Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

State Authority, Indigenous Autonomy: Crown-Maori Relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa 1900-1950

First World War

First World War

With the advent of the First World War, the Dominion focused its energies on the 'patriotic' war effort. All elements of society were expected to 'pull together' in the common good of defence of empire. This precluded any chances of progress towards either resource-or people-based page 104autonomy for Maori, or even any realistic possibility of ameliorating assimilationist pressures. Wartime was a particularly intensified episode in a long period, beginning in the late nineteenth century, of 're-colonisation'. Nationalist historiography, in its constant search for an emergent sense of New Zealand 'identity', has overlooked this 'tightening of links with the metropolis'. But the ideological onflow from the emphasis on massive farm-based production for England was to inform race relations policy in New Zealand for decades.

On the outbreak of war, Maori MPs and leading Ngataists quickly concluded that a loyalist Maori response would pay dividends in pakeha and British perceptions of their people. They secured agreement that New Zealand request of the Mother Country a departure from the imperial practice that indigenous soldiers not be used in European theatres of war. This was granted, and a Maori Recruitment (or Maori Contingent) Committee (chaired by Pomare and comprising the Maori MPs and Carroll) was established in September 1914 to run the Maori war effort. Its network of local committees procured Maori troops for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. After agitation from the men in camp, followed by some political manoeuvring, this was allowed to be organised along tribal lines. The Recruitment Committee allocated troop quotas whose make-up reflected tribal affiliations, and was permitted to select some of the officers and NCOs.

There were difficulties, generally reflecting European perceptions that Maori were unable to contribute to the war effort without guidance. The military, for example, insisted on an element of pakeha leadership of Maori troops. It was not at ease with elders being sent to camps to ensure that tribal customs were respected, nor with tribal rivalry within camps, nor with a strong (and successful) Maori lobby that their troops not be sent to Samoa. Moreover, despite the wishes of the Maori MP lobby, imperial policy had moved only a certain distance in the deployment of indigenous soldiers. Maori troops could be raised only for garrison protection duty (in Egypt and Malta) rather than for a front-line combat role. But the response of many tribes to the recruiting call, especially those that were traditionally 'loyalist', heightened pakeha awareness of Maori and their aspirations, especially after the 500 troops of the First page 105Maori Contingent sailed in February 1915.

Yet the fact remained that they were to be a 'pioneer' group which provided skilled labour for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force but was 'not considered good enough to fight'. Maori leaders at home and abroad urged that their men be allowed a combat role in order fully to prove their skill and commitment. When pakeha fighting casualties proved to be high, the imperial command agreed that Maori troops could be assigned to front-line duties. In July 1915, Maori soldiers were sent to Gallipoli. Here they technically remained 'pioneers', but were quickly engaged in battle. Deeds of heroism, and their many casualties, were much reported and discussed within the Dominion. This undoubtedly contributed to changing pakeha attitudes, and helped lay the foundations for more positive Crown policies towards Maori aspirations in the post war world.

Many Maori, for various reasons (hegemonic, opportunistic and tribal among them), showed willingness, even enthusiasm, for the overseas fighting effort. Rua Kenana himself, on release from imprisonment, urged his followers to sign up. Some tribes therefore fulfilled the aim of Ngataist leaders by demonstrating their value to the Dominion in a way — the shedding of blood — that could never be forgotten. The overseas service contribution was complemented by a high profile on the home front. Maori played a part in many voluntary war effort groups, with Maori women, for example, working in such bodies as 'Lady Liverpool's and Mrs Pomare's Maori Soldiers' Fund'.71

During the war, however, Maori discovered that the Crown and its agents continued to fear the consequences of even partial empowerment for Maori. The New Zealand Expeditionary Force commander, Major-General Alexander Godley, found the Maori attitude to the chain of command particularly difficult to cope with. Allegations that Maori officers were incompetent, together with high casualties and a fall-off in Maori recruiting, provided him with a reason to disband the Maori Contingent as a discrete entity within the force. His dividing the Maori platoons among the battalions of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade led to much Maori anger. There was a general belief among the tribes and their soldiers that Maori wishes were once again being overturned, in a page 106way which amounted to suppression of rangatiratanga for race-based reasons. Elders threatened to stop recruiting.

In response, the military tried generally to keep men from similar tribal backgrounds together in the same units. This satisfied neither the Maori Recruitment Committee nor other Maori leaders, who kept up pressure, and meanwhile morale in the field suffered. When Godley reorganised the Expeditionary Force into the New Zealand Division in February 1916, he took the opportunity to reunite most Maori troops within a 'New Zealand Pioneer Battalion'. The new unit was half pakeha in membership, but designed eventually to become fully Maori. The development met many rangatiratanga-based criticisms.

But what the military gave with one hand it took with the other. For the battalion was established — as with the original Maori Contingent to provide labour back-up to the front-line forces, rather than to be a fighting unit. Men who saw themselves as warriors were soon building roads, digging trenches and laying railways in France. This met the criticisms of some tribal leaders who called for fewer casualties in the interests of 'the preservation of our race', but it was generally interpreted as dismissing mana Maori. So too was a low priority for tribal organisation within what was seen by the military as essentially a pan-Maori grouping. And the leadership remained mostly pakeha, although the second-in-command was Te Rangihiroa.

In the event, Pioneer Battalion troops became inexorably involved in fighting on the western front. As casualties rose, so did pakeha gratitude. Moreover, Maori recruiting picked up again, assisting the general image of Maoridom. By October 1917 almost all of the battalion's company commanders were Maori. But its designation as a non-fighting body meant that a perceived race-based slight continued, contributing to temporary difficulties in attracting Maori volunteers for military service (with Pacific Islanders recruited to fill the gaps). But the fact remained that a definable, high-profile Maori presence had returned to the war effort abroad, and this was highly significant in the eyes of Maori and pakeha alike.72

Meanwhile, from the beginning of the war some tribal and regional groupings had protested against the state's past and present 'native policies' page 107by declining to co-operate with the war effort. The Kingitanga tribes, in particular, while having long since abandoned overt resistance, had remained intensely dissatisfied with the loss of their ancestral lands in the confiscations (raupatu) of the nineteenth century. This loss had caused them to make tighter connections between their land and political aspirations than most tribes. Well versed in applying organised pressure on the state, Kingitanga declined to encourage its young men to enlist in the armed forces pending the addressing of tribal grievances. This official line, the Crown knew, was merely for the sake of avoiding prosecution. Privately, the leadership was proactive in discouraging any of its young men who might be inclined to assist the 'pakeha war effort'.

Princess Te Puea, leading a revival of the Waikato tribes, consolidated her power base by refusing to disguise her opinion. It was clear that she was adamantly against any form of service; and that, whatever the circumstances, her people would struggle fiercely for the independence of their political culture within the New Zealand polity. No Waikato volunteered, a lesson for the Crown in the power of Maori control mechanisms. The Kingitanga was considered to be potentially, even (in some interpretations) actually, subversive of the state. While its stance did focus minds on grievances held across numerous tribes, many Maori leaders feared that this would detract from their efforts to convince pakeha of a new place for Maori in society. When conscription was introduced in 1916, the Crown proposed exempting Maori, partly in order to avoid a showdown with oppositional tribes, but the Maori MPs and other Maori leaders remained hostile to exemption.

In the event, Maori were excluded from compulsory military service, as there was too much at stake for the Crown in presenting a harmonious domestic face to the world. But the mainstream Maori leadership continued the fight for compulsion, fully aware of a general pakeha feeling that all sectors of society should be pulling their weight (although workers noted that, while their labour and lives were conscripted, capital was not). In June 1917 the Maori Recruitment Committee was instrumental in persuading the Crown to extend conscription, in theory, to all Maori. But it did not want to provoke tribes which had voiced mild opposition but were in other respects co-operative. In practice, therefore, attempts page 108were made to extend it only to the tribes which had fully resisted, Tainui's Maniapoto and Waikato. When the young men of Kingitanga continued to reject forced participation in the conflict, the iwi was subjected to coercive scrutiny. By the end of the war 111 of its members were in gaol, with another hundred awaiting service of warrants.

Despite this, and indeed aided by the fact that only one tribal movement remained fully resistant, widespread appreciation of the Maori war effort continued. On 1 September 1917 Maori troops were finally granted their own battalion, with the formation of the New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion, and by the end of the year it had 928 members. The battalion was the only one in the Expeditionary Force to return as a complete unit and the welcome was tumultuous. A total of 2227 Maori and 458 Pacific Islanders had served with the unit and its predecessors; 336 of them had died and 734 were wounded.73