European Settlement and the New Zealand Land Wars

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Both the Dutch and the Spanish visited our country before the British. It was not until the 1800s that the first British colonists arrived in large numbers. The early settlers were interested only in exploiting the rich land and sea resources, which included gold, timber, large stretches of land suitable for farming and abundant stocks that fed the whaling and sealing industries.

First they belittled our language, and then retold our history. The Europeans superimposed their own names on our sacred sites, sent in waves of missionaries to teach new religions, undermined our social structures, introduced diseases and new, more powerful weapons.

In time our oral history was ignored, and generations of Maori were subjected to the written colonial history that is taught as part of our education system. Many Maori are now convinced they are foreigners in their own ancestral lands, and they preach these revised migration theories to our people.

In I840, Maori and the British signed the Treaty of Waitangi, giving British subjects the right to form a government on the understanding that Maori retained their chiefly status over their own lands. At that stage our fierce fighting ancestors outnumbered the immigrants. In 1843 the daughter of a well-known paramount chief was killed during a conflict between British and Maori forces. That incident escalated into the New Zealand Land Wars that lasted until 1872, although some argue that they continued until the famous battle at Parihaka pa, in Taranaki province in 1881.

At Parihaka pa (Pa means “fortified village”), Maori tribes used passive resistance for the first time to fight the onslaught of armed colonial troops. In this battle, many Maori were imprisoned solely because they were unwilling to allow their ancestral lands to be purchased or confiscated. As they resisted, their farming stock was ruined, their women taken and their houses destroyed.

Despite the many conflicts between Maori and the British, there was a mutual expectation and understanding that one day we would have to learn to live together. Following the land wars, peace was restored. Although there was considerable intermarriage-today most Maori carry the ancestral blood of the English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and French settlers – most of the land that legally belonged to Maori was either confiscated as the colonial government grew in power or sold off illegally by unscrupulous Maori and Settlers. The loss of ancestral land has had a devastating effect, because land is the foundation of Maori identity.