NZ Land Wars were a civil war

Tom O’Con­nor ar­gues the New Zealand Wars were, in fact, a civil war and should be re­mem­bered as such.

Matamata Chronicle - - Your Paper, Your Place -

Be­fore we de­cide on which day to com­mem­o­rate the con­flict now known as the Land Wars, we need to de­fine ex­actly what we are com­mem­o­rat­ing.

The armed con­flict known var­i­ously over the years as the Maori Wars and the New Zealand Wars was, in fact, about much more than land and those in­volved were not strictly Maori on one side and Pakeha on the other.

While the spark which ig­nited the con­flict on March 17, 1860, was the forced sale of land at Waitara, there were also se­ri­ous mis­un­der­stand­ings about the mean­ing of sovereignty and long­stand­ing in­ter­tribal con­flicts in the mix.

The wars came three decades af­ter the in­ter­tribal con­flicts known as the Mus­ket Wars and mem­o­ries of past bat­tles were still raw. These is­sues flowed back and forth in pri­or­ity through­out the con­flict.

Not all Maori were vic­tims of the wars and not all Pakeha were ag­gres­sors or land sharks. The first two Maori kings, Po­tatau Te Wherowhero and his son Tawhiao, who suc­ceeded him, both ad­vised their peo­ple to keep out of the fighting and to try to live in peace­ful har­mony with Pakeha.

The Maori king was not in­tended to be an all-pow­er­ful ruler. In­stead, his main func­tion was to try to unite Maori against land losses and to preserve the tra­di­tional way of life.

In spite of hav­ing their own king, the loy­alty of all tribal lead­ers was to their own peo­ple first. Many re­mained neu­tral dur­ing the wars and many fought along­side the Bri­tish.

On the other side, not all Pakeha sup­ported the wars and many, par­tic­u­larly cler­gy­men who had worked in Maori com­mu­ni­ties for sev­eral decades, were very out­spo­ken against the New Zealand Govern­ment.

Other dis­af­fected Pakeha, most no­tably Kim­ble (or Kim­ball) Bent, joined with and fought along­side Maori.

The Bri­tish Govern­ment also ex­pressed alarm and con­cern as the con­flict spread from a mi­nor con­fronta­tion in Taranaki in 1860 to a full-scale in­va­sion of Waikato three years later.

Many lead­ing Bri­tish politi­cians of the time de­manded an end to hos­til­i­ties. Wars, how­ever, are eas­ier to start than fin­ish and the fledg­ling colony was al­most aban­doned by the Bri­tish be­fore it was over.

The Land Wars were, in fact, New Zealand’s civil war and should be re­mem­bered as such.

The his­tory of this im­por­tant phase in the devel­op­ment of mod­ern New Zealand has never been com­pre­hen­sively taught in our schools and, with each pass­ing gen­er­a­tion, fewer peo­ple seem even re­motely in­ter­ested in what they were all about.

Apart from his­to­ri­ans and aca­demics, the New Zealand Civil War is some­thing few peo­ple want to know about. The com­mem­o­ra­tive day should not be about win­ners or losers or even rights or wrongs.

Those mat­ters are for other times and places. But we should re­mem­ber the time in our shared his­tory when peo­ple fought and died for what they be­lieved in dur­ing the birth of our na­tion. We owe them that if noth­ing else.

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