3 Jul 2015

Kaumātua honour Māori soldiers at Gallipoli

7:40 pm on 3 July 2015

A special ceremony is being held in Wellington to commemorate 100 years since the first Māori contingent of soldiers landed in Gallipoli to serve in the First World War.

Maori Contingent soldiers at No 1 Outpost, Gallipoli, Turkey, 1915.

A group of Māori soldiers at Number One Outpost in Gallipoli in 1915. Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library / Ref: 1/4-058101-F.

Today marks a century since the Māori Pioneer Battalion arrived at Gallipoli.

View Radio New Zealand's collection of stories - and interactive project - marking 100 years since WW1

The event is being commemorated tonight at the opening of the annual New Zealand Post Kaumātua Kapa Haka festival, held at Te Papa Tongarewa.

New Zealand Post community sponsorship manager Charles Ropitini said more than 450 kaumātua from across Aotearoa were taking part in the remembrance ceremony.

Mr Ropitini said the average age of the participants was 85, with the eldest being 99.

He said for many of the kaumātua involved, the Pioneer Battalion was close to their hearts.

"Many of the 450 kaumātua that are taking part in the ceremony have an average age of 85 years, so they knew a lot of the returned servicemen that were a part of the Māori Pioneer Battalion," he said.

"So for them and Māori people as a whole, this is going to be hugely moving."

 A landing party approaching the shore at Gallipoli.

A landing party approaches the shore at Gallipoli. Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library Ref: PA1-o-471-20-2.

Mr Ropitini said it was important to acknowledge the landing and show respect to all of the Māori soldiers who fought and lost their lives in the war.

He said commemorating the war was the focus of the entire festival, which will run until Sunday.

Waiata from the era will be featured in many of the performances by the 450 performers from 11 kaumātua groups who will be on stage during the weekend, he said.

Mr Ropitini said that was the largest number of performers the festival had seen in its 10-year history.

Some of the waiata that will feature include Karangatia Rā, which was written by Sir Āpirana Ngata to welcome home the Māori Pioneer Battalion from the war.

E Pari Rā, which will also feature, was written by Paraire Tomoana as a tribute to Whakatomo Ellison, a soldier who died during the Battle of the Somme.

This year is the eighth year the event has been hosted by Te Papa.