Monday, August 22, 2016

One day, many wars

It is good to see the government promising a national day of commemoration for the New Zealand Wars, the conflicts that killed thousands of people in these islands between 1843 and 1916.

The New Zealand Wars were intermittent, regional, and very complex. Often they had more than two sides. 
When Te Kooti waged his guerrilla war in the central North Island in the late 1860s and early '70s, for example, he found himself fighting not only the colonial army controlled by the Pakeha government in Wellington, but the forces of the Ngati Porou and Te Arawa peoples, who had chosen for their own reasons to make an alliance with the Crown. As the war developed Te Kooti made his own alliances, winning support from the Tuhoe people of the Ureweras and from sections of the Tuwharetoa people of the Taupo region. 
Te Kooti even found some Pakeha supporters. A group of Irish Fenians sold him ammunition, and a trade unionist and anarchist named Arthur Desmond was almost lynched after performing a poem in his honour in a Pakeha settlement on the East Coast. Despite the urgings of Wellington, the British government, which had become increasingly critical of New Zealand's colonists, refused to support the struggle against Te Kooti. 
The outcomes of the New Zealand Wars were also complex. Many iwi suffered devastating land confiscations in the aftermath of their struggles with the Crown. The Tainui peoples lost more than two million acres in the aftermath of the conquest of the Waikato. Crown land confiscations were justified as punishment for rebellion, but they were motivated by the greed of property speculators. Some iwi that had fought hard against the invasion of the Waikato saw their lands untouched, because they were of little economic value, while iwi that had remained neutral but lived on desirable land, like Ngati Kahukura of Waiuku, suffered confiscations. 
A few iwi were able to emerge from the New Zealand Wars with their lands relatively intact. After a civil war in which supporters of an alliance with Pakeha were triumphant, Ngati Porou contributed men to the struggle against Te Kooti. After that war had finished the iwi held on to the weapons it had been given to fight Te Kooti, and threatened to use them against any Pakeha who tried to take their lands. The government in Wellington shelved plans to push settlers into Ngati Porou's region.
When it organises commemorations of the New Zealand Wars, the state should make a distinction between the facts of history and the interpretation of these facts.* Kiwis should be given the facts of their country's nineteenth century history, and encouraged to debate the meaning of these facts. The details of Te Kooti's life are clear and dramatic, but different people in different places will inevitably have different opinions on the meaning of his life. For some commentators, Te Kooti has been a fanatic and a terrorist; for others, he has been a freedom fighter; for still others, he was a misunderstood man of peace.

The commemorations of the New Zealand Wars could be an opportunity for us all to learn more not just about the facts of our country's history but about the many ways that the past can be viewed. 
Although the New Zealand Wars deserve their own day of commemoration, they should also be remembered on Anzac Day. The first Anzacs fought not at Gallipoli but in the Waikato and Taranaki Wars of the 1860s, when many hundreds of soldier-settlers from Victoria and New South Wales joined colonial New Zealand troops in their battles against Maori.

*Admittedly, hard and fast distinctions between fact and interpretation are often difficult to make.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Blogger Susan Thorpe said...

It would be wonderful too, to commemorate our indigenous peace traditions, especially that of Moriori

10:05 am  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Amene to that Susan!

3:05 pm  
Blogger Mark Derby said...

Arthur Desmond was not lynched for 'performing a poem' in Te Kooti's honour, Scott. In fact, he turned up at a couple of feverish public meetings in the Gisborne area, called by Pakeha settlers who were appalled at the prospect that Te Kooti and his entourage might arrive there to advance their Ringatu religion (which had many followers among local Maori. Desmond had been living among these Ringatu supporters and acted as their spokesman. At these public meetings, he defended Te Kooti's lawful right to go where he wished. He was bodily thrown out of the meetings. Only the presence of the police, thought a reporter, saved him from serious injury.A month later the Sydney 'Bulletin" published his poem 'Song of Te Kooti'.

4:37 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Interesting how history proceeds in these ambiguous and contradictory ways. The British government were not supportive in many cases of colonialism but private interests were. The settlers were the most vigilant in fighting Maori but were trained often by Maori not "involved"...Te Kooti's motivations were complex.

But the First World War is something, especially the Dardenelles nonsense, is something they should shut up in a box. What was NZ doing attacking the Turks? Churchill's nonsense...

Henri Barbusse shows in his book 'Under Fire' about WWI that it was nothing to do with NZ or Australia. It was simply a horror, a meaningless horror.

But the NZ Wars are neglected. It is good the focus is shifting back.

11:46 pm  
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12:26 am  

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