Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mike Butler: $23m deal recalls Napier's past woes

A $23-million agreement signed last week revives memories of the 1866 Battle of Omarunui, near Napier, and subsequent confiscation of land belonging to Hauhau fighters involved in the battle. This battle is recalled in my recently published book on my great grandfather entitled The First Colonist: Samuel Deighton 1821-1900.

Although the agreement does not mention that battle, Maungaharuru Tangitu Incorporation deputy chairwoman Tania Hopmans was reported, in Friday’s edition of the Hawke’s Bay Today, to have said that: “what sparked the confiscation was a battle at Omarunui where our hapu and our neighbours, Ngati Hinuera, were attacked by government forces in 1866.”

The report of the Maungaharuru Tangitu Hapu Agreement in Principle was published without historical context, and an official agreed version that history is yet to be created, as the agreement stipulates. While Hopmans’ comment that her forebears “were attacked” can give the impression that they were harmless innocents subjected to a great injustice, a closer scrutiny of events of the time reveals a complex struggle between a colonial government asserting sovereignty and a number of hostile Maori groups seeking to drive the white settlers into the sea.

The Battle of Omarunui was fought on October 12, 1866, more than 26 years after large-scale colonisation began when the first New Zealand Company ship landed at Petone, Wellington, on January 23, 1840, bringing 87 people. By 1866, the settler population of more than 59,000 outnumbered the Maori population of 56,000. By 1866 therefore, the colonial government had the power to assert sovereignty.

The young colony had gone through 26 years of land squabbles mainly resulting from settlers occupying land originally bought from some chiefs while other chiefs claimed continued ownership, since the nature of Maori land ownership involved overlapping rights by multiple owners.

As a Hauhau battle, the Omarunui clash formed part of a conflict that may be traced to Taranaki prophet Te Ua Haumene, who had fought with the Maori King movement against the colonial government in 1860, who formed his church of Hauhau, also known as Pai Marire, in 1862, after a vision.

Te Ua attracted government attention when fanatical followers attacked and defeated a patrol of imperial and colonial forces at Te Ahuahu, north Taranaki, on April 6, 1864. The event was shocking to settlers because the bodies of the seven soldiers killed in the attack were found naked and decapitated. The heads, including that of expedition leader Captain T. W. J. Lloyd, were smoke-dried and used as a medium in Pai Marire rites.

Te Ua sent two prophets, Kereopa Te Rau and Patara Raukatauri, to the East Coast in December 1864. Those prophets converted most of the Whakatohea tribe at Opotiki, and their activities resulted in the murder of German Lutheran missionary Carl Sylvius Volkner on March 2, 1865. Kereopa swallowed Volkner’s eyes and passed around a chalice filled with the victim’s blood for his believers to drink from. Volkner’s head was carried to the Gisborne area for use in recruitment, an act disgusting to many of the East Coast tribe Ngati Porou, many of whom devoutly attended church and knew Volkner personally.

What does all this have to do with the Battle of Omarunui? According to historian James Cowan, in his The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period, Volkner’s killing sparked extensive fighting between Hauhau supporters and government troops, with decisive support from pro-government Maori, in the East Coast region. The fighting prompted government agent Donald McLean to urge Hawke’s Bay chiefs to oppose Hauhau apostles. However, Pai Marire prophet Panapa influenced Te Rangihiroa, of the Ngati Hineuru tribe based around Te Haroto and Tarawera on the Napier-Taupo road, to plan an attack Napier in October 1866.

Te Rangihiroa planned a night attack by way of Petane, a seaside settlement to the north of Napier. Panapa, with the bulk of the force, was to go to Omarunui on the Tutaekuri River about 10km from Napier, then attack the out-settlements with Nikora and Te Rangitahau, to converge for the sack of Napier. A successful attack on Napier was to be a prelude to Hauhaus in other districts rising against pakeha and Maoris allied to the government. Urewera fighters were to descend to the plains, and the Waikato Kingite movement was to renew war on its frontier.

The arrival of Panapa and 100 armed men at Omarunui, a fenced village above a cliff, prompted pro-government Maoris to warn McLean, who sent his interpreter J.P. Hamlin to Petane to warn them to return home or face an attack. Settlers prepared a defence. Colonel George Whitmore, who commanded the Napier militia, took a force of 200 citizen soldiers to Omarunui to demand Panapa’s surrender. By daylight the next day, the Omarunui village was surrounded.

According to Cowan, interpreter Hamlin entered Omarunui village on the morning of October 12, 1866, under a truce flag, with a message from McLean demanding that the Hauhau fighters surrender in one hour or be attacked. With no surrender forthcoming, two companies forded the river and climbed the bank without coming under fire. The militia opened fire, shooting from three sides. Hauhau fighters ran for cover, returning fire from their huts and from the large meetinghouse. Panapa the war leader came into the open and was shot dead. Shooting continued for an hour. Disheartened by the death of their leader, most Hauhaus surrendered. Some tried to escape out the rear, but were cut off by the cavalry and most were killed.

Hauhau fighters at Omarunui lost 21 dead and 30 were wounded, while some died later. One colonial militiaman and one Kahungunu Maori were killed and 14 wounded. Prisoners were shipped off to the Chatham Islands. At Petane, colonial troops intercepted Te Rangihiroa’s mounted war party of 25 fighters, cut off their retreat, and killed Te Rangihiroa and 11 of his men. One military settler was wounded.

Such is some of the history that is missing from the Maungaharuru Tangitu Hapu Agreement in Principle. Context is important.

The New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 legalised land confiscations that resembled British actions in Ireland and South Africa. The threat of confiscation gave the colonial government leverage with the result that numerous tribes co-operated with the government to keep their land. Former chief justice Sir William Martin argued at the time that the confiscation of New Zealand private land would only result in a “brooding sense of wrong”. McLean said the confiscations were an expensive mistake. Much land was returned to Maori, although not always to its original owners. The government bought some returned areas.

Even though the confiscations would lead to a brooding sense of wrong, the rules of war against colonial soldiers in 1863 were far more forgiving than those of traditional tribal war pre-1840, where loss of land was only part of the price of defeat, in which the losers faced being killed, enslaved, raped, or eaten. If the colonial government had not defeated the Hauhaus and the King movement in the 1860s, the colony would have descended into the permanent warfare that characterised pre-1840 life in New Zealand.

Maungaharuru Tangitu Incorporation deputy chairwoman Tania Hopmans said: “there was both loss of life and land confiscation which is one of the biggest breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi you could have”. One could argue that planning an attack on the small settlement of Napier, and planning a general uprising also breach the treaty.

Prime Minister John Key and Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson put on tea and biscuits in Wellington for the Maungaharuru Tangitu hapu last Thursday. But in their haste to settle historical grievances, Key and Finlayson have apparently overlooked the culpability of that hapu’s Hauhau forebears in the Omarunui clash. Payments like the $23-million involved in this agreement look increasingly like pay-offs.

1 comment:

Ray said...

Ah ha, they may be pay-offs, but as sure the sun rises and sets, they will be back.
Good history though.