National | History

New Zealand Wars massacre was real - Nanaia Mahuta

Hauraki Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta is dismissing claims made in a controversial new book that denies the 1864 massacre of Māori at Rangiaowhia during the New Zealand Wars.

She says the book, Hoani's Last Stand by Christchurch historian Piers Steed, promotes anti-Māori views and is a distressing reminder for Ngāti Apakura who descend from the survivors of the attack.

Tross Publishing, which printed the book, says the author used all available eye-witness accounts to write “the most detailed account of the skirmish at Rangiaowhia in the Waikato war that has yet appeared”, maintaining the brutal Crown attack never occurred.

Steed claims there is no evidence that “over 100 women and children were herded into a church which was set on fire” and that “the appalling lies … will probably be passed off as genuine history to our unsuspecting youngsters.”

Mahuta says contested history is a bitter challenge.

“What we need to do is to be revising the historical injustices and hurt and harm in a way that builds our nation, not distract us and perpetuate further division.”

The government’s NZ History website describes the events of February 21, 1864, in which Crown forces attacked Rangiaowhia, a pā that supplied food for the Kīngitanga movement.

Historical view

“With its fighting men at Pāterangi, the settlement was virtually undefended. Colonel Marmaduke Nixon’s Colonial Defence Force Cavalry of 88 men arrived first, with Captain Gustavus von Tempsky’s company of Forest Rangers close behind. The inhabitants sought cover. Some took refuge in the two churches while many ran for their where.

"Whether accidentally or by design, the thatch of one whare (building) was set alight. An elderly man came out with a white blanket raised above his head. Clearly unarmed, he was killed by a hail of bullets despite an officer’s order to “spare him”. Perhaps enraged by the deaths of some of their comrades, soldiers continued firing into the house. Two more Māori attempting to escape from the fire met the same fate.

The bodies of seven Māori were found in the gutted ruins.

Historian David Green thinks that what happened at Rangiaowhia that morning was not “a premeditated massacre but a breakdown of discipline among troops who had psyched themselves up to face much stronger resistance.”

But as the village was largely occupied by women, children and older men, historian Vincent O’Malley wrote the deaths have been regarded as murder, rather than an act of war.

Ngāti Apakura continues to commemorate the events of 1864 at Rangiaowhia.

In 2020, Tom Roa, an associate professor of Māori and indigenous studies at the University of Waikato, told Stuff he hoped the Crown and politicians would consider a reconciliation package for Ngāti Apakura.

"Ngati Apakura remains largely homeless and it is hoped those descendants alive today might have a place here for them. What that might be, we need to work on and talk about."