Defending ŌrākauMarch 21st, 2014
Many New Zealanders will be aware of the approaching centenary of the beginning of the Great War, but it is also important to remember the New Zealand Wars fought on our own soil. Between March and June, the 150th anniversaries of the battles of Ōrākau, Pukehinahina (Gate Pā), and Te Ranga will be commemorated. Next week the Library is hosting public events featuring different perspectives on the Waikato War, and in particular, the battle of Ōrākau.
This is in association with the exhibition Borderland: The World of James Cowan , currently showing in the Turnbull Gallery. The writer James Cowan (1870-1943) grew up close to the site of the Ōrākau battle, and his family farm included part of the Ōrākau pā.
Sketch of the country about Orakau. Plate 16 from Journals of the Deputy Quartermaster General, 1864. Ref: MapColl 832.14hkm 1864 6659.
The Waikato War (1863–64) was waged by the government against the Kīngitanga movement, which arose in resistance to land sales in Waikato.
Towards the end of that war, Rewi Maniapoto was persuaded by members of Ngāti Raukawa and Tūhoe to defend Ōrākau. The fortified pā was still being built on 31 March 1864 when more than 1,000 British troops arrived, led by Brigadier-General Carey. The pā withstood frontal attacks and shelling, before the British soldiers surrounded it and constructed a sap, digging their way in a zig-zag motion towards the 300 Māori defenders.
By the time General Cameron arrived on 2 April, the Māori were suffering from thirst and starvation. Cameron called for a ceasefire and offered them a chance to surrender.
There are several versions of what happened next. Most agree that one of the defenders replied with: ‘E hoa, ka whawhai tonu ki a koe, ake, ake’ – ‘Friend, we will fight you forever and ever’. The women were then offered a chance to leave, but Ahumai Te Paerata replied: ‘Ki te mate ngā tāne, me mate anō ngā wāhine me ngā tamariki’ – ‘If the men die, then the women and children must also die’.
Rewi defying the British troops at Orakau. Wilson & Horton lith. Auckland, 1893. Ref: C-033-004.
Later that day, the Māori defenders broke out of the pā in a group, taking the British by surprise. They headed towards the nearby swampland and scattered. One of the survivors, Hitiri Te Paerata, later reported: ‘A storm of bullets … seemed to encircle us like hail’. Of the 300 in the pā, 160 were killed.
One survivor of the Waikato War – after being invited to attend the 50th ‘jubilee’ event commemorating the battle in 1914 – said to James Cowan ‘The Pākehā, is willing to let bygones to be bygones, but does he offer to give me back my potato ground?’
At a recent symposium hosted by the Alexander Turnbull Library, in conjunction with the Centre for Colonial Studies of the University of Otago, various themes were explored into Cowan’s legacy, including relating to his recording of the battle of Ōrākau. Paul Meredith, of Ngāti Maniapoto, who grew up in Kihikihi area, spoke about Cowan’s methods of writing down oral histories, and collaborating with tribal scholars such as Raureti Te Huia when he gathered information about the wars. Meredith suggested that Cowan’s methods have parellels with kaupapa Māori methodology of today.
There is a letter in Borderland from Raureti Te Huia to Cowan, in which Te Huia gives feedback on the validity of two maps that Cowan had sent him, relating to the layout of Ōrākau pa. This letter was a part of the collection of Cowan papers that the library acquired at the end of 2012 which inspired the Borderland exhibition.
Photograph of six Ngāti Maniapoto survivors of the Ōrākau battle, taken by James Cowan in 1914. Ref: 1/1-017975-G
Commemorations for the 150th anniversary of Ōrākau include three days of activities in Waikato (31 March-2 April).
The National Library is hosting a season of lunchtime talks next week, focusing on Ōrākau.
On 24 March we have the kuia, Rovina Maniapoto, a mokopuna of some of those who fought at the battle, who will be talking about the Ngāti Maniapoto perspective on the events of the battle and what has happened since.
On 25 March Te Kenehi Teira will be talking about The New Zealand Historic Places Trust's recent registration of Ōrākau as a wāhi tapu area. Teira, who spoke at the recent Cowan symposium, will also talk about the driving tour ‘apps’ they have developed which allow people to learn a lot about the history of Waikato War sites, while at the relevant sites.
On 26 March, the historian Vincent O’Malley will talk about how Ōrākau has been remembered (or forgotten) focussing on the 50th and 100th year commemorations in 1914 and 1964.
For more information about the James Cowan symposium held at the National Library, see this post from Lachlan Paterson on the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture's blog.
And if you'd like to learn more about the the Battle of Ōrākau you could start with this page from NZHistory.net.
The Ōrākau battlefield as it appears today. Photo: Paul Diamond