By Selwyn Manning, Scoop Co-Editor, in Italy
New Zealand Defence Maori Culture Group.
Mist lay heavy about the hills surrounding the Monte Cassino War Cemetery today as a cultural clash marred events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino.
The New Zealand Defence Forces Maori cultural group has lived up to fearsome reputations here in Italy after a Maori warrior pushed a woman taking video footage while he cleared the way during cultural ceremony. The woman was shoved out of the way as the official party moved toward taking seats fronting a monument to those killed in World War II.
In a later incident leader of the cultural group, Mark Pirikahu, shoved an Italian photographer off what was considered sacred ground.
Two veterans of the famous battle of 1944 called out to the warriors to ‘behave yourselves’. Many Italian observers were fearful that harm was about to descend upon what was a peaceful ceremony.
Later New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said the incident was unfortunate: “Sometimes the group is very focused on what it is doing, and do not see people in the way.”
“I can see they were very concerned that some of the Italian press were on what they considered sacred ground to New Zealanders.”
During such ceremony the Maori warriors represent their ancestors, elders, and those spirit of those gone. There are strict guidelines within Maori protocol that insist outsiders respect the sanctity of the ground that they are spiritually clearing.
Helen Clark said the area of land around where wreaths were laid was particularly sacred to Maori, who had lost many when the Maori 28th Battalion fought in Cassino in 1944.
“I understand that the leader of the party was defending what they consider sacred ground and I think many of the veterans would feel that too,” Helen Clark said.
New Zealand Defence Force head Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson defended the actions. He said it was justified because the photographer had gone onto sacred ground in the middle of the ceremony to take photos.
A German ceremony marking the anniversary saw two former New Zealand soldiers give the Nazi salute. Helen Clark said the insult was “most unfortunate” but added: “many of the veterans have been spending time with the Germans, they have had a beer together. They have put it behind them.”
Wreath laid by the Government of Germany.
She added that many of the Germans who fought in World War II were “just ordinary people who were conscripted to fight for their country without any options. And I guess it was with those ordinary folks and our ordinary folks who sat down and had a beer,” Helen Clark said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark graveside at the Cassino War Graves Cemetery, Monte Cassino.