Scoop Review of Books

Rā Maumahara: Moetū

This is the second of several posts at Scoop Review of Books to help mark Aotearoa New Zealand’s first official Rā Maumahara (28 October) to remember the New Zealand Land Wars. The first was a Q&A with Tom Roa (Ngāti Apakura) about Vincent O’Malley’s book The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800 – 2000; which Vaughan Rapatahan reviews here.


He Arotakenga
Sleeps Standing Moetu nā Witi Ihimaera ki Hemi Kelly (Vintage, 2017, $35)
He arotakenga nā Vaughan Rapatahana

moetu_cover_webKia ora ki ngā kaituhi o tēnei pukapuka nui. Kia ora ki ngā uri o Rongowhakaata rāua ko Maniapoto mō tēnei pukapuka e tika ana.

Ōrākau. E kāore e wareware tēnei pakanga i te rohe o Waikato i te tau o 1864. E riti tēnei pukapuka kia ako i te pono.

E whakanui tēnei pakanga aku tonu atu. Ko te wa tēnei.

Ka huri ahau ki te reo Ingarihi ināianei mō ngā tāngata e kāore mōhio te reo tuatahi o tēnei whenua.

Thank you for this book, Witi Ihimaera and Hēmi Kelly. The people of this nation should know and learn about one of the most important battles in this nation’s history. It took place here in this land, not in some faraway overseas clime. It intricately involved your ancestors, our ancestors. Indeed, the Waikato campaign involved Māori on both sides, for there were kūpapa siding with the British — although as Ron Crosby points not at Ōrākau. And very probably Pākehā siding with Māori, for as Trevor Bentley has noted with regard to Ōrākau, ‘Dr Hooper…was reliably reported to have ‘taken to the blanket’ and was living with Māori at Ōrākau’.

Ōrākau was one of the defining battles of the entire Waikato campaign. A campaign as instigated essentially by the then Governor George Grey to push back the tribes of Waikato — most especially those who were seen to support Kīngitanga or the Māori King movement — because the ‘Kingites’ were perceived to be a threat to Pākehā dominion.

However, the real and not so hidden rationale for this planned thrust deep into the Waikato was for Pākehā to nab the prime lands of the Waikato Māori. I will not write more here except to direct interested readers to the harbinger works of James Belich and more contemporarily to Vincent O’Malley’s excellent Great War for New Zealand Waikato 1800-2000. (Editor’s note: a review by Vaughan Rapatahana is forthcoming here). British-led usurpation of indigenous people in Aotearoa New Zealand was symptomatic of a far wider and all-too-often violent colonisation process, as so well evidenced in books such as The Blood Never Dried by John Newsinger. This particular battle followed the same tropes – white man domination, denigration, decimation of the brown man.

Suffice to say that Ōrākau was a brave attempt by an indigenous people, to defend their territory, their mana, their very existence, against a far bigger, better-armed and provisioned force who were, quite literally dead set on taking over all of New Zealand. The back cover blurb starkly states the imbalance of it all:

During three days in 1864, 300 Māori men, women and children fought an imperial army and captured the imagination of the world….It is estimated that at the height of the battle, 1700 immensely superior troops laid siege to the hastily constructed pa at Ōrākau.

We best also remember that the combined Māori force were reduced to firing peach stones and wooden bullets as their ammunition diminished; to sucking on raw kumara when the water vanished, to doing their evasive best when the massed cannons and finally the hand grenades from the sapper British forces exploded everywhere around them. Fighting without sustenance, many without guns, without any possibility of the reinforcements, who were forced to watch the unwinding of Ōrākau from a nearby hillside, impotent.

Kelly’s intelligent and articulate Introduction is essential reading, as it connects the dots towards the panoramic picture here, gives us background to the ensuing account of the foregrounded battle.

Ihimaera writes this fictionalised yet true account of Ōrākau in English, Kelly provides an equally substantive account in te reo Māori. On facing pages. This is so good to see. Kanohi ki kanohi, mata ki mata. Ko he taonga tēnei.

Their accounts are not written via fancy language and fanciful linguistics. Their story unfolds cleanly and crisply. And clearly reflect their incorporation of not only several earlier written accounts of Ōrākau and its immediate and following chains of events (thus the penmanship of the ubiquitous James Cowan), but also five vital oral testimonies of Māori men who fought at Ōrākau and survived. They were a legacy of the daytime phalanx escape from the pā site, as British troops were about to overwhelm the assembled tribes on the third day of fighting, namely April 2, 1864. The book is also splendidly reinforced with several photographs and maps, me ngā mihi, ngā whiti. Not as academic compartments, but as naturally segueing throughout.

Ihimaera gifts us a young teenager, Moetū; the English translation being ‘sleeps standing’. He survives and thrives as he grows himself from callow youngster to an embattled young man. This story is reflected and refracted through his eyes and yet is also substantiated by a modern overlay, whereby the Ihimaera proxy, Papa Rua shares the tale of this battle with his newly arrived relative Simon from Australia, who – along with his pregnant wife – seek a name for their soon-to-be new born. Who too will be Moetū.

Thus, there is a smooth interplay between today and yesterday – which in Māori, are always intrinsically melded – as the father of the ‘new’ Moetū listens and learns about his heritage as exemplified by the ‘old’ Moetū. Our past and our present and therefore inevitably our future is interwoven here all at once; as in the way Ihimaera skilfully weaves seamlessly between Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa (Gisborne) of today and  Ōrākau a century previously and as the threads knit across the love story of Moetū the elder, through his whāngai Patu, to the present day whānau. Blood flows across the ages.

Yet, it is Rewi Maniapoto, who is the key protagonist of the book. He is the centrifugal figure who — in staunchly standing up for Kīngitanga — inevitably became the target of Grey and his imperialist henchmen. It was Rewi Manga Maniapoto, who chose finally to agree to a site from where to stand tall against the massed troops of Grey and General Carey, even although he had doubts as to its suitability – it being away from a water source and with no clear escape route. Yet he had little choice, as the British troops had earlier voraciously chewed away the Waikato and in rather cowardly fashion had betrayed the Māori in Rangiaowhia via their dawn raid whereby women and children were murdered and imprisoned in a mutually agreed sanctuary.

Photographer unknown :Portrait of Rewi Manga Maniapoto. Ref: PA2-2882. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22563264

Photographer unknown :Portrait of Rewi Manga Maniapoto. Ref: PA2-2882. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22563264

It was Rewi Maniapoto who was listened to when it mattered most, who would not back down, who survived to live many more years. As Kelly, quoting Ihimaera, states regarding Maniapoto, he was, ‘the man above all others whose actions and leadership qualities made him the centre of attention and admiration.’

It was Rewi Maniapoto who inspired the women fighters who were also at the crux of the action, to fight onwards after Captain Mair suggested surrender for the these wāhine toa and the children inside the pā. For Ahumai Te Paerata, to commit with her fiery words, ‘Ki te mate ngā tāne, me mate ano ngā wāhine me ngā tamariki’ [If the men are to die, let us women and children die with them].

Ōrākau, then, is the courageous story of Ngāti Maniapoto, along with the several other iwi who supported them, as evidenced in the way they embodied Rewi Maniapoto’s avowed declaration, ‘Ka whawhai tonu mātou, āke āke āke’. [I will fight against you forever and ever.] It is the written testament of Māori written by Māori with their own direct route backwards to the participants and forward to readers today.

As such it is a paramount resource for all of New Zealand’s schools, kura kaupapa or mainstream. Where, by the way, it is also well beyond time to teach our real history: Aotearoa New Zealand’s heritage prior to World War One and existentially well adrift from those tedious adumbrations of Stuart kings droned to this writer when he went to school decades ago. It is a wake-up call for us all in 2017 as we – finally, at long last – commemorate the New Zealand Wars of the nineteenth century, in October, 2017.

Ae, tēnā korua ano mō tēnei pukapuka.

He pitopito kōrero matawhaiaro.

E Rewi Maniapoto. He toa takitini taku toa, ehara i te toa takitahi. Tika.

E Maniapoto. Pai rawa ta koutou tautoko mō taku iwi i roto i te rohe o Taranaki.