Remembering all of our sites

The Japanese Memorial and garden, Featherston, a beautiful and sad place to pause 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.

Memorial to Japanese soldiers who died at Featherston as POWs during the Second World War.

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.

Rangihoua, in the Bay of Islands, where the first mission station was established in 1814.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.

Teaching the Wars

Massey students visiting the site of the Turuturumokai battle, near Hawera, in 1868.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.

Remembering our Māori Veterans

Photo from the movie 'River Queen', shot on the Whanganui River. Each year, ANZAC Day comes and goes … a time to remember our overseas veterans. But what about our Land Wars veterans? Will we ever remember them?

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. 

Our Māori veterans .. photo of awesome Māori actors from the Vincent Ward movie 'River Queen'.

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.

A New Zealand Land Wars Day?

Otorohanga College student Rhiannon Magee, Tai Jones and Leah Bell who organised the Land Wars petition. The government is calling for submissions on whether we should set up a new Land Wars Day, to remember those 3500 or so people, Māori and Pākehā, who tragically died during the conflicts.

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.

A taua of Māori warriors, from the awesome movie 'River Queen'.

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.


Students visiting the site of the battle at Turuturumokai (fought 1868), near Hawera.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?

Waimarama Anderson and Leah Bell with kaumatua Rahui Papa presented their petition earlier this month to push more awareness about the New Zealand Land Wars.

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.

Danny’s New Book

Danny Keenan, Te Whiti O Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2015.Danny’s new book – Te Whiti O Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka – will be available in early December; advance copies have just been received.

Please contact Huia Publishers for queries – see advertisement bottom right of this home page.

Featured Battle Site: Ruapekapeka

Young Jaydn standing on Ruapekapeka battle site, Northland – photo by our website photographer (and Jaydn’s Dad), Bryn Thomas. To see more of Bryn’s amazing photo’s, click here – Bryn’s photos.

RuapekapekaThe battle of Ruapekapeka was fought between northern Māori and the British Army during January, 1846, with the British assaulting the Pā on 11 January 1846. The Pā however was largely empty, with Māori having already retreated out the back of the fortification.

The Northern war ended with the loss of Ruapekapeka, with Hone Heke Pokai and Te Ruki Kawati persuaded to sue for peace by Tamati Waka Nene – all three were prominent chiefs of Ngā Puhi. Twelve British Regulars died during the fighting at Ruapekapeka, with twenty Māori also killed, along with 60 wounded, 30 on each side.

Ruapekapeka has it’s own awesome website – to visit the site, click here – RUAPEKAPEKA.

Ruapekapeka Pā is well worth a visit, if you are ever up north; it’s an awesome example of the care and effort that local folks can put into the upgrade and protection of such an important NZ Wars battle site.

Ruapekapeka Pā, Northland

To read more about the battle fought at Ruapekapeka, see James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars, Volume One, pp.73-87. Alternatively, to see the Northern Wars covered on this site, click here – Northern Wars.


Flying the Fern

.. our new flag that might have been ..In 2015 and 2016, we had the chance to change our flag. It’s a great shame that we didn’t. Perhaps someone will write a book about the process we went through, because defenders of the current flag said some mighty strange things, in defence of our existing flag.

Worse, many groups, like the Labour Party, New Zealand First and the RSA (Returned Services Association) attacked the then PM John Key, making him the issue, which was tiresome and unfortunate; Mr Key deserved better.

Sadly, too, many Pākehā historians who have been writing ‘Māori history’ for some time – supposedly with some empathy for Māori – came out in support of the current flag, which of course is a colonial relic. This attitude from New Zealand historians was really disappointing. As it turned out, most New Zealanders voted for the old flag. Perhaps New Zealanders have the flag they deserve.

.. one of the suggested alternative flags ..

Meantime, then PM John Key of course staunchly supported the new flag. You can read some of the background behind the flag referendum here –  Changing the Flag.

In our view, New Zealand still needs to change its flag.


Changing the flag

The old and the new .. sadly, New Zealanders stayed with the old .. Mainly because our current flag is a colonial relic; and the Union Jack was flown by those who invaded New Zealand, depriving Māori of their land, livelihoods and sovereignty.

You can imagine how Rewi Maniāopoto and King Tāwhaio felt on the evening of 19 November 1863, when they peered north from the Rangiriri battlements and saw the British Army approaching. The British Army’s invasion of the Waikato had reached their doorstep.

The flag pole, and Treaty House, at Waitangi. The Union Jack flag was raised here on 6 February, 1840. Fluttering above the invading British Army was the flag now being defended by the RSA and New Zealand First as the flag ‘under which so many of our boys have died’. Defending New Zealand’s flag on these grounds  suffers terribly from forgetting our past.

This is because the flag seen at Rangiriri would go on to devastate Māori communities in the Waikato, Tauranga and Taranaki, in particular, as it had already done in North Taranaki and the far North.

The British attacked Rangiriri from the north – see photo. 50 Māori would die at Rangiri, 67 at Waiari/Rangiaowhia/Hairini, and 160 at Orākau. That’s 277 in the Waikato alone – and these are James Cowan’s conservative estimates.

Rangiriri battle site today. The British attacked from the left of the photograph. The original Pā extended far to the east, over the road and out of the picture; the road (Highway 1) was constructed through the Pā, after the battle (as was often the custom in those days).Add to this the death toll of Māori in Tauranga – 44 – and further later losses elsewhere, especially South Taranaki, the Ureweras and the East Coast, at the hands of the British and its successor, the New Zealand Armed Constabulary. The figure probably exceeds 500, though it is difficult to know precisely.

By some estimates, 2500-3000 Māori died during the Land Wars. That’s a lot of people, defending hearth and home and papakāinga. .. another one of the awesome alternatives what might have been ..

The New Zealand flag, it is true, did not make its appearance until 1902. But variations of it were in unofficial use throughout the wars, and the Union Jack was of the course the flag under which the British, Armed Constabulary and settlers fought against Māori.

For estimates of the Land Wars casualties, see James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars, Volumes One and Two, Wellington, 1922/1923, pages (respectively) 465-466 and 550-553.

The ‘coming of age’ myth

This year marks the centenary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.

SincStatue of Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, paramount rangatira of Whanganui Māori during the troubled 19th Century. Statue stands in Moutoa Gardens, Whanganui.e 1921, when ANZAC Day celebrations began, the landings at Anzac Cove have become part of our national myth-making – that New Zealand ‘came of age’ on the beaches of Gallipoli, where our boys ‘spilled their blood’ in 1915.

‘Coming of age’ at Gallipoli however is more myth than fact. It’s a story now buried deep in our national psyche with no affirming historical roots in our earlier histories.

Quite the reverse – it’s a day that forgets all that went before, especially for Māori. Every ANZAC Day, though, you will hear ‘coming of age’ repeated often, especially by those who have benefited from its political and historical utiliy.  

Occasionally, you will hear calls for ANZAC Day to be our national day; Waitangi Day, it is said, is too divisive. If you would like to read more about this debate, read Danny’s article  published in Mana : click here –  ANZAC or Waitangi?  (The reference is Mana, no 92, February-March 2012, pp. 44-45).


There are many other events to commemorate this year; here are some of them  .. 

‘Other’ 2015 Anniversaries 

1805   Governor King in Sydney prohibits the forced removal of Māori from New Zealand

The cross at No 3 Redoubt, just out of Waitara, marking the site of the midnight attack of Te Ātiawa on the Redoubt, on 23 January 1861.

1815   Ruatara dies, leaving new missionaries exposed to the fearsome war chief, Hongi Hika

1825   Christian Rangi, the first Māori ever converted, dies

1835   First Christian pamphlet published for Māori by Colenso and missionaries

1845   Northern War starts with British attack on Puketutu Pā, $100 bounty placed on Hone Heke’s head

1855   British troops sent to New Plymouth as deterrent against Māori warfare

1865   Taranaki Pai Marire prisoners transported to the South Island ; Native Land Court established (in the form it thereafter functioned) by the Native Lands Act 1865. The earlier 1862 Native Lands Act set up the Court as a Māori communal tribunal convened by the local Resident Magistrate. Finding this too slow and cumbersome, the government changed the Court’s structure in 1865 – one judge (or more) making all the decisions.

1875   Native Minister McLean forbids surveying of the contested Waimate Plains, south of Parihaka

1885   Rail link begins through the King Country, with Ngāti Maniapoto resistance finally overcome

1895   Minnie Dean hanged in Dunedin

1905   New Zealand’s national rugby team called All Blacks for the first time, when playing Somerset at Tauton

1915    ANZAC troops land on the beach at Gallipoli, and New Zealand ‘comes of age’ ..


Source: Alison Dench,  Essential Dates A Timeline of New Zealand History, Random House, Auckland, 2005. 


Remembering our Dead

Church at Rangiaowhia, in the Waikato, scene of Brtitish attack on Māori village, 21 February 1864. Former Prime Minister John Key once said that New Zealand was ‘settled peacefully’. It’s an idea that many hold to in this country but, unfortunately, it’s not quite true. We spend a lot of time remembering our ‘boys who died overseas’ but we forget the dead of the Land Wars.

It’s important that we change this, and remember our own who passed away during those conflicts, most of whom were Māori, and there were quite a few.

The best estimates we have of the Land Wars dead – men and women who died on our own battlefields – were provided by New Zealand Wars scholar James Cowan in 1922 and 1923.

Cowan put the total war’s dead at an estimated 2990 people, comprising 736 British and Colonial troops, as against 2254 Māori. And a further 1589, writes Cowan, were seriously wounded. Most of these – 1014 – were Maori, for the most part suffering grievous bayonet wounds.

Students visit the site of the Waahi Redoubt, and nearby cemetery, just out of Hawera.In fact, of the total war dead, Māori account for over 75%, figures greatly boosted by disproportionate iwi deaths at desolate places like Mahoetahi (50), Rangiriri (50) and, worst of all, Orakau (160).

A Problem of Counting 

Knowing quite how many Māori died, however, is difficult. Where missionaries cleared the battlefield, as they did at Rangiriri, accounting for the deceased was straight forward. But Māori were often in retreat, taking their dead with them. Occasionally, it was Māori who cleared the field, as at Puketekauere in 1860, burying their own dead, as well as the 30 British Regulars who fell on that barren hill above Waitara.

The dead, then, on both sides, represent the sharp edge of our wars of the 1860s, bitterly dividing the protagonists. Occasionally, however, the dead of both sides were interred together, as at Ohaeawai (51) symbolizing the hope that reconciliation might one day come to Aotearoa.

Memorial to Māori who died at the battle on Moutoa Island, Whanganui, 14 May 1864, which stands in Moutoa Gardens, Whanganui.A War Memorial For Maori?

Have you seen the Vietnam Remembrance Wall in Washington DC? It’s awesome and well worth the visit. For more on the amazing memorials in Washington DC, click here – DC War Memorials.

Several years ago, a similar dedicated war memorial to the Land Wars Maori war dead was mooted, to be built alongside the Auckland Museum. The late Dr Miria Simpson of the Alexander Turnbull Library discretely sounded out affected iwi, especially (but not exclusively)  Taranaki, Waikato and Tauranga.  The idea had its merits but, in the end, iwi were not ready.

Perhaps an idea for the future.


SOURCES : James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars. A History of the Māori Campaigns and Pioneering Period, R. E. Owen Government Printer, Wellington. Published in two volumes - Volume One was published in 1922; and Volume Two was published in 1923.  See pages 465-466 Volume I; and pages 550-553 Volume II.