Battle of Orakau informs who we are

The 150th commemoration of the Battle of Orakau, held near Kihikihi on 1 April 2014 highlighted the courage of our tūpuna and the importance of knowing our history accurately.

Maniapoto kaumātua, Tom Roa, one of over 3000 people who attended the commemorations, says the past informs who we are today and, that by learning what really happened, we can make a better future for all.

“It was clear to our tūpuna 150 years ago that businessmen in Auckland had their eyes on the fertile Waikato land.  Our tūpuna were cultivating their land so successfully that they were feeding the Auckland market and exporting food to Australia,” says Tom.

“So, when military forces began building up on their borders, our tūpuna knew what was coming.  King Tawhio erected a pou on the northern side of the Maungatāwhiri Awa and said ‘should that river be crossed, we consider ourselves at war’.”

The 150th anniversary of that event was commemorated last July.  Māori warriors, both men and women, and at times children and old people, took part in a series of encounters as they tried to protect their whenua from the invading forces. These are all part of the commemorations. The last event will take place at Koroneihana in August.

Learning by listening

Tom remembers how, as a child, he learnt about these events by listening to his kaumātua talking amongst themselves.

“We’d go to sleep in someone’s arms listening to these stories.  That’s how we remember.  We can do the same today, just sit around the table and start talking.  I’d love to revive that practice with my grandchildren.  I’d like to take them on history tours of the various sites and tell them the stories of these places.”

Tom says that the commemorations at Orakau were a wonderful celebration of whānaunatanga, with many family groups, including kaumātua, their moko, and their great grandchildren.

“There were lots of school children there too, learning about their past, and very good speeches by rangatahi as well as officials and kaumātua reinforcing family values.”

Links to other stories about the Battle of Orakau

Watch the story on Māori TV

The courageous defence of Orakau was widely praised in 1914 when plans were being made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battle, as this article from the Ohinemuri Gazette shows.

There is more about the Battle of Orakau on the Ministry of Culture and Heritage website

Read media coverage of the event here – NZ Herald, Radio New Zealand