The call for a national day to mark the New Zealand wars has been backed by claims that the wars of rebellion against the national government were land wars, which “left much of the country's indigenous population battered and bloodied, and facing the prospect of dying out altogether within a few generations.”
This is quite false. The reason for the Maori population decrease of the nineteenth century is clear from the data – there were too few young, too few women, following the disruption and killing of the intertribal wars that preceded the Treaty.Nor were the rebellions a consequence of land loss – after all, confiscations followed the fighting and could not have been the cause. They had deeper roots, again in the years of intertribal warfare, as well as the difficult cultural changes of the time. The truth is complex, more fascinating than the simplistic myth of colonial wrong that has been put out during forty years of a grievance industry (since the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal) fuelled by payments for complaint, turning attention away from the many benefits of a settled government that freed slaves and provided peace and prosperity to most Maori.
The search for causes of rebellion takes us back in time to those intertribal wars, and then in particular to developments in Taranaki, which set the scene for a major phase of fighting that began at Waitara in 1861. The following notes provide a glimpse of the main events. There is more detail in my books, When two cultures meet, the New Zealand experience and Two great New Zealanders, Tamati Waka Nene and Apirana Ngata.
From 1840, the new government, with its limited resources, followed a considered policy of limited intervention in Maori affairs while cultural adjustment was under way. Some of the advances were unsettling. When slaves became free and started to act as free men, many chiefs complained of their loss of mana. Meanwhile differences among Maori, including feuding and lawlessness, continued.
In the north the introduction of customs duties, the shift of the capital to Auckland, and controls over the timber industry, brought a downturn in the Maori economy. Ngapuhi chief Tamati Waka Nene took their complaints to the Governor, who listened and made a number of changes. When Hone Heke desired to maintain his position as a warrior chief and chose instead to take up arms, Tamati Waka Nene fought against him, and the principle Waikato chief Te Wherowhero (previously a savage warrior and later the first Maori king, Potatau) offered aid against the rebels. After that fighting was over, Tamati Waka Nene and Governor Grey agreed that there would be no confiscation of land, as that would create future grievance.
In the south of the island Te Rauparaha also desired to continue the old ways, to fight and to drive out settlers. After he was taken prisoner, Te Wherowhero and Tamati Waka Nene, who had become valued advisors to the Governor, offered to act as guarantors and Te Rauparaha was freed without any further threat to settlers.
The threats and fighting of those few rebellious chiefs added significantly to the problems of the early years when an under-resourced government was starting to build a new nation. That disruption impeded progress by taking the attention and resources of government.
After a period of quiet, a new phase of dispute and rebellion by some in Taranaki and Waikato began, starting with a feud at Waitara and leading to threats of separation and armed attacks by some in the king movement.
That conflict had its roots in the previous intertribal wars and the coming of peace, which had left ownership of land uncertain, thus creating the conditions for discord. The full story is complex; the following notes point to some key developments.
· Between 1800 and 1840 intertribal warfare and conquest across the country created refugees (who fled lost homelands) and slaves (taken away by their conquerors), with often only a few fearful remainders remaining. This was particularly significant around Waitara in 1820 and 1831 following a series of savage raids by Waikato led by Te Wherowhero.
· Te Rauparaha then led Ngati Toa away from those attacks to the south where they attacked other tribes. They were joined by Atiawa of Taranaki.
· The few survivors in Taranaki were grateful to gain security by selling land to the New Zealand Company in 1839.
· Freed slaves returned from Waikato in 1841 and some people came back from the south. Disputes over land began among these various groups – many who returned were unhappy that those remaining had sold land. Waikato also claimed ownership by right of conquest.
· In 1844, Commission Spain supported the sale to the New Zealand Company.
· Faced with threats of war, Governor Fitzroy reversed Spain’s decision and settlers were forced to abandon their new farms, to become refugees, deprived of land or savings. The land then handed to Maori became the object of many arguments among the various potential Maori owners.
· In 1848, a great migration of 587 returned from Waikanae to Waitara, adding to the different tribal groups who vied for position.
· Some Maori were concerned with the lawlessness and feuding in their communities, disappointed that the new government had not brought a firm rule of law to them. They felt that the government had delayed too long in answering the appeal for control, which would end their internal strife. It is important to note that the complaint here was not against colonisation, but the very opposite, that the colonial government was not firmly governing Maori. Some then felt that their future depended on their own efforts, and decided that the creation of a Maori king could provide the needed regional control. But many tribes who were approached with the idea were not interested.
· The considerable differences among Waikato tribes was displayed graphically during a 1857 meeting at Rangiriri, which had been intended to set up a Maori king. First a long procession came in bearing the flag of the new king and took their position in the center. Soon a union jack was seen displayed on a small nearby hill, followed by a second. Two processions bearing these union jacks then approached and occupied an opposite position to that occupied by the king party. This was followed by other Maories who had not joined either party, and who occupied the third side of the square. The discussion was for the most part the expression of opposing points of view, and the meeting ended with complete disagreement, each group holding to their own flag.
· At a further meeting in 1858 there were again differences of opinion, with some wanting a senior chief for the region, clearly under the sovereignty of Queen Victoria, and some wanting a king, with separate and uncertain sovereignty. Te Wherowhero was cajoled into becoming the first king, as Potatau I, and his acceptance was announced by Wiremu Tamihana without resolution of the disagreement. Te Wherowhero was a pacifist and friend of the Governor, but was in the last years of his life, becoming senile and turning blind. He was powerless and played no part in the councils of the kingites. He died in 1860. The second king, his son, Tukaroto Matutaera who became Kiingi Taawhiao, was also a pacifist but was weak and often dissolute.
· There were many feuds among Taranaki Maori. At Waitara Teira headed a group who wanted to sell 60 acres of their land while Kingi, who was on the opposing side of an ongoing feud (this tangled discord of wrongs and revenge had started some time previously), claimed a right of veto (both had returned from Waikanae in 1848). Although it was recognised that Teira owned his land, an investigation found Maori opinion divided as to who was in the right. When Governor Brown finally made a judgement call and decided that the sale should proceed, Kingi raised arms and built a fort on the land.
· There were serious divisions among the kingites. Wiremu Tamihana, a peacemaker who often seemed confused as to what the king stood for, wanted to leave any dispute to the Taranaki tribes. Others such as Rewi Maniapoto constantly called for aggressive action and challenged the sovereignty of the Queen. Although Te Wherowhero ordered Ngati Maniapoto not to join Kingi at Waitara, an armed war party went to play a key role in the fighting. Members of that faction of the kingites were rebels who today would be called terrorists.
· That same year, 1860, a great meeting in Kohimarama of chiefs from across the entire country expressed loyalty to the British Crown and condemnation of Kingi and the disruption of the kingites. They wanted better government and were ready to work with government in the formation of regional runanga. There were splits in the king movement, most importantly between the loyalist lower Waikato and the warlike Ngati Maniapoto and Taupo – who lived further from regular contact with settlers – and there was little support for the movement outside the greater Waikato region.
· It was never clear to government just what the king movement wanted. Soon after taking up office in 1861, Governor Grey went to Waikato for a meeting. The responses were unclear. Grey pointed out that sovereignty must be assured, that a king and a queen could not coexist, but that he would not take action on that basis alone; he would judge them on their actions. They had joined fighting in Taranaki. There were further attacks on settlers and threats on Auckland, and since any government has a duty to provide security for all citizens, action was taken. When government forces were resisted in their movements into what was considered by rebels as separate national territory, fighting began. Throughout those wars there were ongoing differences between Wiremu Tamihana, who wanted to make peace (even if on uncertain terms), and Rewi Maniapoto, who wanted to drive out the British.
· That fighting was not principally about land. There were no forced sales and the land of those who became rebels was largely held by Maori. In 1861 nationwide 76% of land was Maori. The retention was less in areas where Maori were welcoming to settlers – for example 55% among Ngatikahungunu. Amongst those who took up arms, far less land had been sold. The 60 acres offered by Teira and his group was 0.13% of the Ngatiawa lands. Taranaki and Ngatiruanui held 88% of their land, Ngatimaniapoto 95%, and Waikato, Waipa, Taupo and Upper Wanganui held all their land.
· After the previous fighting against Hone Heke, Tamati Waka Nene and Governor Grey had agreed that there would be no confiscation of land, as that would create future grievance. The opposite decision was made after the defeat of the kingite rebels and there was confiscation, both as punishment and to provide a buffer between Auckland and the warlike rebellious tribes of Ngatimaniapoto and Taupo. In such a confused situation, with divisions both between and within tribes (many fighting with the government or to protect their own land) it was not possible to define clearly who had been responsible. Maniapoto had been the most hostile, yet their land was not confiscated. Although close to half the confiscated land was returned or repurchased, grievances have continued, as had been feared. After the fighting was over, there was much unhappiness over the deaths and confiscation, but these were the consequences of armed rebellion, not the cause.
The fighting of some Maori against the government and many other Maori that has become known as the land wars was not the simple consequence of loss of land. The genesis was in the previous intertribal fighting and the ongoing feuds among Maori over ownership of land, which was never clear, and often multiple, in Maori lore. The first complaint was not of excessive colonisation; it was that the government had failed to bring law and order to the more isolated communities where feuding, fighting and insecurity continued. The policy of a slow assertion of the new system, allowing Maori to become familiar with British law and to join in efforts of local government, was wise and worked well in many ways, but was found lacking there. It is incorrect to blame problems on a colonisation that was in fact cautious while ignoring the difficulties of a Maori cultural revolution and the manifest improvements in Maori life.
A couple of weeks ago when I told a friend of some of the story of the king movement, the reasons for its beginning, the powerlessness of kings and the infighting within that that movement, he was fascinated. He knew none of that. Once more I could see how the Waitangi Tribunal and the grievance industry have dumbed down and distorted our history. After all, the facts summarised here are readily available in standard texts – written before the revisionism of the last 40 years. Go back to early accounts and you will be fascinated with what you will find.
Dr. John Robinson is a research scientist in mathematics and physics. He has investigated a variety of topics, including global issues and the social statistics of Maori. His recognition of fundamental flaws in the interpretation of nineteenth century Maori demographics led him to consider the history of those times in several books: The Corruption of New Zealand Democracy, When Two Cultures Meet; the New Zealand Experience and Two Great New Zealanders; the Wisdom of Tamati Waka Nene and Apirana Ngata – where he explored the considerable shift that Maori culture went through with the coming of European civilisation and the benefits to Maori.