As a country, we’ve had other wars


My daughter is named Te Ahipourewa after my great-grandfather’s sister. My ancestor, Te Ahipourewa, is thought to have fought and died in the Waikato wars.

My late granduncle recalls a story he was told as a child about a staunch woman who took to her horse with her gun during the land confiscation in the King Country and rode with the rebels defending our lands.

I haven’t been able to verify this story through historic documents but as an oral piece of history it is pretty impressive.

If Te Ahipourewa did fight and die in the Waikato wars she would be one of an estimated 2990 men and women who died on New Zealand’s battlefields. It is thought about 730 British and colonial troops and 2254 Māori lost their lives.

The battles began in the north at Kororāreka, or Russell, in 1845 – just five years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The following year battles erupted in Wellington and Whanganui. Then, after a 13-year break from war fighting began again, this time in northern Taranaki, then Waikato, followed by Tauranga’s Battle of Gate Pa and Te Ranga.

At the same time Taranaki was being attacked again by colonial troops at the battle of Te Ahuahu. For five years fighting continued south, ending in 1869 at the battle of Taurangaika near Waitotara. The last area to come under colonial and British attack was the east coast, where Māori leader Te Kooti was defeated in one of the last battles of 1869 at Te Pōrere.

The New Zealand Wars (Ngā Pākanga Whenua ō Mua) were for many decades known as the Māori Wars. Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare is a trustee for the Northern Wars organisation Ruapekapeka Trust. He believes many people confused the earlier intertribal musket wars which took place about 1810 with the New Zealand wars, which began about 1843. Mr Henare said that was exactly why we needed to teach New Zealand history in our schools.

Education Minister Hekia Parata encourages schools to teach both sides of New Zealand history – the colonial and the Māori – but said she would not go as far as making it compulsory.

“Because that is not the New Zealand way, we do not compel specific things. I’m not requiring every school to teach coding even though there is a group who wants that to happen.”

But can we trust ‘the New Zealand way’ to ensure we produce well rounded New Zealanders with a good understanding of our past?

History Teachers Association chairman Graham Wall said there was no prescribed curriculum for history, so teachers around the country could choose to teach whatever they wanted. He said it was conceivable that could mean no New Zealand history was taught at all.

It is remarkable to me that a country does not see the teaching of its own history as one of the cornerstones of a rounded education. All of us have ancestors who did things we would not want to be reminded of or feel responsible for today.  Similarly, all of us have ancestors we are proud of.

We can’t just pick and choose. Just like there were good Nazis, there were bad colonials, and Maori may have been outnumbered but they certainly had a proud record of punching above their weight.

This isn’t about taking sides, or redressing wrongs, or being scared to open up yet another branch of the grievance industry.

By denying our own history, we don’t know who we are. And the New Zealand wars were part of the formative stages and the birth of New Zealand as we  know it today. To ignore it, or even deny it, is unusual. Other countries don’t do that.


– Mihingarangi Forbes, RNZ / Pete

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