Shocking history reverberates today
The series of articles this week by Tanith Wirihana Te Waitohioterangi have set the scene for his column published today in the Weekender on the massacre at Ngatapa on January 5, 1869 — when Crown forces stripped and executed between 86 and 128 prisoners.
This atrocity, inflicted to avenge a murderous raid on Matawhero by Te Kooti and his forces two months earlier that left between 50 and 70 settlers and Maori dead, has been described as the darkest day in New Zealand’s history.
The raid on Matawhero came in response to Poverty Bay forces pursuing Te Kooti and his men, known as the whakarau (exiles or unhomed), after their escape from the Chatham Islands — where they had been incarcerated without trial following the siege of Waerenga-a-Hika pa in November 1865, when Pai Marire forces and local supporters aiming to protect their land were defeated with the loss of 71 lives.
The Waitangi Tribunal, in releasing its Turanga findings in 2004 — after extensive review by historians and a court-like proceeding for the Crown and claimants — outlined factors that “help us to understand why the murders (at Matawhero) happened, even if they go no way to justifying them. Above all, these things demonstrate clearly that the Turanga tragedy need never have happened”.
It said the evidence showed Te Kooti and the whakarau were driven to the excesses of the Turanga murders by the legacy of the siege and their arrest and detention “by a Crown which was itself acting in a lawless and ruthless manner, by a local militia which, in the name of the Crown, had an overweening view of its military role and capabilities; by the proposed introduction of a process for the systematic theft of the whakarau’s land, and, finally by the rubbing of Te Kooti’s nose in the dispossession of his own land interests’’.
The fighting here between Crown forces and Maori decimated the local population — an estimated 43 percent of the men of Turanga were killed — and led to the confiscation of 280,000 acres of land.
This is our history, it is deeply confronting, and the shocking impacts of it reverberate strongly today for the tangata whenua of Turanganui-a-Kiwa.
Until very recently, this history has mostly been told from a Eurocentric point of view. That is being corrected and Tanith is participating in this rightful revision — as are a bevy of Tairawhiti artists who are also helping us all to confront our past, in helping to understand our present, and chart a better future.