New Zealand’s land wars will be at the forefront of this year’s Tauranga Arts Festival which has a themed day of events for the country’s first Raa Maumahara National Day of Commemoration on Saturday, October 28.
Leading the way is historian Vincent O’Malley whose 2016 book The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 is a monumental account of the defining conflict in New Zealand history – the first history devoted to the Waikato Wars since 1879.
It was war in Waikato in 1863–64 that shaped the nation in all kinds of ways, O’Malley says, “setting back Māori and Pākehā relations by several generations and allowing the government to begin to assert the kind of real control over the country that had eluded it since 1840”.
As well as examining the origins and aftermath of the war, O’Malley also details the reciprocity of Maori-Pakeha relations in the 1840s and 1850s, including the flourishing Maori farms that staved off starvation for Pakeha in Auckland.
But the arrival of Governor George Grey changed everything. He loathed the Maori King movement and was determined to destroy it. Eventually New Zealand had more standing troops than Britain – and Maori casualties in the Waikato War were greater, on a per capita basis, than New Zealand deaths in World War I.
The three-day Battle of Orakau, which took place near Te Awamutu in 1864, is the focus for Witi Ihimaera and Hemi Kelly who have together produced Sleeps Standing Moetu, which comprises a novella by Ihimaera told through the eyes of a 16-year-old boy, as well as non-fiction narratives from Maori eyewitnesses, images and a Maori translation by Kelly.
At the height of the battle, it is estimated that 1700 well-armed and well-resourced troops laid siege to a hastily constructed pa defended by 300 men, women and children who had few supplies or weapons.
The battle marked the end of the Land Wars in the Waikato and resulted in vast tracts of land being confiscated for European settlement.
Historical novelists Karyn Hay and Lindsey Dawson bring a lighter note to the day as they discuss their books – The March of the Foxgloves and Scarlet Magenta, both set in 19th century Auckland and a Tauranga still affected by the 1864 battles of Pukehinahina (Gate Pa) and Te Ranga.
Six speakers will have 7 minutes each to address the topic Our Place to Stand, exploring what it means to be a New Zealander. Those taking up the challenge are economist Shamubeel Eaqub, writer Helene Wong, former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, historian Vincent O’Malley, Auckland novelist Paula Morris and 37-year-old Tauranga Moana artist, teacher, marae chairman and passionate keeper of stories Que Bidois.
The day ends with a performance of Rules of Engagement, Ria Hall’s stage show from her debut album of the same name.
Hall’s inspiration came from the letter Ngai Te Rangi chiefHenare Taratoa sent to Governor Grey, outlining the manner – the rules of engagement – in which the Battle of Pukehinahina should ensue, and how both parties should conduct themselves.
For her festival performance, Hall has commissioned a stage set by award-winning visual artist Tracey Tawhiao. The two women, both descendants of Tauranga Moana iwi, will launch an exhibition of the same name when the festival opens on October 19.
Hall, who is the inaugural Festival Patron, will lead a community choir in the singing of the festival’s waiata, Takiri ko te Ata, to officially open the 10-day event. The free public performance takes place at 7am on The Strand waterfront on October 18.
The waiata was commissioned for the 2015 festival and was composed by Hall and Teraania Ormsby-Teki and is an ode to the fairies of Hautere (the bush area behind Pyes Pa near Tauranga) who return to their old friend Mauao (Mt Maunganui) every night and depart at dawn.