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.

Voting for Māori

Ms Harete Hipango, new MP for Whanganui Ms Harete Hipango has been elected to the general seat of Whanganui. Harete is from Whanganui, and has long been a prominent local barrister and solicitor. She is married to Dean, and they have three grown children. Harete is an awesome person and will make a great MP.

Harete is now unique because she is holding a General Seat. In the past, we haven’t seen very many Māori holding 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 also from Whanganui – Te Rangi Paetahi Metekingi, quite a name in the history of Māori politics.

As originally conceived, New Zealand's Parliament, drawn by Harry Mathewman. Only the right half of the building (as per image) was ever completed, and still remains.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. Thereafter, despite the considerable inherent challenges, Māori have occupied General Seats with considerable 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).

Our current Parliament, the Beehive.

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?

Click to read bio of Wiremu Te Wheoro (1826-1895) - signpost/ road named after Te Wheoro, near Rangiriri, just north of Hamilton and site of the Rangiriri Battle Field (1863).We have settled on 28 October as our New Zealand Wars Day, with commemorations to be held around New Zealand, every second year, to remember these past conflicts. This year, 2019, commemorations are planned for Taranaki.

However, the choice of the date – 28 October – was disappointing because the date has nothing to do with the wars. The date was chosen by a gathering of tribal leaders held in early 2016.

Why was this date chosen? Because it’s the date that the Declaration of Independence was signed, in 1835 at Waitangi, between a confederation of Ngā Puhi rangatira and the new British Resident Agent, James Busby.

By choosing to commemorate the Declaration, rather than the wars, tribal leaders opted for ceremony over substance. The date draws attention, firstly, to the Declaration and, secondly, to ongoing Māori assertions of sovereignty which, so the argument goes, the Declaration promised to deliver.

This blends neatly into the orthodox Pākehā view, as represented by historians like James Belich, that the New Zealand Wars were ‘wars of sovereignty’. This date, 28 October, references that Pākehā argument by highlighting the overarching issue of a contest for sovereignty, which Māori lost, rather than choosing an actual wars date. The date – 28 October – is about continuing political leverage.

Massey University students visiting site of Waahi Redoubt, near Hawera.

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. Rangatira like Wiremu Kingi Rangitake of Waitara made this perfectly clear. Māori fought, and died, to protect this.

An overarching ‘sovereignty’ sounds fine, especially for Pākehā because they were never grounded in the land – and therefore have no alleigance to it – and they won the contest for sovereignty.

For Māori it was different, given our customary grounding 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. Māori everywhere fought in defence of this. Their efforts should have been more important to tribal elders. It’s a travesty that their sacrifices should be manipulated by modern Māori for continuing political leverage.

St Stephen's Church, Opotiki, where Rev Carl Volkner was hanged by Hauhau Māori in 1865 His remains are buried around the back of the church.Better Dates .. ?

A better date might have been 17 June, when arguably the first shots were fired, at Wairau on 17 June 1843. Or, 11 March, when fighting broke out at Kororareka in 1845, beginning the Northern War. Or perhaps 17 March, when the war in Taranaki started at Te Kohia, near Waitara, in 1860.

Another date is  20 November, when Rangiriri was attacked by the British Army in 1863. At Rangiriri, the Māori Kingi Tawhiao and his people of the Kingitanga carried a terrible burden for all Māori. Tawhiao needed to defeat the British, or force terms on them; but he was able to achieve neither. Instead, he was forced into a long retreat, all the way to Ngāti Maniapoto where he would remain in refuge for a generation.

Rangiriri was the defining battle of the wars because it was here that the wars were lost; after Rangiriri, there was to be no going back for Māori. It was a tragic date for all Māori, and remains a day of reflection – perhaps 20 November might have been the best of all dates.

What’s in a date?

Massey University students visit the site of the Tuturumokai Redoubt, Hawera, 2004.Everything. If anything, 28 October represents, not a sense of history, but modern Māori political realities, representing the ever-evolving state of Crown-Māori relations today which are centred on still outstanding issues of Māori autonomy, or sovereignty.

The date seems less about the wars, then, and more about Māori continuing to assert political leverage. A date more reflective of the Māori experience of those wars, with all of the hurt, dispossession and loss has been by-passed, and that is a shame.

‘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 – http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/311482/nz-wars-day-from-street-petition-to-government-goal

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 – http://newzealandwars.co.nz/land-wars-timeline/full-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.