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NZ Wars commemorations begin with mass haka

Lois Williams, Reporter @loiswilliamsrnz

The first national commemoration of the New Zealand Wars begins with a mass haka at Te Tii Marae at Waitangi this afternoon.

Ngāpuhi rangatira prepare to welcome manuhiri including Otorohanga College students on Te Tii marae at Waitangi. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

It's the start of three days of 'Te Pūtake o Te Riri' - the reason for the anger.

Local iwi will be remembering some of the earliest battles against the British at Ōhaeawai in 1845 and at Ruapekapeka the following year.

Ruapekapeka is where Māori developed trench warfare.

Plans for a national commemoration started four years ago, when students from Otorohanga College were taken to the scene of the battle of Ōrākau.

Kaumātua told them of Rewi Maniopoto and his people's valiant stand at their besieged pā. Men, women and children escaping were pursued and killed by the colonial cavalry.

Waimarama Anderson, age 16 at the time, started a petition that went viral asking the government to recognise the battles fought in the New Zealand wars.

'We are no longer a Great Britain in the south seas'

Ngāti Hine rangatira Pita Tipene said the purpose of the commemoration was to promote greater understanding of the nation's history.

He said that was crucial to developing a national identity.

"We are no longer a Great Britain in the south seas. We are our own nation ... we need to hear everyone's stories and reconcile what we hear and then move on."

For the northern iwi, those stories start with the 1835 Declaration of Independence and the Māori text of the Treaty of Waitangi, signed by the chiefs in 1840.

Through the Māori lens, Hone Heke - in chopping down the flagstaff at Russell - was no random rebel, but a chief making a powerful political statement.

The flagstaff he'd donated to fly the chiefs' New Zealand flag was, after the Treaty, flying the Union Jack.

The Treaty's promise of rangatiratanga was proving hollow, the seat of government was moving south and battle commenced.

The British suffered a punishing defeat at Ōhaeawai, when they underestimated the fighting chief Kawiti and his anti-artillery bunkers.

The last stoush, at Ruapekapeka, was at best a draw.

Stories will be told at panel discussions at Te Tii marae this evening. Tomorrow there will be tours of the battle sites, and on Sunday a procession through Russell and a church service to remember those who fell in the New Zealand wars.

Organisers say Pākehā need have no fears about their reception at Te Tii marae.

Huhana Lyndon said everyone was welcome.

The haka at Te Tii marae began at 3pm.

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