25 Apr 2015

'To die was the accepted way of a warrior'

2:15 pm on 25 April 2015

A direct descendant of the creator of a renowned haka says its use during the First World War by unarmed Māori soldiers provoked fear in both their European countryman and their enemy.

Pirimi Tahiwi, in a photo showing officers of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion in 1919.

Pirimi Tahiwi, one of the soldiers who performed the haka at Gallipoli. Photo: CC James Cowan

Pākehā of the time were concerned about Māori going to war and according to historical accounts feared tangata whenua might turn on what's been described as their colonial masters.

The first group of Māori soldiers to go to war weren't armed, and were responsible for digging the trenches.

Kahu Ropata, a descendant of Te Rauparaha, thinks the use of the haka helped them to cope during the war:

"Although they would have gone over with the thought of travel [and] excited to see the new world, when they got there, I think the reality of it would have hit home very quickly.

"And I really believe that a lot of them would have really struggled and would have been absolutely terrified. But the haka would have really focussed them to be the ruthless killers that they would need to be to survive a war.

"In our traditional warfare, there is no white flag of truce. You usually went in, and there was a high chance you weren't coming out. You couldn't just surrender. To die was the accepted way of a warrior."

He believes the Māori contingent, who were not armed, would have used the haka to inflict fear in the enemy.

"Those northern Europeans would never ever have experienced that sort of interaction with an enemy before. Māori were very adept at psyching out the enemy".

A Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Maniapoto elder, Tom Roa, admires those who went to war, but he said it still hurt him to think of his pākeke, who were forced to go to war despite a ruling from King Tawhiao.

"The King of Māoridom had declared peace, that was in 1881.

"A mere 30 years later, these people are being told: 'you've got to put on a uniform, grab a gun and a bayonet; go thousands of miles across the world to fight for a King, a Crown that was responsible for all of the loss of your livelihood.'

"Loss of lives, loss of lands, and a country, which supplied all of the military advantage in those confiscation. It bedevils the mind."

He said some descendants did go to war, perhaps to respect their Pakeha heritage, but only with the blessing of the Ariki at the time, King Te Rata.

But, after enrolment numbers fell in 1916, he thinks a government conscription that was only extended to Waikato-Tainui members was pay back.

"They deliberately targeted King Te Rata's youngest brother, Te Rau Angaanga, even though at the time, Te Rau Angaanga was nearly 16.

"For Waikato and for Maniapoto, in particular through to [Ngāti] Raukawa, because of this very strong kīngitanga royalty, the Crown [was] still looking for ways to break the back of the Kīngitanga".

Despite a wide range of historical accounts, James Edwards, the son of a First World War Veteran, said it was imperative for people to learn about their elders.

"I think it's very important that they actually [have] to look at or has been placed in their hands - the name they've been given from their mum and dad. Follow that path backwards from the time that you're old enough to understand.

Tom Roa of Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Maniapoto says a lot of money is poured into Anzac commemorations, and thinks that same respect should be paid to both Pākehā and Māori, who served in the Civil Wars.

Sources: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/maori-in-first-world-war/overview