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Rangiriri commemorations a moving occasion

November 25

MEDIA RELEASE

Rangiriri commemorations a moving occasion

Recent 150th anniversary commemorations at the site of Rangiriri Pa – a Waikato War site that is the only battle ground cared for by the NZ Historic Places Trust in the Waikato – had a deep effect on many people who attended.

And among the people moved by the day was Amy Hobbs – the NZHPT’s Heritage Destinations Manager Central, who oversees the maintenance and site interpretation at Rangiriri.

“Rangiriri is one of the most important battles of the Waikato War campaign in which 1400 British troops attacked a well designed defensive pa sheltering about 500 Kingitanga warriors,” says Amy.

“The battle, which took place on November 20 in 1863, cost both sides more than any other engagement of the Waikato Wars, and is a place of major historical significance for Maori and Pakeha.”

The commemoration events – which included powerful haka, dramatic re-enactments of events and solemn memorial ceremonies – were a fitting reminder of the carnage that took place on the site 150 years ago to the day.

“No-one present could have remained unmoved by the commemoration of the dreadful events that occurred at Rangiriri,” she says.

“It was a wonderful privilege for me and other NZHPT colleagues to be present at this occasion, and to experience the heartfelt commemoration Waikato Tainui and others organised to mark the day.”

The Rangiriri battle was a disaster for the British, who lost 39 men in the attack with a further 93 wounded. Ten later died of their wounds. Maori also suffered severely, with 41 Maori killed in the battle including 5 women and one child. Casualties included men, women and children shot by British troops as they tried to escape from Rangiriri through a nearby swamp.

“The attack on Rangiriri was one of the darkest days in New Zealand history, and that makes it all the more important for the story to be told, so that we can understand the events that took place there, and its subsequent impact on us as a nation,” says Amy.

The Waikato War occurred as a result of increasing numbers of European settlers to New Zealand increasing demand for land – and the Waikato offered good land in abundance. Waikato tribes, however, thrived off their lands and were reluctant to relinquish their traditional ownership, economic powerbase and homes.

Maori responded to fears of a Waikato invasion by establishing the Kingitanga Movement in 1858. Under Chief Potatau Te Wherowhero – the first Maori King – Maori began uniting against land sales and increasing settler encroachment, bringing them head to head with the New Zealand Government.

The eventual British invasion of the Waikato set out to crush Kingitanga power which the British saw as a threat to their authority, and to drive Maori from their lands so that European settlement could take place, striking at the heartland of Maori economic autonomy in the Waikato.

By the end of the Waikato campaign, more than a million acres of ancestral Maori land had been confiscated by the British. In 1995 the Crown conceded that the 1863 invasion and confiscation was wrong, and the Queen of England formally apologised in person during her 1995 visit to New Zealand.

“Rangiriri was the first major battle between Maori and the British, and is a place that all New Zealanders should experience. With new interpretation on-site, the 150th anniversary commemorations relating to the Waikato campaign over the next 10 months provides a good opportunity for people to learn more about this important part of our history,” she says.

The NZHPT recently developed the app-based Waikato War Driving Tour, which engages digital technology to take visitors on a driving tour of sites related to the Waikato War of 1863-64. For more information – or to download the app for free – log on to www.thewaikatowar.co.nz. (An education package is also available for download.)

ENDS

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