Stephen Chan: Ka whawhai tonu mātou, Ake! Ake! Ake! We begin part five of our series on polit­i­cal thought on the just rebel­lion with those words from the Māori gen­er­al Rewi Manga Maniapoto in 1864. When he said those words he was on the verge of defeat. Defeat at the hands of a much much larg­er European army with much heav­ier artillery than he could muster for the defense of his fortifications. 

For many days he and his fight­ers had been under siege by the European army. And despite being under siege, despite run­ning out of ammu­ni­tion, still his men would creep out into no man’s land to res­cue wound­ed European sol­diers and return them to their own lines. This chival­ry so impressed the European com­man­der that he offered hon­or­able sur­ren­der. On hear­ing the offer, the Māori gen­er­al stood up and said those words, Ka whawhai tonu mātou, Ake! Ake! Ake! We will resist you for­ev­er and ever and ever.” 

He was part of the move­ment to cre­ate a Māori state in the face of European depre­da­tions, and par­tic­u­lar­ly in the face of European seizures of land. And this kind of hero­ic stand, even if the last stand of this kind of chival­ry, very very much entered Victorian British folk­lore. So the whole idea of the noble sav­age, which was very very much an image that was per­pe­trat­ed in what they called pen­ny dread­ful nov­els at the time of Dickens, for instance—these were cheap paper­backs that you lit­er­al­ly bought for a penny—these were sto­ries of adven­tures in the South Sea islands in which the noble sav­age was a fig­ure drawn from the Māori war­rior. And it was true to type in a way. At the same time this kind of roman­ti­cism obscured the fact that white set­tler­dom was con­fis­cat­ing the land of an entire nation.

It was­n’t meant to be like that. In 1840, when the first offi­cial British pres­ence touched down in New Zealand, it was led by a very ide­al­is­tic young naval cap­tain, Captain Hobson. And he gath­ered togeth­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives of most of the tribes in New Zealand. And at the Treaty of Waitangi he agreed that there should be cer­tain rights that would be inher­ent with­in the Māori nation if they pledged alle­giance to Queen Victoria.

It did­n’t take long before the lega­cy of the ide­al­is­tic young naval cap­tain was over­turned by rapa­cious set­tlers who came in his wake. And the Māori decid­ed that they were going to resist this con­stant encroach­ment. Hobson had put forth the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. By the 1850s, and par­tic­u­lar­ly by the 1860s, war had begun. And it was an inter­est­ing series of wars, fought in the Waikato, fought in Taranaki. And first fought by iso­lat­ed fig­ures but then grad­u­al­ly, these iso­lat­ed fig­ures and their peo­ples were brought togeth­er into a con­fed­er­a­tion. They called their coun­try the King Country”—the coun­try of the king. In the cen­ter of the North Island they were named the Kingites—the fol­low­ers of the king. 

And they thought that they had bet­ter orga­nize them­selves. So they had their own par­lia­ment. They had their own offices of the gov­ern­ment. They had their own bank. They had their own stand­ing army. So that a very great deal of the wars that fol­lowed were fought by stand­ing armies. And it could be said that the Māori armies were defeat­ed in the end by a com­bi­na­tion of greater num­bers on the part of the Europeans, but also as I said ear­li­er greater artillery pow­er on the part of the Europeans.

What hap­pened, how­ev­er, was a suc­ces­sion of con­flicts led by very very notable Māori gen­er­als, but also the peo­ple who were lead­ers who infused in their resis­tance a very curi­ous form of thought. Māori thought up to that point in time had not been able to be writ­ten down. It was a very oral cul­ture. Māori carv­ing expressed in pic­to­r­i­al terms, in totems as it were, in carv­ings of pil­lars not unlike those of the American Indians, the leg­ends of the tribe. But these leg­ends could not artic­u­late new forms of gov­ern­ment and new forms of resis­tance. The ide­ol­o­gy of resis­tance was cer­tain­ly built around the recap­ture of land that had been stolen. But it was also based on try­ing to make some kind of fusion of Māori thought and the new European thought, just as the King Movement tried to adopt the trap­pings and the insti­tu­tions of gov­ern­ment of the Europeans.

And what you had were suc­ces­sion of prophets who com­bined Christianity, or forms of Christianity, with forms of Māori spir­i­tu­al belief. And these com­bined forms of thought inspired their armies, inspired the fol­low­ers of the prophets, the fol­low­ers of the Māori gen­er­als, to resist fierce­ly. This kind of fusion thought gave rise to an entire lit­er­a­ture of songs, of poet­ry. Judith Binney, the famous his­to­ri­an in New Zealand of the Māori resis­tance, wrote a beau­ti­ful book called The Songs of Resistance. And it was very much a poet­ic rebel­lion, anchored in thought that was ora­tor­i­cal and at the same time high­ly poet­ic. Figures like Te Kooti left behind a lega­cy of writ­ten works which tried to describe the belief sys­tems that he him­self helped to incul­cate in his fol­low­ers, for the sake of resistance.

The lega­cy of this, the lega­cy of this fusion, mar­ried still to the desire to be able to own land, led to two things in New Zealand. One was the agree­ment of the courts that the Treaty of Waitangi was jus­ti­cia­ble. So Māori tribes were able to bring law­suits under­neath the treaty for resti­tu­tion of lands, or full com­pen­sa­tion. And this was the first move­ment of that sort in the world of col­o­nized peoples.

The sec­ond thing was this notwith­stand­ing, the resur­gence of Māori pride, a renais­sance in Māori self-belief, and a replay­ing of the new kinds of fusion intro­duced by Te Kooti began to infuse rad­i­cal ele­ments in mod­ern Māori soci­ety. So as recent­ly as 2007, the descen­dants of Te Kooti in the Urewera moun­tains, the Tuhoe peo­ple, launched a rebel­lion. They tried to occu­py land. They tried to reestab­lish their own nation. Of course this was a move­ment doomed to fail­ure, but the roman­ti­cism, the poet­ry, the fusion of thought, and to a very large extent the fight­ing spir­it of the orig­i­nal rebel­lion of the Māori peo­ple against the white set­tlers still lingers far away in the land of New New Zealand.

Further Reference

Course infor­ma­tion