Fighting For A Principle? At the Battle of Rangiriri, 1863, General Duncan Cameron's invasion force overcame the Maori King's defences at Rangiriri. It marked the beginning of the end of Maori sovereignty in New Zealand. In proposing to commemorate the New Zealand Wars, what does the Government hope Maori and Pakeha will remember? The "principles" their ancestors died for? We must hope not - lest the war begins again.
IT HAD TO COME, this official recognition of the dead of the New Zealand Wars. After four decades of constant revision, our nation’s story has reached the point where even those who fell in the battles that made it are summoned forth from the shadows. In recognising these ghosts, however, we must not deceive ourselves that the causes for which they fought and died will somehow remain unrecognised.
In announcing the Government’s intention to set aside a day to commemorate those who fell in the battles of one-and-a-half centuries ago, The Deputy-Prime Minister, Bill English declared that the time had come “to recognise our own conflict, our own war, our own fallen, because there is no doubt at Rangiriri ordinary people lost their lives fighting for principle in just the same way as New Zealand soldiers who lost their lives fighting on battlefields on the other side of the world”.
And what principle would that be, Mr English? The principle of dual sovereignty? – because that was what the Kingitanga represented. The principle of tino rangatiratanga? – in recognition of which the sovereign rights of Maori chiefs had been deemed inviolate under the Treaty of Waitangi? Or, was it the more general principle, recognised then, as it is now, that the military invasion and seizure of territory occupied by people who have not struck a blow against you is an international crime?
When teachers are asked to explain why 12,000 Imperial troops invaded the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty in 1863-64, how would Mr English have them reply? Should they tell their pupils that the Maori fighting force, against which this massive army advanced, struggled to maintain a muster of four-figures? And what should they say about the million Maori acres confiscated by the Settler Parliament? How should that be justified?
Perhaps these questions should be left for the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage, Maggie Barry, to answer. She was, after all, the person who described the invasion of the Waikato, and the Battle of Rangiriri, as: “a deeply regrettable time in our history”. Speaking to those gathered to witness the repatriation of the Rangiriri battle-site to the Kingitanga on Friday, 19 August, she emphasised the significance of commemorating the New Zealand Wars: “It is important to us as a nation. At least as important as our World War I commemorations, if not more so.”
Much more so, Ms Barry. The formation of the New Zealand State was predicated on the full and final subjection of its indigenous people. In the two decades separating the signing of the Treaty, in 1840, and the invasion of the Waikato, in 1863, tens of thousands of mostly British immigrants had poured into New Zealand. In 1852, the British Foreign and Colonial Office responded to this influx by granting a large measure of self-government to the burgeoning settler population. The Maori tribes of the North Island interior countered by establishing the Kingitanga. While the Maori King’s writ ran, no more land would be sold to the Pakeha. To the London investors and Auckland land speculators who were chafing at the bit to turn this British “possession” into a paying proposition, such defiance was intolerable. New Zealand’s restless natives needed to be taught a lesson. General Duncan Cameron and his 12,000-strong army would be the teachers.
So what, exactly does Ms Barry find “regrettable” about the New Zealand Wars? That the Pakeha won them? That the confiscated lands of the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki tribes went on to form the foundation of New Zealand’s economic prosperity? That the victory of the colonial forces, by removing the risk of further warfare, prepared the way for the breakneck development of the colony in the half-century that followed? Are these the consequences of the New Zealand Wars that the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage regrets? Probably not.
So what, exactly, will Maori and Pakeha talk about on this yet-to-be-announced day of commemoration? Will the victors tell the vanquished how damned decent it was of their ancestors to let their ancestors kill so many warriors and steal so much land? Will the vanquished shrug their shoulders and say, “No worries, Bro, it was a long time ago”? And will the victors smile indulgently, slap the vanquished on the back, and say: “Quite right, Mate, it was, and we’re all New Zealanders now.”
We shall see. Of one thing we can be certain, however: the dead who have slept for one-and-a-half centuries beneath the disputed soil of Aotearoa will have a very different story to tell.
There is a reason why so many of the signposts to old battle sites are weathered and overgrown; why lichen has been allowed to obliterate the names of those who fell.
Sleeping ghosts, like sleeping dogs, should never be needlessly awakened.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 23 August 2016.
It has turned up out of the blue!.
I hope it does not become another day for protest and vandalism though I suspect that I may be wrong.
I am guessing that National's coalition with the Maori party is the reason.
This seems to be MMP at its worst.
I agree with Chris, sleeping dogs should not be aroused.
Sleeping ghosts, yes i think it is healthy for a Nation to compost it's past so the next generation can prosper (having come in from the garden). Those who want a commemoration are those obsessed with waving dirty laundry. National is on board because they need the Maori Party and National needs to stay in power as it's backers are property developers and associates who risk large financial losses from an alternative to John Key and Diamond Jim Hoskings. It is ironic that one of the measures used to defeat Maori was mass migration:
"I will tell you the real facts, and I think I may say there are only two or three men now living who can speak with equal authority. The Public Works’ Policy seemed to the Government the sole alternative to a war of extermination with the natives. It comprised the construction of railways and roads, and the introduction of a large number of European immigrants. The Government argued that if they could greatly increase the population of the North Island and open up the means of communication through the Island, and at the same time give employment to the Maoris, and make their lands really valuable, they would render impossible any future war on a large scale. They recognised that in point of humanitarianism there was no comparison between the peaceful and warlike alternatives. "
We value academic freedom but Maori Studies is a vipers nest.
"Will the vanquished shrug their shoulders and say, “No worries, Bro, it was a long time ago”? "
Considering Waikato Tainui had to fight long and hard for a treaty settlement that started out with a first offer of $20 million, and ended up with something that was still a very small percentage of what they lost, maybe not. But as Maori seem on the whole much more generous than bureaucrats and politicians, maybe they will. :) However, many Pakeha commentators will be saying "it was a long time ago" – without the no worries. More like, "it was a long time ago why did they have to get anything at all."
A nice holiday to commemorate the NZ Wars will really be looked forward to by those lucky enough to be in work of course, and it will be especially looked forward to by flag-waving separatists who will have new locations to advance their completely unsupportable two governance 'partnership' interpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi with maximum angst. We seem to like poking sticks into wasps’ nests.
The rights and wrongs of the battles and the confiscations will be lost in the recriminations and cries of 'Honour the Treaty' from those who have wilfully misread the Treaty or who have never read it. Nothing succeeds in sanctifying or demonising soldiers or warriors and their causes more than emotive histories of battles and war in general. Already I’ve encountered people who think that ‘Parihaka’ was a bloody massacre, which it wasn’t.
Wars are always predicated on injustices. Trying to unravel the tangle of what how and why is not easy, long after the event. Surely efforts today are being made with recognitions and settlements under Treaty of Waitangi claims..?
Such a holiday of 'commemoration' will simply add another layer of heat to responses to the real question that will still loudly go begging: Is the Treaty of Waitangi a document that embraces separatist development, or isn't it?
For those keen enough to seek that answer, I'd recommend Sir Apirana Ngata's very full expose on 'The Treaty of Waitangi’. His view, as one of the greatest Maori leaders to emerge post 1840, is that it is a document of oneness under one law, not separation. How commemorating wars that arose from breaching this central message of the Treaty can be done without providing more fuel to separatist arguments I can’t imagine. What emphasises differences more than war?
The settlements of the last twenty five years have changed the context for the commemorations, especially in the Waikato. Sure the settlements are not a complete restoration of rights, but they have comprehensively changed the relationship between iwi and government. And just about everyone would say for the better.
So a commemoration of the land wars, primarily the Waikato and Taranaki makes a lot more sense than it would have in the past.
Will they raise old issues and grievances? Yes, but not with nearly the angst that would have been previously the case.
Great post Chris. And later you can tell the story of Kiwi trade unionists maimed and killed by representatives of the NZ govt in industrial disputes over many generations. Some of these actual strike-breakers were farmers sons. Then we can declare a holiday for these victims too.
It will be easy for English to make up a procedure and homily for a ceremony recognising the principles that were fought over. He is in the Party that is the master of flexibility and political adroitness. As the saying goes:
These are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.
(Quote Investigator found this used in 1800s NZ, long before Groucho Marx to whom it is often attributed. It is something we are good at hitherto unrecognised! Now how can we market it?
QI found this version of the quip in a New Zealand paper dated October 18, 1873 [NZT]:
He brought in the Provincial Loan Bill, declaring that, if the House did not accept it, he was prepared to adhere to his original proposal. It was something like the American legislator — “Them’s my principles; but if you don’t like them — I kin change them!”
"Sleeping ghosts, like sleeping dogs, should never be needlessly awakened"
Mmm - essentially the study of history is the digging up of 'sleeping ghosts', albeit written mostly by the winners who use it for their own ends. Do you think perhaps we should remain in ignorance of our pasts? What about the notion that 'if we don't know where we come from we don't know where we're going to'?
Perhaps Mr Key is preparing the nation for the next such deployment we don't know about yet.
Cheers David J S
"In the event there were no expeditions to Norfolk Island or to Samoa because the necessary transport was not secured. But there was an invasion of the Chathams Islands. Two Taranaki tribes then based in Wellington, Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga ki Poneke, hijacked a European vessel in 1835 and had themselves—a total of 900 people—delivered to Chatham Islands. There they takahi'd or walked the land to claim it; ritually killed around 300 Chatham Moriori out of a total of around 1600, and enslaved the survivors—separating husbands from wives, parents from children, forbidding them to speak their own language or practise their own customs, and forcing them to violate the tapus of their culture, whose mana was based on the rejection of violence.
Was this a superior form of colonisation to that imposed by European on Maori? Did it respect the dignity and customs of the colonised? Did it acknowledge the mana whenua of the tchakat henu or indigenous people of the Chathams? It did not. It was what might now be called an exercise in ethnic cleansing. When Bishop Selwyn arrived in the islands in 1848, it was to discover that the Maori called Moriori "Paraiwhara" or "Blackfellas"; and it was to report that the Moriori population continued to decline at a suicidal rate as a consequence of kongenge or despair. Moriori slaves were not released and New Zealand law was not established on the islands until 1862, twenty years after they had become part of New Zealand. And it is that twenty years of neglect of fiduciary duty on the part of the Crown that is the basis for the Moriori claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, heard in 1994, but still not reported upon.
The point in raising the Chathams experience is not to use it as a stick with which to beat Maori—especially in view of what I have been saying about not visiting the sins of the fathers, or mothers, onto subsequent generations. I draw attention to it in the spirit of a historian who says, Take care. The evidence of history is unanimous on only one point. It shows us that no race or culture is inherently superior or inferior to another; and we all have skeletons in our ancestral closets that represent instances of behaviour of which we cannot be wholly proud by today's standards of ethics and morality. "
The other thing is historical grievance (or trauma), this is narrative and narrative has been shown to be the conduit for poor outcomes for indigenous peoples.
It's always interesting g to see how afraid NZers are of their own history. Surely a civilised society can discuss these things sensibly.
It's not out of the blue. And yes, it will highlight serious discussion. But that's what civilised societies do.
First comment at 8.37
Repetitive common sense comment based on false beliefs. When studying societies it is apparent that a so-called civilised society is one where there has been a concerted effort to place limits on the baser side of human behaviour. This has never resulted in long-term success, and is a dynamic process with tides of effort advancing and receding. At present we are in a recession of civilisation.
Also sensibleness can't be pinned down in a universal way ie your sensibleness may be to say 'Give up, it's the only sensible thing to do'
and mine may be to say 'F.. off, this is extortion'.
Your second comment about serious discussion being what civilised societies do. Can you count off the number of civilised societies having serious discussions about the troubling violence that besets the people of the world right now? Why for instance, looking across at Australia, haven't we been able to stop with serious discussion, their withdrawal of human rights to New Zealanders, their close neighbours and 'friends' and allies?
You are not a deep thinker are you Ron K.
We do. Its called Labour Day.
This piece is very refreshing to me, because every now and then I forget how old white people think about history.
That is a bizarre response. Maybe I'm not as articulate ad I'd like to be but I think my point was clear. We should not be afraid to confront difficult conversations. Not sure why you felt the need for the personal abuse.
The Japanese (of course) had Unit 731 - it should be taught in all Japanese schools "it's our history" (not that Japan has a Chinese minority)?
I'm reading about the NZ Wars Documentary. Landmarks (The "Legendary) documentary has been all but biffed out. How did we go from a celebration to masochistic self loathing?
Belich aims to challenge discourses of scientific racism, colonial military superiority, Pakeha nationalism, monoculturalism and the myth of good race relations. Belich’s histories are best situated in relation to bicultural discourses that advocate equal power sharing of ‘two peoples’, whilst also drawing attention to the injustices of colonisation. In terms of his role in the production of TNZW, and in particular, his collaboration with Stephens, Belich has also been influenced by the ‘anti-colonial’ and ‘tribal’ discourses
Now it is in every secondary school and what lesson is it trying to tell us? The recent "That's a bit Racist" is just another attempt to get us to accept the decolonising discourse that Maori are on their knees due to colonisation (not the Maori middle class though). I can't find the quote but Eric Kaufmann says calling Trump supporters racist only has them digging their toes in.
TNZW appears to be an attempt to disrupt the idea of nation by intervening in cultural memory. I'm wondering if the lesson isn't "if you have a war make a good job of it. Bones make good fertiliser". Many Maori today seem to have some expectation that Pakeha will now roll on their backs in acquiescence?
So many twits think one good act deserves another. Gareth Morgan starting a political party then (in a video) emphasising the resources belong to Maori is the silliest thing I've ever seen and now Geoff Simmons thinks he is on to a winner courting the Maori Party ....?
Reading the comments on your article in Stuff gives a better idea of what's it all about Alfie
"Nice how a lot of people say we should forget about this and move on when they are living with the legacy of what happened to the indigenous people. 27% of the British Emperial forces came here to dispossess Māori of their lands and their survival is something to be amazed at. " etc etc.
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