Remembering The Future - Finding Healing in Our History
Remembering the Future - Finding Healing in our History
By Keith Newman
The decision to have an annual ‘Land Wars’ or Raa Maumahara National Day of Commemoration on 28 October 2017, presents a series of challenges to a young nation that has failed to adequately come to terms with its own formative stories.
The need to have informed discussion about the good, bad and ugly of our not so distant past is long overdue; to reclaim our wider history so we’re no longer a nation ignorant of past grievances and the stories behind Treaty of Waitangi settlements or oblivious to how we might forge a more connected future.
In undertaking such an exercise, there’s always the risk of fuelling old rivalries and bitterness about who did what to who and when. And it’s not just ‘red neck’ Pakeha, threatened by the resurgence of all things Maori, who might baulk at their ancestors being pilloried in another round of colonial bashing.
There’s potential for reigniting inter-tribal divisions, and widening rifts between Maori who fought for their lands and kupapa who fought alongside the government.
A backlash is already brewing in some quarters with talk of toppling statues and removing memorials to ‘colonial oppressors’, with little thought as to what might replace them or how to redress the historical imbalance.
The irony is not lost that the commemoration of nearly 40-years of battles and conflicts is scheduled on the same day Maori ratified the 1835 Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand (He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nui Tirene) which ultimately led to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
The annual commemoration of what has been variously termed ‘the Maori Wars’, the ‘New Zealand Wars’ but more accurately ‘the Land Wars’; because that’s what all the battles were about, needs to be sensitively and wisely managed.
By late September 2017 a timeline of battles and conflicts to be commemorated was still being worked out, with little clarity about how the first Raa Maumahara was to be curated.
Were we all expected to look and learn while the initial hosts Ngapuhi and neighbouring iwi and hapu focus on the battles and conflicts in their territory or would each region commemorate their own stories annually? Judging by the sporadic promotions appearing in the weeks leading up to the day, the latter now appears to be case.
I wonder whether this be an inclusive opportunity where we can all be informed and grow, with churches, schools, local authorities and the wider community eager to be involved? Will there be lectures, books, documentaries, concerts, additions to the school curriculum and take away value for all Kiwis?
Or will many New Zealanders; failing to understand the national and historical significance, feel threatened and even excluded by how this Maori-led commemoration unfolds or simply ignore it?
After opening and reconsidering these painful wounds, what seems to be missing is a logical, healing and peaceful closure that might help build our sense of identity so that in the end it’s not the wars themselves but the end of the wars, reconciliation, and how we are progressing as a nation?
Architecture of identity
The brave decision to create a day of commemoration was inspired by a 12,000 signature petition from Otorohanga College students frustrated at the general ignorance of our own civil wars and their virtual absence from the school curriculum.
While there are many excellent books and resources around, there is no requirement for New Zealand history to be taught in our schools, unless teachers think it’s a good idea.
Historian Prof Paul Moon says we’re one of the few countries not teaching its own history as a core subject. He insists history is part of “the architecture of our identity…that helps cement us into community and make sense of the world”.
What’s needed, he says, is the political will to make New Zealand history part of a good education system. Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger agrees, it’s a huge mistake that schools aren’t teaching colonial history, as ignorance is dangerous and can lead to racism. “You cannot know who you are as a society unless you know your history.”
The Maori History Working Party wants Maori ‘tribal history’ to be a core subject in mainstream teaching as a cornerstone of the Treaty of Waitangi, but wouldn’t it make better sense if this was complementary to “New Zealand history”?
Most history books have the Land Wars beginning at Waitara, Taranaki, in 1860 stretching across loosely associated battles and skirmishes until the last of the Pai Marire or Hauhau ‘rebels’ are captured in 1866 or Te Kooti finally retreats into the King Country on 15 May 1872.
Raa Maumahara, rewinds to the Wairau Valley near Blenheim in June 1843 where first blood was shed when a group of armed settlers tried to arrest Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata on contested land.
The next engagement is logically Hone Heke’s multiple flagpole hacking at Kororareka (Russell). He was frustrated by plans to move the capital to Auckland, the taxing of goods purchased by Maori, loss of trading opportunities, and growing rumours that all ‘wastelands’, allegedly unused by Maori, were to be confiscated. Troops were deployed.
Pressure continued to be applied by official land agents to break customary chiefly control so individual Maori could sell tribal land to meet Crown promises to shiploads of colonists.
By the late 1850s the focus was on Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitaake, described by other chiefs as “the best friend” the Europeans could have hoped for, having protected Wellington from invasion by Te Rauparaha.
Rangitaake had returned from Waikanae to protect his ‘tribal blanket’; the Pekapeka block in Waitara, in response to the deathbed wish of his father who had led his people south to safety during the Musket Wars.
It was Kingi’s refusal to sell tribal land; despite a petulant relative collaborating with the Crown, then sending elderly tribal members to pull out surveyor’s pegs, that saw Martial law declared on 17 March 1860, before a single shot had been fired by Maori.
Hurriedly concocted laws and a bolstered military budget meant Maori attempting to defend their lands were now labelled rebels and their land confiscated.
While British troops and local militia who lost their lives in the “Maori troubles are recognised on a monument where Kingi’s Te Kohia pa was located,” there is none for Maori. A Waitara memorial and street names honouring the aggressors remain a constant reminder of a skewed history.
The flame flared in Taranaki, then spluttered out before being reignited after a misunderstanding over the involvement of Kingitanga and the conditions of an agreed truce.
Once Governor Grey’s troops crossed the boundary line into the Maori King’s territory it spread rapidly through Waikato and along the East Coast resulting in the confiscation of around 1.3 million hectares of the most desirable pastoral land in the country.
Grey then sent his troops back to Taranaki to complete unfinished business, taking ‘rebel lands’ by force, including the much disputed Pekapeka block, even though there was no evidence Wiremu Kingi engaged in any hostilities after 1861.
An estimated 3000 people lost their lives during the Land Wars – the majority of them, Mäori.
Peace at Parihaka
If the first bookend for Raa Maumahara is Heke’s flagpole protest, then the other ought to return us to south Taranaki and the invasion of Parihaka on 5 November 1881, where the pan-tribal remnant from the wars sought refuge.
Here Maori refused to be cannon fodder, setting a global precedent, peacefully removing surveyor’s pegs, rebuilding fences, ploughing contested land and feeding their enemies.
Under the leadership of Tohu Kakahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai about 2000 residents refused to react with aggression when about 1500 troops invaded and systematically dismantled their village.
Any hint of aggression could so easily have re-sparked the Land Wars, as the refugees stood united in the ultimate act of non-violent resistance.
Parihaka Day on 5 November; perhaps building on the Parihaka Peace Festivals and supplanting Guy Fawke’s Day, would be the perfect way to conclude the hugely disruptive period covered by Raa Maumahara.
This suggestion first put forward over 20-years ago has wide support but was eventually removed from the $9m Parihaka reconciliation package in June, and has yet to approved.
Rather than talk of removing statues of colonial leaders who backed invasions and led troops into battle, our conversation should be about honouring Maori and other leaders that history has vindicated.
Have we sufficiently recognised Wiremu Kingi; his friend, advocate for Maori and ‘conscience of the nation’ Octavius Hadfield or Christian peacemaker Tamihana Te Waharoa (the Kingmaker) who lost all his land despite his mediating efforts?
Have we done enough to recognise the peaceful resistance of Tohu and Te Whiti and the people of Parihaka; emulating the great peacemaker Jesus Christ, in setting the tone for Ghandi and Martin Luther King in latter decades?
As author and commentator Max Harris points out in The New Zealand Project, there are few bodies dedicated to peace and reconciliation in times of conflict and New Zealand’s history of ethical, fair, friendly, creative actions on the global stage, positions us well to be such an arbitrator of disputes.
This aligns well with the peacemaking efforts of the pioneering missionaries as advocates for forgiveness during the Musket Wars, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (intended as a peaceful covenant), our nuclear free stance and our relative neutrality.
Commemorating the peaceful pan-tribal stand at Parihaka, would indeed would be a worthy and powerful model for New Zealanders and the world to look to, and a fitting, healing and visionary point of annual closure for Raa Maumahara.
Keith Newman is a freelance journalist, sixth generation New Zealander or English-Irish ancestry and author of the Penguin books Bible & Treaty: Missionaries Among the Maori, 2010, and Beyond Betrayal: Trouble in the Promised Land (2013) which includes a fresh perspective on the Land Wars and Parihaka.