NZ History Revised 2: The Insecurity Of Tribal Life

The reality of New Zealand history

By John Robinson

I have introduced myself, in “Revisionism of revisionism: taking history back to reality”, (Scroll down to August 10), as the author of several books on New Zealand history, with a focus on the key role of the Maori actors in the unfolding drama.

Here I note some features of pre-contact Maori tribal life, to consider what the movement of tribes meant for those whose lands, and lives, were taken from them.

As I have read further historical accounts, I have often found a common story, repeated many times over the centuries, of tribal movement to conquer and replace the then ‘people of the land’.

Further confirmation of brutality

Andreas Reischek

I have just come across two more.

One is a book about Tuwharetoa of Taupo.  There Maruiwi, “one of the aboriginal tribes of New Zealand”, had been driven out by Te Atiawa, then “hunted and slaughtered as they retreated”.  The next residents, Ngati Hotu, were in turn overwhelmed by Tuwharetoa, who took over that land.

The other is of Northland, where Chief Pairama told Andreas Reischek “the tribes formerly living here had been very good at working and cultivation, but who knew little about fighting.  His forefathers had conquered them, eating those they killed, and enslaving the rest.” 

There was a similar happening around Kapiti when Rangitane came through the Manawatu.

Buick describes how, after one of the last battles, “so important a battle was celebrated by a great feast, and for the next few days the ovens were kept hot for the reception of the dead bodies, which as fast as they were cooked were served up with all the horrors attendant upon the savage orgies and cannibal banquets of the ancient Maori.” 

The Ngatiawa survivors retreated and sheltered on the island of Kapiti.

Fear and insecurity

Many communities were driven from their ancestral lands, and many were living in fear of attack from their neighbours.

The insecurity was immediately evident to Cook in 1769.

“The perpetual hostility in which these poor savages who have made very village a fort must necessarily live, will account for there being so little of their land in a state of cultivation; and as mischiefs very often reciprocally produce each other, it may perhaps appear that there being so little land in cultivation will account for their living in perpetual hostility.”

While some battles were for conquest, other fighting had no meaning other than adventure and the glory of battle. 

Two such great taua passed through our region.

  • In 1819-20 a war party of Ngati Whatua and Ngapuhi from Northland were joined by Ngati Toa at Kawhia as they moved down the west coast to Wellington, and back again.
  • In 1821-22 another war party, from Waikato and Ngati Maniapoto, with other tribes joining in, moved down the east coast to the Wellington region, which had been decimated a short time before, before returning up the west coast, passing and attacking Kapiti.

This Amiowhenua (‘round the island’) expedition was probably the longest overland raid that any Maori force ever undertook, the distance travelled being around 800 miles.

Buick’s assessment was that this war party “longing for some new excite­ment, had journeyed down the East Coast for no particular  purpose except to kill, eat, or make slaves of whosoever might fall into their hands”.

Ongoing conflict and insecurity

Many of these events tell only of the exploits of the warriors.  But the victims should not be forgotten.  “The resident people were everywhere defeated, and those who were not killed, captured, or eaten, were driven into mountain fastnesses, there to miserably survive, or as miserably perish if they could not”.

The triple damage to Kapiti communities left them easy prey for conquest shortly after.

Intertribal warfare was widespread in those years, with an extraordinary number of fights.

Historian James Rutherford counted 203 battles in 1821-1825, one every 9 days.  Some 11,300 were killed in those battles, a death rate of around 10% of the population in just five years, while others were slaughtered, enslaved or driven off.

The threat from the Waikato tribes

Te Rauparaha

Ngati Toa at Kaipara and Te Atiawa in Taranaki were under frequent attack by more powerful Waikato forces.

Te Rauparaha decided then to acted on the advice of Te Wherowhero – on a hilltop at Makara on the Wellington coast he had pointed to a passing vessel and “With unrestrained excitement he called out to his comrade: Oh, Raha, do you see that people sailing on the sea?  They are a very good people; and if you conquer this land and hold intercourse with them, you will obtain guns and powder and become very great.” 

Both Ngati Toa and Te Atiawa decided to move to the south, away from the threats of Waikato, to a land where tribes had been weakened by the two great taua and were easy picking.

The people of the Kapiti coast, and of Wellington, were attacked yet again, driven off their lands.

 Descendents of that last wave of invaders, and killers, now claim wrongs by the system that put an end to that repeated sequence of invasions, and profit from yet another round of ‘final’ Treaty settlements.

The Treaty brings peace

Peace did not come until the Treaty.  There were disputes and fighting between Ngati Toa and Te Atiawa, and among other allied tribes.

The last battle of the intertribal wars Kuititanga, at Waikanae in 1839 between Raukawa and Te Atiawa.  Te Rauparaha, who was friendly with both sides, watched from the sidelines.

When the fighting along the beach was over, the victorious Te Atiawa took their prisoners to Kenakena, where they were executed and buried in a mass grave.   One estimate is of 90 dead, another of more than twice that number.

Meanwhile back in Taranaki the few remaining Te Atiawa, who were living in constant fear of a further attack from Waikato, welcomed the New Zealand Company and sold the land in 1839.  Then they could be safe under the protection of colonial forces.

The consequences of inter-tribal war

The migrations, the killing and the social disruption of those tribal wars left problems that would continue or fester for more than a generation.

After the Treaty, those Te Atiawa who returned to Taranaki from slavery in the Waikato, and those living at Waikanae, disputed the sale of the land they had left, and feuded over ownership.

Eventually a decision by Governor Brown to apply the law and allow one chief to sell his own land was to lead to war.

One hidden, and unrecognised, consequence was that the disruption and social breakdown had produced a demographic imbalance, a deficit of young girls and women, that assured a population decline for some 40 years after the Treaty. 

This is the topic of my next article.



Hello Jackie

We thought someone had hacked the system and was posting ‘fake’ entrties under your name. Someone complained in goodf faith, so I removed certain comments.

Can you send your commen t again and I’ll put it up stright away.

My apologies,

Alan Tristram, Editor

As outgoing Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe, reminds us in his 1922 farewell address: “In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is King. And he that does not know his own history is at the mercy of every lying windbag.”

Neither “Land Wars” nor “Maori Wars” accurately explain the basis of the conflicts that race mongers now wish to commemorate in order to further stoke anti-White and race separatist sentiments. These misnomers have been coined and propagated to imply the Crown made unjust war on a collective Maori in order to “steal” their land.

The war was in fact between the Crown and specific tribes, who challenged the Crown and lost. The Crown then punished these groups with land confiscations as it had earlier warned it would do if they didn’t lay down their arms and cease their provocations.

The tribes on which the Crown waged a series of localised wars between 1863 – 1878 were predominately based in the centre of the North Islam (Tainui, Tuwharetoa, Tuhoe) and had never signed the Treaty of Waitangi in the first place. Under the legal doctrine of privity of contract, only the parties to an agreement are bound by it or can claim its protection in the event of a breach. So no Treaty breach there.

The Tainui tribes set up a “King” as a rival sovereign to the Crown and drew a handful of other tribes outside the immediate locality who HAD signed the Treaty into joining them, such as elements of Taranaki’s Te Atiawa. The Kingite Movement was thus made up of aggressive challengers to the Crown’s sovereignty and rebels against it.

The ensuing wars were brought on by a minority of Maori Chiefs who saw colonisation as a threat to their mana and power, especially as their people had begun to exit their tribal lands in order to live independently close to the larger cities and towns. A plan was hatched by the dissident chiefs to get rid of the Treaty, British Sovereignty, law and order, and to drive the Pakeha out once and for all.

“Sovereignty Wars” is the correct description of these conflicts, since they were undertaken both to extend the Crown’s sovereignty over those who’d never acknowledged it, and to bring those who’d rebelled against it to heel.

Crown troops entered the Waikato in 1863-64 after numerous provocations from the Kingites that began several years before.

A number of Taranaki chiefs had in 1854 formed an anti-land selling league. Its ability to intimidate others who hadn’t joined the league was preventing local chiefs who wished to sell land they owned to the Crown from exercising their Treaty right to do so. In 1860, the Crown negotiated the sale of the Waitara Block with Teira, its legitimate owner. Wiremu Kingi acting as the head of the land league intervened to block the sale. The Crown upheld Teira’s right to sell.

Since the Kingite agenda was to resist further land sales and settler encroachment because they wanted the settlers gone altogether, this was manna from Heaven. After fighting erupted at Waitara on 17 March 1860, Kingite war parties travelled to Taranaki to meddle in a fight that was none of their business, in the hope of igniting a more general uprising against the Crown’s authority throughout the North Island. As John Gorst reports in “The Maori King:” “It became the fashion for all the adventurous [Waikato] men to spend a month or two in the year at Taranaki, ‘shooting Pakehas.’”

Governor Thomas Gore Brown convened a month-long conference of around 200 chiefs at Kohimarama, Auckland, starting 10 July 1860, to confirm support against the Waitara rebels and to isolate the Kingites. Of the attendees, the only ones who endorsed Wiremu Kingi’s position in the Waitara Affair were his own relations.

Faithful Maori chiefs made it clear they preferred the peace of the Treaty of Waitangi to the murderous tribal wars that preceded it, and would hold to rule by Queen Victoria over the prospect of subjugation to a self-anointed upstart Tainui “king.”

The Kingites subsequently developed two plans of attack on Auckland, one involving a night attack in which the town would be set on fire in a number of places by Maori who’d taken up residence there for that purpose. Their stated intention was “to drive the Pakehas into the sea.” Before any such uprising could occur, the government issued an order on 9 July 1863 requiring all Maori living north of the Mangatawhiri River to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown and surrender their weapons. Those refusing to do so were required to retire to the Waikato. A further proclamation dated 11 July 1863 warned that those who waged war against the Crown would have their lands confiscated.

Crown troops crossed the Mangatawhiri River on 12 July 1863. Maori who refused to take the loyalty oath were evicted as the soldiers advanced. Fighting occurred at Meremere, Ngaruawahia, Rangiaowhia (southwest of Cambridge) and at Orakau (near Te Awamutu) during 1863 and 1864. The final military action of the Waikato War was on 2 April 1864, at Orakau. A proclamation confiscating land was issued in December 1864 under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863.

The Kingites formally sued for peace in 1865, though sporadic guerrilla warfare waged by small bands of dissidents hiding out in Tuhoe country continued until the late-1870s.

A total of 619 anti-government Maori were killed in fighting in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty from 1863–1864, while 162 British troops and settler militia, settler non-combatants, and pro-government Maori lost their lives.

The confiscated Kingite territory initially comprised 486,501 hectares, including virtually all of Waikato north of a line drawn from Raglan to Tauranga. The Crown’s intentions were twofold. Firstly, to defray the cost of what had been an expensive war it hadn’t wished to wage in the first place. Secondly, the Crown intended to put settlers with military experience onto land in a buffer zone to be created between Auckland and the Waikato against a renewal of hostilities by the Kingites.

Approximately 127,218 hectares were prior to 1873 returned to Waikato Maori who were judged not to have rebelled. The final confiscations totalled 359,283 hectares. It should be noted that nobody was turned off land that he identifiably occupied or cultivated. Large tracts of “waste land” with no identifiable Maori owners –“Crown Land” of the Kingites being the best description of it – was simply Gazetted as Crown Land, meaning all neighbouring tribes actually lost was the opportunity to turn land they didn’t own anyway into cash at some future point in time.

Once peace was made, the Kingites were treated as British subjects, a far more benevolent fate than they’d have suffered had they been conquered by another Maori tribe, and indeed considerably better treatment than the Tainui tribes had meted out to others during the Musket Wars of the 1830s.

Nonetheless, for around 70 years, Tainui kept up an avalanche of complaints and petitions that the land confiscations were both wrongful and excessive. Eventually, the Labour Party buckled to this pressure, and gave them something to keep Princess Te Puea and the Kingites in the tent for Labour.

In 1946, after what one commentator at the time referred to as “the biggest and most representative hui of the Tainui tribes ever held,” the Crown and Tainui signed the Waikato-Maniapoto Settlement Claims Act, the preamble of which read: “The purpose of this Act is effect a full and final settlement of all outstanding claims relating to the raupatu confiscations …”

I call that a done deal.

Yet Waikato-Tainui were handed a second full and final settlement of $170-million in 1995, on the basis of what the Waitangi Tribunal asserted were “Treaty breaches,” despite never having signed the Treaty of Waitangi.

This settlement specifically excluded further claims that Tainui might mount over the Raglan, Kawhia, and Aotea Harbours, and to the Waikato River, so that one wasn’t “full and final” either.

The 1995 settlement went around the various Tainui subtribes for ratification, and was eventually endorsed by around 2/3 of the marae in the Waikato. A kaumatua at one of the dissenting marae famously told the New Zealand Herald at the time: “We do not see this as a full and final settlement, because who can anticipate the needs of future generations. To bind future generations like that is not the Maori way.”

And [part-] Maori continue to assert that the Crown has no honour …

“The migrations, the killing and the social disruption of those tribal wars left problems that would continue or fester for more than a generation.”

All now blamed on Teh ebuul white man who, ironically, ended the wholesale slaughter.

“Those that we killed we ate; those saved we made slaves of. We used to stay in the pas we took in this manner to eat of “the fish of Tu,”* and nothing but the smell of the bodies made us draw on to another place.
“In this manner we passed through the Taranaki and Whanganui districts, and to Whangaehu and Manawatu and beyond to Otaki, killing as we went.

*The victims of the war-god Tu, i.e., dead men.

“We conquered and took many slaves, with whom we returned to the place where our chief who had been speared lay, and there killed all the slaves as food for the mourners for the chief.

“We were two weeks at this pa, and so soon as we had consumed all the killed we went on up the river and took another pa in that place, where we stayed living on those who had been killed.”