ANzac Day, dedicated to the anniversary of the Australian landing and New Zealand troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula April 25, 1915 for many New Zealanders has long been a day to reflect on their country’s involvement in the wars. But until recently, the war was honored exclusively by foreigners, not those waged closer to home, on its own shores of Aatearoa.
In recent years, this has begun to change as many non-Moors also come to learn and recognize the 19th century. New Zealand Wars fought between the crown and various Maori communities between 1843 and 1872, which determined the conflicts for land and sovereignty, the consequences of which are felt differently today.
The way New Zealanders Pākehā (European) have dealt with this “difficult” story has undergone radical changes since the last shots. In the early 20th century, a surge of nostalgia for the original period led to the fact that the wars in New Zealand turned into knightly and heroic conflicts between two worthy enemies. In this mythologized version of war, mutual respect forged on the battlefield sowed the seeds of future harmony. New Zealand had “the best racial relations in the world” because of these wars, so the story went. Many of the events dedicated to the 50th anniversary of this period were even called “celebrations”. This imaginary narrative, reflected in movies, books and other places, has survived for most of the 20th century.
A similar approach was still evident in the 1960s, when a century of many major conflicts was celebrated. But the dominant Pākehā version of this story has never been widespread Maori. It was hard to feel nostalgia for the events of the past, when your own ancestors were killed, your lands were seized, your economy was destroyed and future generations were doomed to live in poverty. While Pakeha was publicly celebrated, many Maori continued to mourn privately.
By the 1970s, stronger Maori voices combined with powerful revisionist narratives about this history virtually discredited the dominant interpretation of Pakeh’s past. Celebrating the war in New Zealand was more unacceptable. The problem was that there was no new story of the wars, or at least not a wide recognition of Pakeh, and so we were left in some awkward silence. If this has been challenged in various ways, such as The governora very ambitious and super-expensive six-part drama series about life and career Sir George Gray which was shown on TV One in 1977, significant controversy has arisen. From the point of view of many Pakehs, it was easier to just forget that there had ever been a war in New Zealand.
The meager funding and support for many events marking the 150th anniversary of the battles of the New Zealand Wars over the past decade, in stark contrast to the lavish ceremonies and events organized in honor of the Gallipoli Century in 2015 and various other World War I conflicts. This has led some observers to wonder why Pakeha’s New Zealanders could not get enough of foreign wars, but seemingly did their best to deliberately forget those who fought closer to home. What do you need to remember about these wars?
Gallipoli and other overseas conflicts provide a ready opportunity to unite around the flag, cultivating warm and vague feelings of patriotism. So much so that from time to time there are calls to replace Waitangi Day Anzac Day as New Zealand’s national day. While Anzac Day is perceived as a simple celebration of heroic sacrifice and other coveted national traits, the Waitangi anniversary is seen by many Pakeha as a disunity and complicates efforts to celebrate the nation through awkward reminders of a more troubled past.
But the purpose of honest and open remembrance of our past, warts and everything else has never been to make someone feel guilty or ashamed of the actions of their ancestors. It is not a matter of creating discord or division, but of uniting us as a nation that can honestly confront our own past. This is not and never has been about attributing guilt. It’s just about owning our history.
Fortunately, there has been progress on this front in recent years. Thanks to the efforts of the rank and file (youth), especially as national remembrance day for the New Zealand Wars is now held every year on October 28; new history curriculum the introduction in 2023 for the first time will enable all students to leave school with some basic awareness of their country’s history; and even Anzac Day became more involved in these internal conflicts. All of these are positive steps towards a more conscious, active and mature Aatearoa.