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Tribal conflict behind Ngatapa killings

Opinion Piece

Sadly, your report on the Ngatapa commemoration made no attempt to explain how and why the siege, route, and executions of 120 there occurred, who was on what side, and why the hero of the campaign, Rapata Wahawaha of Ngati Porou, was ignored.

While researching The First Colonist, a book about my great-grandfather, Samuel Deighton, who was the magistrate in Wairoa at the time, I found details of the conflict in his “inward letters” which are primary sources to the history of the period.

Those letters shed light on names and places mentioned in The Herald’s report, such as the siege of Waerenga a Hika, Rongowhakaata, Ringatu, Te Kooti, and Tuhoe, as well the “other Maori tribal groups working with the Crown”.

Wahawaha led pro-government Maori in Gisborne and is largely responsible for the long period of peaceful development the Gisborne area has enjoyed since 1869. Yet the Herald report ignores him.

Rongowhakaata, with Aitanga-a-Mahaki, were the main tribes recruited by Pai Marire, which settlers called “hau haus” for their battle cry, and feared because they beheaded their victims and used the dried heads in rituals.

Today, Pai Marire would be regarded as a terrorist group along the lines of Isis.

These rebels were emphatically defeated at Waerenga a Hika on November 11, 1865.

Te Kooti was on the Crown side at Waerenga a Hika but was suspected of supporting the rebels so was shipped off to the Chatham Islands in 1865 with other prisoners.

He formed his Ringatu religion while in prison there and seized a ship to escape with nearly 300 men, women, and children in July of 1868.

He waged a guerrilla war which included the murders of 72 at Matawhero in November 1868 and 30 at Mohaka in April 1869 — non-combatant men, women, and children.

Tuhoe sheltered Te Kooti until 1871 when Wahawaha drove him into the King Country, where he remained until his eventual pardon in 1883.

If your reporter had looked into Wahawaha’s background, he would have seen that he had been captured as a child in 1828 in a land dispute between Ngati Porou and Rongowhakaata, and kept as a slave.

After his release in 1839, revenge on Rongowhakaata was a driving force of his life and he was the one fighter that Rongowhakaata feared most.

Wahawaha led Ngati Porou forces for the Crown at Ngatapa, made no apology for his actions in the campaign, and was awarded a sword of honour in 1878 by Queen Victoria for his services in the wars.

Ngatapa was not the only battle after which Wahawaha had prisoners shot and he was not the only Maori leader of Crown forces to shoot prisoners.

Wars in the 1860s were fought according to the rules of engagement, in New Zealand, at that time — and that included killing the defeated ?and destroying the homes and crops of the defeated.

We can tut-tut about that from the safety of the 21st century but nothing will change what happened.

The Gisborne Herald’s commemoration story is really a commemoration by the defeated, many of whom have been generously compensated for hurts sustained by their forebears 150 years ago.

No compensation has been paid to non-Maori whose forebears suffered through that period, such as the Lavin family, murdered by Te Kooti’s forces at Mohaka, their children tossed in the air and impaled on bayonets.

So, the Gisborne Herald’s commemoration story was not really ‘‘an education for Turanga hapu and iwi”; it was just a gathering for some of the descendants of those who were defeated.

Mike Butler