At the Battle of Gate Pā, 200 Māori faced 1,700 colonial troops and their artillery. Author Buddy Mikaere discusses the events leading up to and following the battle in the last episode of the Te Ahi Kaa series about the NZ Land Wars.
When Buddy Mikaere was a school kid, his class re-enacted the 1864 Battle of Gate Pā on the school rugby field. Buddy recalls the Pākeha kids were triumphant in victory, and the Māori kids were told to die bravely.
"I do remember an abiding curiosity to find out what really happened on that day in 1864, and it's something which has haunted me all my life."
In 1964 he attended the 100th commemorations and although he remembers little of what was said the desire to find out more about the battle spurred on his research.
Today as a keen historian and environmental consultant he is working on a book about the Battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pā).
"The fight that followed is largely remembered as a Māori victory… and it is also remembered as one of the worst reverses ever suffered by an imperial force at the hand of natives in the entire history of the British Empire." he says.
On April 29th 1864, 200 Māori from Tauranga fought against 1700 colonial troops and the heavy artillery. Outnumbered five to one the pā was bombarded for several hours during the attack led by General Duncan Cameron.
"The machinations of settler land greed and colonial politics and confidently riding on the back of relatively easy victories in the Waikato fighting, they thought this was the way to go. For Tauranga Māori with our homes invaded by this army that turned up from nowhere which we've never seen the like before, we were left with little choice but to fight."
Pene Taka Tuaia designed the pā with anti-artillery bunkers, underground rifle pits and covered trenches constructed from nearby fences and timber collected from Pukereia. Its design was made to confuse the enemy.
Ngāi te Rangi leader Rawiri Puhirake discussed the treatment of the wounded at the impending battle, this brought about the Code of Conduct written by Henare Taratoa and sent via letter to the British camp at Te Papa.
The Code of Conduct was outlined as the following;
If wounded or captured whole and butt of musket or hilt of sword be turned to me, he will be saved.
If any Pākeha being a soldier by name shall be travelling unarmed and meet me he will be captured and will be handed over to the direction of the law.
The soldier who flees being carried away by his fears and goes to the house of the priest even though carrying arms will be saved I will not go there.
The unarmed Pākeha's women and children will be spared.
"This was something I think that Victorian Pākeha saw as being something rather special because up until then, they'd been fighting against people who had no hesitation cutting off the heads of the dead and the wounded."
During the Battle 20 Māori were killed, on the British side 35 killed and up to 80 were wounded. The Battle of Gate Pā would be known as a major disaster for the British Military.
Several weeks later at the Battle of Te Ranga, Māori were defeated and leaders Henare Taratoa and Rawiri Puhirake were killed.
Educating and informing more people about the Battle of Gate Pā is the ongoing mission for author and advisor Buddy Mikaere who was at the helm of the 150th commemorations in 2014.
The Pukehinahina Trust was formed and organised a series of lectures, a poetry competition, art exhibitions and a dinner party held at The Elms Mission house in tribute of a supper hosted by Archdeacon Brown hosted on the eve of the Battle.
Buddy says recent commemorations have created more awareness about the history of the NZ Wars.
"It's this fostering of social unity and a sense of community and mutual support that I think will get us through… and the story of Pukehinahina, Gate Pā provides our community with a perfect opportunity every year to remember that and do something about it."
Thanks to Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi for allowing RNZ to record and broadcast this series.