150 years since the battle at Waerenga-ā-Hika

4:21 pm on 18 November 2015

An East Coast iwi will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the siege of Waerenga-ā-Hika pā, on the outskirts of Gisborne, today.

Waerenga-ā-Hika pā in ruins after it was attacked in 1865.

Waerenga-ā-Hika pā in ruins after it was attacked in 1865. Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library Reference: 1/2-008137; F

In 1865, 200 colonial troops with 300 Māori allies attacked the pā site where hundreds of Māori families lived.

During the battle, which lasted five days, 71 Māori living at Waerenga-ā-Hika pā and 11 government soldiers were killed.

Many people were wounded, captured and deported to the Chatham Islands.

Local iwi Te Aitanga-ā-Māhaki believe the time is right to remember those who died.

Wirangi Pera, who belongs to that iwi, said the commemoration was about remembering those who died needlessly.

"We've sat quietly on this for 150 years and now it's time to remember them," he said.

Rongowhakaata kaumatua Lewis Moeau said the battle was an attack on a thriving community.

"The colonials started coming to Gisborne, there was intermarriage amongst our people we still owned all our land, we were thriving in farming and some business but it seemed the Crown was trying to get hold of land like they were in other areas but couldn't do so."

Waerenga-ā-Hika war memorial.

It stands in Makaraka Cemetery on SH2, about 5 km north-west of Gisborne. 

The memorial records the names of six Hawke’s Bay Military Settlers who died on 18 November 1865 during the siege of Waerenga-ā-Hika pā.

Waerenga-ā-Hika war memorial. It stands in Makaraka Cemetery on SH2, about 5 km north-west of Gisborne. The memorial records the names of six Hawke’s Bay Military Settlers who died on 18 November 1865 during the siege of Waerenga-ā-Hika pā. Photo: nzhistory.net.nz

There were huge land losses for Māori after the battle and both kaumātua also believe it had a negative effect on the tribe's culture.

"It marks the time of the influence of Pākehā in our area, up to that time of 1865 we as Māori had autonomy over our lands and our people and then from that time we had martial law imposed on us," Mr Pera said.

Lewis Moeau agrees and hopes the commemorations today will help ease the pain.

"I think culturally it didn't help us retain our culture that happened across the country, I think the pain it has caused, this commemoration will help ease the pain for those who still feel it," Mr Moeau said.

Mr Pera would like the commemorations to continue annually and supported the idea from other iwi around country to have a public holiday marking the New Zealand land wars.

"We need to have a day where we can commemorate, this is part of our history, and before we can move on we need to have an understanding of what was ours and now of course is no longer.

"But I think for us it's putting a stake in the ground and saying this is our history and we need to commemorate and remember it."

Mr Moeau also supported the idea of a public holiday and said it would help the nation remember its history.

A special service and a monument will be unveiled at the Waerenga-ā-Hika pā site.

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