Maori history largely ignored, say top historians

Warriors stand side by side at the the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Oraakau, near Kihikihi, in 2014. It was seen ...
PETER DRURY/FAIRFAX NZ

Warriors stand side by side at the the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Oraakau, near Kihikihi, in 2014. It was seen as the final significant battle of the Waikato Wars.

Major moments in New Zealand history are little known by Kiwis and top historians want that to change.

Government money has been invested into World War I commemorations, says Maori historian Dr Monty Soutar, but events such as the Waikato invasion are "largely ignored".

AUT history professor Paul Moon agrees, saying it's "staggering" New Zealand doesn't commemorate events on its own soil.

We mostly ignore historic events such as the Land Wars, says historian Dr Monty Soutar.
UNIVERSITY OF WAIKATO/SUPPLIED

We mostly ignore historic events such as the Land Wars, says historian Dr Monty Soutar.

The 1863 invasion has been called the biggest and most important campaign of the New Zealand Land Wars.

It saw an army of between 14,000 and 18,000 sent out against about 4000 Maori defenders.

That should be discussed in history classrooms and anniversaries of the event deserve government support, Soutar said.

'For internal events, we just seem not to commemorate them for some reason,' says AUT history professor Paul Moon.
JASON OXENHAM/FAIRFAX NZ

'For internal events, we just seem not to commemorate them for some reason,' says AUT history professor Paul Moon.

"While you may have commemorated [the 150th anniversary] over here, in other parts of the country, it went past silently," he said while in Hamilton to give the keynote speech at the University of Waikato Kingitanga Day.

"On our doorstep ... is a very good example of men and women who died fighting for their own country and we mostly ignore it in our history," he said.

"It's an important part of the fabric of this nation, what happened in the 19th century, and we have to be mature enough to commemorate the losses on both sides."

Soutar's speech was delivered after months of research into the Waikato Maori's refusal to volunteer for military service for WWI, which tied the two events together.

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"You had your land stolen from you within 50 years of the war starting," Soutra said.

"And then you're being asked, the children, the grandchildren of these people [killed] to go off and fight in a war with a country you know nothing about, who have done nothing to you."

He thought the land wars weren't commemorated because it was "uncomfortable" and raised questions about the strategies used at the time.

But he wanted to see themn remembered, and part of school history classes.

READ MORE:
Ngaruawahia marks 150 years
* Waikato wars commemorated: 150 years
* Historical amnesia over New Zealand's own wars
* Call for restitution as Orakau remembered

Moon said Kiwi historical events were largely brushed over in terms of commemoration.

"Apart from Waitangi Day, there's nothing, and it's staggering because just about every other country on Earth has a whole series of events," he said.

"For internal events, we just seem not to commemorate them for some reason, and it's staggering."

"Over the last 150 years, the country has grown up with a particular way of looking at its history ... There was a problem with the Maori - that's how it was portrayed - that problem was solved and now we're all one nation.

"The other part of the problem is ... we don't actually teach much of our own history. So people just aren't aware of some of the momentous things that have happened in this country." 

One example was the Waikato invasion - it sparked what was effectively a civil war and was also the rise of the Kingitanga independence movement.

RSA national president BJ Clark said Soutar's idea had merit, but a lot of planning would be needed to make it reality.

"I can't even remember when some sort of significance was made of anything of the Maori wars or prior to WWI.

"The thought has some merit and it would take some very clever people to sit down and work out how it was to happen," he said.

"There would have to be a conversation on how would we encompass all those events ... prior to the First World War, and how would we pick them up?'"

University of Waikato Pro Vice Chancellor Maori Linda Smith said Maori felt fighting for their land had been the right thing to do morally.

"There's a saying that the victors always get to tell the stories."

 - Stuff

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