matter of tribal revenge.

Raukura Turei stars as Mehe in the movie The Dead Lands (2014).Te Kohe Tuhaka is terrific as Wirepa, almost stealing the movie from his better known cast members. Xavier Horan also stars as Rangi, with Raukura Turei as Mehe, a wahine toa – woman warrior – who confronts The Warrior in a bitter hand-to-hand struggle.

Veteran and accomplished Māori actors George Henare and Rena Owen also star in this movie.

Te Kohe Tuhaka, Māori actor who almost steals the movie, The Dead Lands, not an easy thing against actors of the quality of Lawrence Makoare. The movie did fairly well in New Zealand, but it is a terrific watch – though, be wary, it is also quite violent, though these days, with quick-editing, you don’t get to see the worst of it.

The movie also depicts a Māori world given to unrelieved warfare, warfare as the modus through which all tribal and personal relations are mediated.

Some scholars agree with this view, like Māori jurist Sir Eddie Durie, in his masterful study, Māori Custom Law (1994). Dr Angella Ballara has also argued that ‘warfare was endemic in Māori society’, though she has equally written of peace-making protocols that also existed, alongside the Māori propensity for war.

Mehe (Raukura Turei) fights hand-to-hand with The Warrior (Lawrence Makoare) in The Dead Lands. Click on The Dead Lands’  poster (above left) to see a copy of an advertising brochure released with the movie. For more on the New Zealand Wars on film, click here – NZ Wars on Film.

‘Hobson’s Pledge’? Unlikely ..

Governor William Hobson (1792-1842), who served as Lieutenant Governor / Governor of New Zealand from 1840-1842.New Zealand history is fraught with myth – things that never happened, or at least, the evidence is sketchy. ‘Hobson’s pledge’ is one example. Was there ever such a thing?

During the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840, we are told, Lieutenant Governor Hobson (right) shook hands with each Māori signatory, saying ‘he iwi tahi tatou – we are now one people’. But did this actually happen? Where is the evidence?

The ‘evidence’

The account of ‘Hobson’s pledge’ comes from William Colenso (below, left), a mission printer, who was present at Waitangi, on the day of the Treaty signing. His version of events can be found in his The Authentic and Genuine History of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, published much later, 50 years after the event, in 1890. This was nine years before his death aged 89 years in 1899.

Hobson's Grave, Symonds Street cemetery, Auckland. Other accounts however do not mention Hobson saying such a thing, or anything like it. Such sentiments were not expressed; instead, what caught the attention of most Pākehā observers was the rancour and discord evident amongst Māori, and the suspicion directed at Hobson.

Forty five chiefs signed the Treaty that day, but few of them, says Colenso, were of ‘first rank’. And none were present from any distance, save a small number from the Hokianga.

Earlier, Colenso had asked Hobson – was he sure Māori knew what they were doing, by signing the Treaty? Did they understand the Articles? Hobson’s reply – the expression of a different sentiment – was clear; if they don’t understand, then this was of no concern to him.

Meantime, says Colenso, other chiefs like Marupo of Wanaurara, and Ruhe of Ngāti Hineira were urging Māori not to sign, as indeed, by some accounts, was a clearly ambivalent Hone Heke Pokai. Such was the level of disagreement amongst Māori, on that fateful day at Waitangi.

Later accounts of the signing

The Treaty House, Waitangi. The Treaty was signed on the site of the flagpole in foreground of the photo.Colenso’s account of Hobson’s statement does not appear in earlier accounts of the Treaty signing, written by other Pākehā who were present.

Missionary Richard Taylor’s account of 1840 does not mention any such statement, nor such sentiment, being expressed by Hobson. Instead, he wrote of the hostility shown to the Governor by Māori.

William Baker’s account of 1865 also fails to mention Hobson’s supposed statement. Baker was a translator for the Native Department who was asked to provide an account for Parliament, which he did, on 8 July 1865.

Baker’s overriding concern was the discord and disagreement amongst Māori – a war of words which had provoked a crisis, threatening to derail the signing ceremony. Even Hobson himself did not mention his supposed ‘pledge’, instead recalling that he had been opposed by Māori with displays of ‘great violence’.

Was there ever a ‘Hobson’s pledge’? This seems unlikely. The evidence for it is confined to the recall of one participant, written down some fifty years after the event, about the same time distance as between (say) the writing of the first gospel, Mark, and the death of Christ. Colenso’s account is written in verbatim style, with dialogue recorded in detail, a precise if unlikely remembering of minutiae and nuance, some 50 years after the event, through years of intervening, turbulent history.

Colenso’s record of events, then, is structured around remembered – or invented – conversations, written for effect rather than accuracy. Some popular historians use this method, it is true, but you wouldn’t get away with it in your PhD thesis.

William Colenso (1811-1899), missionary printer and later explorer.Claiming New Zealand for Pākehā

It’s worth bearing in mind that, by 1890, when Colenso published his account, Māori had lost the New Zealand Wars. They had had thousands of acres of land confiscated, or alienated through the Native Land Court.

Māori had seen their communities decimated by settler economic encroachment and their population numbers had fallen to about 40,000, from a high of about 100,000 in 1840. The evidence for this is of course overwhelming.

However, in 1890, Colenso would have had good reasons for presenting Hobson as being benevolent and conciliatory to Māori because, by then, New Zealand was in the grip of a new Pākehā nationalism.

The good old days, as described by FE Maning in his book Old New Zealand, published in 1863.Scholars like Edward Tregear and William Pember Reeves were searching amidst the literary and figurative landscapes of New Zealand, which they saw as empty, looking for an organic foothold for Pākehā amidst the undergrowth. They were trying to recapture the heady days of the young F E Maning, as described in his book Old New Zealand (1863) – a time when Pākehā were few, carefree, and felt as if they belonged, even if they were living under the sufferance of Māori.

A resurgent literary nationalism propelled this search for an organic foothold forward. New journals like the New Zealand Graphic and Ladies Journal aimed to foster and assist this revived sense of belonging amongst Pākehā. Native Associations were established all over the country, comprising Pākehā determined to secure their space, and place, here in Aotearoa. They adopted a new organic ensign – the silver fern –  to  symbolise their new-found attachment to the otherwise desolate  landscape.

The Silver Fern badge, adopted by the new Native Associations after 1890.

Inventing An Early Regard for Māori 

Putting across that the Crown, and Hobson, were well-meaning and benevolent towards Māori, from the very beginning, served Colenso’s purposes. Despite everything, said Colenso, Pākehā had really meant well.

Such a new-found regard for Māori absolved Pākehā for the ravages inflicted on Māori since 1840 on the way to a new sense of identity, hegemony and nationhood for Pākehā. But to most Māori, as to many discerning Pākehā, this all rang hollow, as it does today.

Footnote – Hobson’s Pledge or Colenso’s Conceit?

For those interested in literary terms, or the functional language of history, ‘Hobson’s Pledge’ might be described as a historical feint, defined as a deceptive movement, or statement, intended to conceal one’s real intent.

In literary terms, Hobson’s alleged utterance he iwi tahi tatou might be said to be a conceit, defined as a metaphor with a certain logic, used to draw readers into a more sophisticated understanding of a certain object or event – or, in this case of course, to perpetuate a misunderstanding vis-à-vis Hobson’s intentions.

‘Hobson’s Pledge or ‘Colenso’s Conceit’ ?

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 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.

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.








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..