Waikato wars commemorated: 150 years

A day to remember: Margaret Evans will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Waikato Wars at a breakfast in the city.
A day to remember: Margaret Evans will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Waikato Wars at a breakfast in the city.

Waikato Maori will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the day British troops crossed the Mangatawhiri Stream and declared war on them at an early morning service this week.

On July 12 1863, under orders from Governor George Grey, British troops marched south from Pokeno and crossed the stream, known as the "aukati", which had been established by the second Maori King Tawhiao as the line that should not be crossed.

It was a declaration of war.

Tom Roa is chairman of Waikato-Tainui's tribal executive Te Arataura and convener of Nga Pae o Maumahara, the group tasked to co-ordinate memorial services at Waikato and Tauranga battle sites.

He said any lingering feeling of injustice after their 1995 Raupatu Settlement was now gone and they were now ready to accept this part of their history.

"We have continued in a sort of a grievance mode but I think coming into this 150th year after the crossing of the Mangatawhiri there is a different mood in the iwi," he said.

"They've moved on from the grievance."

The Waikato War pitted tribe against the armed constabulary and tribe against tribe, as some hapu pledged allegiance to the British.

Waikato Maori were left deprived of their lands, but Mr Roa said the conflicts were a part of the "formating of our nationhood."

"By being informed with that history, commemorating the events - not celebrating them - commemorating them and moving forward from them."

"It's almost cliche but it's a biblical truth - the truth sets us free."

Former Hamilton mayor Margaret Evans said the crossing of the Mangatawhiri was a "hugely important" date for the nation, the Waikato region and Hamilton City.

"If you look at the history of New Zealand, it is interesting how wars have been significant markers and here's a good example and the Waikato invasion is recognised as the most significant of the New Zealand wars."

"It's our Gettysburg," she said.

The battle of Gettysburg was fought in Pennsylvania during the American Civil War where 51,000 casualties were recorded. Its 150th anniversary was marked last week.

A breakfast at SkyCity on Friday morning, called A Day to Remember, would run as a companion event to Mangatawhiri service.

"The day to remember allows us to think about the events of those times and our origins but also some of the people who helped grow this city," she said.

Ngati Wairere historian Wiremu Puke said Maori history tended to suffer because of "mainstream amnesia" and Hamilton City Council had been slow to act.

"In the Waipa area, battle sites like Orakau are being commemorated in what they call the Raupatu Trail but as for Hamilton, things are a bit slack.

"I would really like to feel that we could have something in Hamilton as far as the arrival of settlers here and I think they are events for everybody, as long as they are true to historical events."

Orakau Heritage Society board member Tom Davies said a three-day event was planned for next March and Waipa District Council had set aside much of the year for commemorations.

"To put it crudely, our European ancestors came down here on a bit of a land grab," Mr Davies said. "While we need to talk about our common history - talk about, remember it and pass it on to our grandchildren - it shouldn't be any more than that.

"We shouldn't be beating ourselves up over it or, alternatively, scoring points one way or another."

150 Year Commemorations, Te Paina (Mercer) car park, 6.30am, shuttle to Pioneer Rd for 7am karakia. 

Waikato Times