When two tribes go to war

Gangs have decided to settle some differences by having a boxing match or two instead of shooting at each other in the high street.

On Saturday, the gangs had a fight.

I craned forward to watch. A professional curiosity, of course. At least it was until I started cheering.

Gang fights are hardly new. Gangs have fought for as long as gangs have existed.

One lunchtime in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square in 1980, the Mongrel Mob and Black Power attempted to resolve their differences. The gang members postured around, each waiting for the other to make a move. Laden with weapons, one side moving forward, the other back, then the reverse, like a menacing dance. Which is exactly how the large crowd saw it. The fight occurred during an Arts Festival, and the dozens of onlookers thought the groups were engaging in radical street theatre. The curtain came down on this particular act with a tomahawk to the back of a head. The crowd departed without a hint of applause and there was no call for an encore.

On Saturday night, however, the rules changed. The gang fights on Saturday were in the ring, more Queensberry rules and less pool cues to the face. Furthermore, it involved groups who have been the fiercest of enemies for as long as anybody can remember and for reasons everyone has long forgotten. It’s part of a broader movement within the gang scene to change some of the negative behaviours that have defined it in the past.

But if there’s one thing the public dislikes more than gangs misbehaving, it’s gangs behaving. “It’s a front for organised crime! It’s all part of a recruitment drive!” The public isn’t happy unless it’s seeing menace.

So did anything get resolved?   We really don’t find out:

I went to the event with Rex Timu and some of his boys from the Hastings Mongrel Mob, a group that, in fairness, hasn’t enjoyed the most positive of reputations. At 51 years old Rex quit the smokes, trained, and slipped between the ropes to have a fight. His opponent, a younger, heavier and likable man knocked Rex down twice. Twice he climbed back to his feet. His mana was not diminished by hitting the canvas, only enhanced by climbing off it.

It’s trite to say that I saw Rex’s journey to change the Mongrel Mob in that fight, but to see Black Power members applaud his efforts – some with much difficulty – is evidence that change is certainly happening.

But is anybody noticing? Not really. One who was meant to be there to witness it was Hone Harawira. He was supposed to be sitting next to me.

Change it may be.  But is it for the better?   I guess we won’t know.


– Dr Jarrod Gilbert*, NZ Herald


* Dr Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist at the University of Canterbury.  He is the author of “Patched: The history of gangs in New Zealand”

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