Waikato battle remembered at Rangiriri
As Raglan man Huti Waitere watched 200 warriors spill over a rain-swept hill at Rangiriri and listen to their haka ring out, it was like reading the history of his people in front of him.
"I shed a few tears for my lost ancestors," he said as more than one thousand people stood together yesterday to remember one of the bloodiest battles in Waikato history.
"It was like reading a book. It told of what happened back then."
The haka was specially composed for the day and while the bloodshed of warriors and colonial troops was reenacted, the legacy of raupatu, or land confiscation, that sprang from that pivotal day in 1863 was as real as ever.
But together they stood on the pa site, Maori and Pakeha, as they remembered.
Taking pride of place where once were palisades and trenches are now two stunning pou whenua.
They stand on ground which had been soaked by the blood of the 36 Maori and 38 colonial troops killed in the two-day battle that opened General Duncan Cameron's push into the Waikato to crush the Maori Kingitanga movement and open the region to settlement.
Te Ururoa Flavell, co-leader of the Maori Party, was conspicuous as the only member of Parliament present.
"I'm a little bit embarrassed that I'm the only MP here today because people from Parliament should understand about days like this," he said.
Mr Flavell talked of (Waikato Maori land rights activist) Eva Rickard and what Rangiriri meant to her.
"Her tupuna were here when things went so wrong. It was as if this anger was eating her up inside that whenever she spoke of it, it was as if she was going to break out and cry, so passionate she felt about what this place meant to her and that part in our history.
"We must learn from the past if we are truly to move towards kotahitanga [unity]. We must learn the lessons of history and I believe that we must take those lessons to our hearts, not just to our minds."
Event organiser Raymond 'Moko' Kumar said he was disappointed by the lack of funding for the day, which took a year to organise, and by the lack of political presence, especially given the degree of attention given to recent and upcoming WWI and WWII events.
Commander of the New Zealand Defence College Peter Wood, representing the armed forces, said yesterday was a time to pay respects, to commemorate what took place and to remember those on both sides who fought and fell.
"It is now 150 years since the battle took place and all the veterans of the Waikato war are long since dead but the significance of Rangiriri has endured.
"We must remember what a difficult and traumatic time the war and its aftermath were for the people of the Waikato.
Rahui Papa, chair of the executive arm of Waikato-Tainui, Te Arataura, said the day was a commemoration of those who lost their lives fighting to protect the ideals of Kingitanga Waikato-Tainui.
"It is fantastic that we can be here to memorialise our ancestry and our heritage. "We will never forget. The descendants of those people who passed, who were wounded and who were incarcerated after Rangiriri will never forget."
SH1, which runs alongside the historic site, had speed restrictions in place for safety and to reduce noise.