Past Māori and Pākehā conflict

There have increasing calls for more Aotearoa New Zealand history to be taught in schools. When I was at school it was sadly lacking, and it is still deficient.

Kennett Watkins’ painting of the death of Gustavus von Tempsky during a battle against Tītokowaru at Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu, 1868.

Vincent O’Malley: Why we need to open up about past Māori and Pākehā conflict

It began with a single musket shot, fired perhaps by accident, in Wairau, near Nelson, in 1842. It ended with desultory gunfire in a steep and sodden gorge south of Waikaremoana in 1873.

Bookended by these two inglorious events, the New Zealand Wars claimed the lives of an estimated 2250 Māori and 560 British and colonial troops. Records are far from complete, but, including the wounded, the number of casualties could be more than 6000. The result was the transfer of nearly 1.5 million hectares of land into European hands, most commonly through the 1863 New Zealand Settlements Act. They changed the social, economic and political landscape forever.

Still, says Wellington historian Vincent O’Malley, we barely talk about it. Commemorations are few, many of the war sites are degraded and unmarked, the myth of a chivalrous and noble battle, sowing the seeds for the “best race relations in the world”, has been shattered. Today, students can go through school without learning any New Zealand history.

“Which is staggering to me,” says O’Malley. “This is our story, our history. It happened here, in this place, relatively recently, and it had profound consequences for what New Zealand would become. These were defining conflicts of New Zealand history and, as a nation, we need to take ownership of them.”

He argued the point in his 2016 book, The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000. The defining conflict in New Zealand history, he wrote, “did not take place on the Western Front, or at Gallipoli, or in North Africa”, but rather, in Waikato, 1863-64, in a premeditated war of conquest and invasion on the part of the Crown.

A bloody trail

Now, in his new book, The New Zealand Wars: NgāPakanga o Aotearoa, he walks us through the causes, course and consequences of the New Zealand Wars as a whole. It is a story played out on a ragged map, zigzagging across the North Island and the top of the South, from Northland, down to Wairau, Wellington, Whanganui, up to Taranaki, over to the Tauranga, then to the North Island’s West Coast, back to Tairāwhiti, then to South Taranaki and finally into the dense bush of the central North Island, where the hunt for Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki was finally abandoned.

Land, power and ideology

The obvious impetus for the New Zealand Wars was land – Māori had it, the British wanted it, the New Zealand Company overpromised on it. But land was not the sole cause. For a start, imperial troops were not always sympathetic to settlers’ land hunger. In 1855, Governor Thomas Gore Browne complained that many of the settlers were “insatiably greedy for land”, and when land could not be procured honestly, “still they desire to have it”.

The wars were also about power and hierarchical ideologies. The increasing number of settlers – by 1858, their population equalled that of Māori – arrived in New Zealand with deeply entrenched Victorian assumptions of racial superiority. They were certainly not willing, says O’Malley, “to defer to a bunch of people they dismissively called ‘natives’”.

At the heart of this was the tension inherent in Te Tiriti o Waitangi/The Treaty of Waitangi itself. In the English version, the British Crown proclaimed sovereignty over New Zealand. The Māori version stopped short of ceding sovereignty, referring instead to “kāwanatanga”, commonly translated as “governorship” or “governance”. Māori communities were promised “tino rangatiratanga” (chiefly authority) over their lands and resources.

The wars tipped the scales. The government did not achieve the total victory it wanted, but in the battle between two competing ideas of what the treaty stood for, it was the Crown’s version that won. This envisaged a treaty of cession and unbridled sovereignty, notes O’Malley, not mutual partnership and dialogue.

Like most Kiwis, O’Malley, now 51, went through school without learning any of this history. After all, his teacher assured him, “nothing really interesting ever happened here.” But when he took a New Zealand history course as an easy filler at university, “I was blown away – the idea nothing interesting ever happened in this country couldn’t be further from the truth.”

O’Malley is making an urgent call for this history to be more widely known. “It is about taking ownership of our history, binding us together as a nation that can honestly confront its own past. We need to own this history. Doing that is not intended to sow the seeds of division or disharmony. It is actually the basis for genuine reconciliation.”

I think we have quite a way to go to learn about the history of our own country. And quite a way to go with reconciliation.

Timeline of key events related to New Zealand’s 19th-century wars.

  • About 1807: First use of muskets in battle in New Zealand, by Ngāpuhi
  • 1809: Crew of Boyd killed by Ngāti Uru at Whangaroa
  • 1818–25: Ngāpuhi raids across North Island
  • 1821–6: Ngāti Toa and other iwi migrate from Waikato to Wellington area
  • 1829–37: Ngāti Toa and allies fight Ngāi Tahu in South Island
  • 1835: Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama invade Wharekauri/Chatham Islands
  • 1840: Treaty of Waitangi; first large-scale British settlement
  • 1843: Twenty-two Pākehā and 4 Māori die when land dispute between Ngāti Toa and Nelson settlers turns violent at Wairau
  • 1845–6: Inconclusive Northern War which splits Ngāpuhi for and against government
  • 1846: Fighting near Wellington as Ngāti Toa resist expansion of settlement
  • 1847: Fighting around Whanganui as up-river tribes attack settlement
  • 1858: Coronation of Māori King symbolises opposition to further land sales
  • 1860–1: First Taranaki War ends in stalemate between government and local iwi
  • 1863–4: Waikato War – Kīngites expelled from lower/mid-Waikato and Tauranga
  • 1863: Suppression of Rebellion Act enables confiscation of land of ‘rebel’ Māori
  • 1864–8: Many small conflicts, most between Pai Mārire followers and other Māori
  • 1865, 1866: Campaigns in south Taranaki by imperial troops
  • 1868–9: Titokowaru’s War threatens settler control of Whanganui area
  • 1868–72: Te Kooti raids across central North Island and is pursued by kūpapa
  • 1881: Māori autonomy in south Taranaki ends with occupation of Parihaka
  • 1884: Survey of King Country; Pākehā no longer excluded
  • 1890s: Urewera Māori resist land surveys
  • 1898: Hokianga Māori assert rights in ‘Dog Tax Rebellion
  • 1916: Arrest of Rua Kēnana at Maungapōhatu ends Māori autonomy in Urewera

– New Zealand History: New Zealand’s 19th-century wars

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  1. Gezza

     /  3rd June 2019

    I find New Zealand history interesting & there’s quite a lot on many of these wars & conflicts & the central characters on Wikipedia. And the history of some of the individual conflicts is usually traversed in some detail during the final Treaty Settlements.

    But teaching the history of them could be problematic in some cases because of the difficulty of getting agreement on which side’s version or perspective is fair, true, or correct & the propensity of Pakeha in NZ to regard history as past events they are not responsible for & would not themselves do today, while some Maori are too ready to say to a modern day descendant of European settlers generations back: “YOU stole our land”, as though they did. But they didn’t.

    How do you teach it so that it doesn’t stir up or perpetuate animosity?

    • Gezza

       /  3rd June 2019

      PS: I’m originally from New Plymouth in Taranaki so I’m familiar with Watkins’ painting of the death of Von Tempsky. Either the original or a reproduction was in the old New Plymouth museum, which had a superb section on Taranaki history, a moa skeleton, & models of pa & redoubts, & Maori & early colonial artefacts.

      The Wikipedia article on Von Tempsky paints a generally unflattering picture:

  2. Gerrit

     /  3rd June 2019

    Problem with the “reconciliation” currently is that it is all one way traffic. Tauiwi give, Maori take. Those who are born here from Tauiwi stock are judged to be of lesser status than Maori.

    A good start for a two way dialog and atonement in historically driven “reconciliation” is for Maori to acknowledge the Tangata Whenua status of ALL people born here.

    And yes, much was taken from Maori by conniving Tauiwi early settlers and governance.

    But how can that ever be “reconciled” when, as Gezza says, the majority of people today are neither in a position to, have the ability to and feel compelled to recompense for ever more into the future, for what happened historically yesterday by people they have had no control or influence over.

    So where to draw the line under the settlement process? At what point will there be racial equality?

    Or do we go the whole apartheid route and have forced separation between the races along judiciary and physical boundaries?

    • Patzcuaro

       /  3rd June 2019

      What is the difference between Tauiwi and Pakeha?

      • Gerrit

         /  3rd June 2019

        Tauiwi is any non Maori colonist be they Indian, Chinese, Fijian, Japanese, Etc., descent.

        Pakeha is assigned to white colonists though in truth they are Tauiwi as well.

    • duperez

       /  3rd June 2019

      Things like all traffic going one way for a while then going the other is not uncommon. You have it, “Tauiwi give, Maori take” then, “And yes, much was taken from Maori by conniving Tauiwi early settlers and governance.”

      How is that resolved and how is history taught so that it doesn’t stir up or perpetuate animosity? You don’t, those things are unavoidable. It’s called the human condition. All that can be hoped for is that some sort of accomodation comes about and lunatics don’t rule with consequent chaos.

    • harryk

       /  3rd June 2019

      ”At what point will there be racial equality’

      Best to take racial language out of the reconciliation and rights discourse altogether. ‘Race’ is a discredited 19th century construct that kicks on because it’s still useful for vested interests on both left and right. Indigenous land rights are justified because they preceded European settlement, not because of ‘race’. Racial theories have proven detrimental to indigenous peoples in Australasia, and may again in the future, they of all people should not seek to use them. I’ve always regarded your Treaty of Waitangi, by which the British sought to make allies of indigenous people whose heirarchies they admired and recognised as similar to their own, and the absence of anything comparable in Australia, as evidence of the genocidal intent of the British. The charge of genocide turns on intent, almost impossible to demonstrate without documentary evidence. The indigenous peoples of NZ would make useful allies for the Empire because of race and culture, the indigenous peoples of Australia would not, thus no serious effort was made.

      • Gerrit

         /  4th June 2019

        That is far to simplistic an explanation. Here was another very big reason why the English and Maori needed a treaty. The French. French had settled in Akoroa and with the Lavaud on the “Comte de Paris” nearing New Zealand in July 1840, some formative action to establish the British colony was required Thus the Treat of Waitangi was created.

        As far as it not being a racial divide, you simply are using PC talk to distinguish between the first colonists people (Maori) and any second or third colonist people after Maori. Call it by race or who colonised first, it makes no difference.

        In New Zealand we are all from a colonist heritage. Unlike the Aborigine in Australia who are truly indigenous. Australia’s size, very low Aborigine population densities and their hunter gatherer anthropology developed societies, meant they could be ignored as having no practical impact or usefulness to British colonisation.

        Not like New Zealand where Maori dominated the land and coastal area’s. I dont know if the British admired Maori anthropology development (as you claim), but they recognized the danger faced if colonisation was to proceed. In New Zealand. Tthe British needed to negotiate and appease where as in Australia they only needed a gun (and not very many at that).

        One must be careful to interpret and understand history through the eyes of the people , societies and cultures at that time, not judged through hindsight, knowledge and anthropological development since then.

        Colonisation of Australia and New Zealand has continued at pace with the Asian invasion. Who knows what treaty the peoples of Australia and New Zealand will need in the future?

        • harryk

           /  4th June 2019

          ‘Call it by race or who colonised first, it makes no difference’

          Gerrit. Yes, it does make a difference. Race based discourse, in my opinion, is never ethically justified. Nor is ‘race’ real.

          ‘Aborigine in Australia who are truly indigenous’

          Autochthonous, and indigenous.

          ‘in Australia they only needed a gun’

          They needed both more, and less, than a gun. Their narrative to justify their destruction of indigenous peoples was racial superiority and inevitability. they did nothing to prevent genocide while allowing settlers to perpetrate it. Here is an example of British genocidal thinking. W.Churchill 1937 –

          ‘I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.’

          ‘One must be careful to interpret and understand history through the eyes of the people , societies and cultures at that time, not judged through hindsight’

          Apologists and revisionists of WW2, Hitler, his party and the German people of the 1930’s and 40s, will love your suggestion. Nevertheless, I will continue to reserve the right to judge them.

          Asian invasion? Really?? Now Gerrit, surely you can do better than this facile Pauline Hanson conspiracy stuff.

  3. Griff.

     /  3rd June 2019

    Timeline of key events related to New Zealand’s 19th-century wars.

    Most of the death and destruction is not even mentioned.
    The Maori wars between 1800 and 1840 get five lines for as many as 50,000 killed .
    One line for every 10,000 dead.
    Yet many lines for the so called land wars with a death toll of 2,000 on both sides .
    One line for every 100 deaths?

    That is not a history of New Zealand’s wars between 1800 and 1900 it is anti European propaganda.

    Yes we need to look at the past to understand who we are.
    We need to look at the past in its entirety not just focus on the white man bad myths.

    • duperez

       /  3rd June 2019

      You show nicely the nuances of even discussing the subject with (for you) the significance of the number of deaths being determined by how many lines and words are written about them. And determining that the O’Malley thing or the linked reference are not a history of New Zealand’s wars between 1800 and 1900 but are anti European propaganda.

      If every bit of information about what happened, or was said to have happened, from those who there at the time could be put in one place and studied, a group putting out considered summaries and conclusions would likely vary considerably in what they’d say.

      From one end of the spectrum we’d likely even have someone suggesting that the name ‘Warriors’ was inappropriate for a New Zealand sports team.

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  3rd June 2019

    Seems history is just another battleground in the culture wars. I’m more interested in fixing present problems. Those who can afford to fixate on the past probably don’t have any.

    • haryyk

       /  3rd June 2019

      just another battleground in the culture wars

      History began as a tool to legitimise authority, power and wealth derived from genealogy. Oral then written, kings governments and challengers commissioned histories that served their interests. And still do.

    • Patzcuaro

       /  3rd June 2019

      That is great news Alan todays major problem is climate change any thoughts on how to make things better for future generations?

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  3rd June 2019

        Yep. Do the things that make economic and conservation sense and keep trying to find and invent more. Ignore people who have no knowledge of either. That includes most journalists and self-declared climate scientists.


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