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Shocking history reverberates today

Editorial

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.

  1. Peter Jones says:

    What is your game? Why do you want to luxuriate in all this negativity? Where is the relevance to the modern world? Aren’t we divided enough already?

    1. Tanith Wirihana Te Waitohioterangi says:

      I always find it interesting how the premise of New Zealand is based on an echo chamber or perhaps even an asylum. There can be no cracks in its armour ever.

      But excuse me Mr Jones, we’ve got a thing going on. There’s these severed heads at Ngatapa and all of the band-aids on earth aren’t going to fix them.

      Unity does not mean that we must be assimilated into a parasitic organism hosting on its indigenous body and become a hive mind as you have suggested. Government is established on division. From the Haves to the Have nots. The minority and majority. This division is as the Gorillaz say in the song Cline Eastwood: ‘all in your head’.

      I know in your culture that to accept accountability means that you lose prestige – but let me tell you acceptance is the first step to recovery.

  2. Bob Hughes says:

    Thanks Editor and The Gisborne Herald for opening this page to the true information that our one-sided early history has mostly omitted from the records.
    I am much more aware now of the imposed, abusive, exploitative, racist power relations on Maori society by British colonisation. I strongly agree we must all confront our past to understand our present and before moving on.

    1. Gordon Webb says:

      Bob – I was not at Ngatapa when the massacre took place. I bear no responsibility for what happened. Why is it helpful for me to confront a past ? What is it about my present that I don’t understand? Do you really think the people of Uganda [in relation to Idi Amin] or Cambodia about Pol Pot thought about reaching for their history books and studying Hitler or Stalin and other despots before letting their leaders come to power? Do you really think we learn a lot from history? Oh, and by the way thanks to the rule of law and other terrible colonial rituals we are actually a lot more civilized now.

  3. Baz Davies. says:

    Tanith is right some aspects of NZ history tend to have a distinct bias. The memory of those killed by Cook are still remembered, but who remembers the first meeting between Maori and European in 1642, when four members of Abel Tasman’s crew were killed after their boat was rammed by a Waka.
    Tasman named the area Murderer’s Bay and quickly departed.
    As history records show, most meetings between different races and tribes have not always ended well, but dwelling on the wrongs of the past can restrict future progress.

    1. Tanith Wirihana Te Waitohioterangi says:

      Are you sure the memory of those killed are remembered – I only mentioned those killed in Turanga, not the rest of the island.

      1642, nice Eurocentric narrative – but what did James Douglas The Earl of Morton think in 1769?

      ‘They are the natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit.’

      ‘No European Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent.’

      ‘Conquest over such people can give no just title; because they could never be the Aggressors.’

      ‘They may naturally and justly attempt to repell intruders, whom they may apprehend are come to disturb them in the quiet possession of their country, whether that apprehension be well or ill founded.’

      ‘Therefore shou’d they in a hostile manner oppose a landing, even this would hardly justify firing among them, until every other gentle method had been tried.’

      1. Gordon Webb says:

        so what’s your agenda?