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The Maoris in the Great War

Recruiting the Reinforcements

Recruiting the Reinforcements.

As time went on, the heavy wastage of the battlefields and the sickness, due to the conditions under which the War was waged, necessitated considerable reinforcements to keep the Contingent, or, as it became, the Pioneer Battalion, up to field strength. When the Battalion was in France in 1917, two returned soldiers, Lieuts. Te Awarau and Puke Cross, were engaged as recruiting officers in the North Island, going from tribe to tribe and addressing the people. A notable unofficial recruiting agent was Ruatapu-nui, the Urewera long-haired prophet aforetime, who, after getting the worst of a tussle with the police at Maunga-pohatu—a fatal affray in which one of his sons was shot dead—and serving a term of imprisonment, became a staunch supporter of the King's authority, and brought in towards the end of the war some fifty volunteers, his young men from Ruatoki and other settlements. The page 18 Arawa were particularly enthusiastic and self-sacrificing supporters of the British cause; even the elderly men were anxious to enlist. On August 9th, 1915, Hone Te Awe-Kotuku wrote to Sir Maui Pomare from Te Ngae, Rotorua: “We, the parents of those who went to Egypt, are sorry that we were left behind. We now hear that those up to 55 years are being listed. That age of life includes most of us, and the whole of the Arawa are agreed.” To this the reply was that only men between the ages of 20 and 40 years were being enlisted.

There was one important exception to the general eagerness of the tribes for active service abroad. This was Waikato, embracing most of the people under the mana of Rata Mahuta, the great-grandson of the famous Potatau te Wherowhero, the first Maori King. The Maori Kingdom, dating back to the Fifties of last century, was now but a shadow of its olden greatness, but the memory of the Waikato war, when ten thousand British and Colonial troops were required to subjugate the Kingites, was ever before Waikato, for in that war they lost the greater part of their lands, confiscated by the Crown. “Give us back Waikato,” had been their cry for fifty years. They neither forgot nor forgave that act of wholesale confiscation; and their perpetual grievance against the Government was made their excuse for declining to volunteer for the great war abroad. The Waikato, with their numerous clans, Ngati-Mahuta, Ngati-Naho, Ngati-te-ata, Ngati-Tipa, Ngati-Tahinga and others, and the Ngati-Haua—the tribe of that fine patriot of former days, Wiremu Tamehana Tarapipipi, the Maori Kingmaker—could have furnished a company of first-rate fighting men, athletic and enterprising. But the influence of their elders, the old diehards, who still regarded the Potatau family as their royal line, was sufficiently strong to prevent most of the young men from volunteering for the Opé Maori. They put up a passive resistance, declaring that, while they were willing to defend New Zealand from attack, they did not wish to serve outside the country.

The Maori Recruiting Committee, jointly with the Defence Department, made strenuous efforts to bring Waikato and allied tribes into line with the rest of the nation. Sir James Allen, Minister for Defence, Sir Maui Pomare, and several page 19 high chiefs of the tribe visited Waikato, argued with Rata, his “Premier” and chief adviser Tupu Taingakawa (the great Wiremu Tamehana's son), and appealed to the people to make common cause with their fellow-countrymen against the nation's foes. One of the most eloquent advocates of recruiting was Te Heuheu Tukino, M.L.C., the paramount chief of Ngati-Tuwharetoa, of the Taupo country. Te Heuheu was loyal to his race and at the same time a thorough-going advocate of Maori participation in the great struggle overseas for the liberty of the world. The principal burden of persuading Waikato to enlist lay on the Hon. Sir Maui Pomare. In one of his speeches at a meeting with Waikato under Rata, at Waahi village, Sir Maui addressed his countrymen and constituents as follows:—

“Waikato, I return your greetings, according to the customs of our race. I have listened with an attentive ear to your words—the reasons why you are resisting the law. It is bad. You are not only grasping shadows, but you are kicking against the pricks. I will show you presently that you are untrue to the traditions and unfaithful to the sacred words of your great and illustrious dead.

“You say conscription is against the Treaty of Waitangi. I ask you to consider Clause Three of that Treaty. What does it say?—‘In consideration thereof (that is, in the Maori version, agreeing to the Government of the Queen) Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand her Royal protection, and imparts to them all the rights and privileges of British subjects.’ Now, our ancestors signed that treaty. They agreed to the Government of the Queen. I ask you this question,—What is a Government for? Is it not for the purpose of making laws? And what are laws for? Is it not for the protection of the members of the State? And are not the laws made for us to obey? Then, in order to keep the Treaty inviolate, we will have to keep the laws made by the Government that our ancestors accepted.

“The British monarch extended us the Royal protection. Has not that bargain been kept? Have we not been protected from that time to this? ‘And imparts to them all the rights and privileges of British subjects.’ Is it not our privilege and page 20 our right to fight for King and country? I want to point out to you that no right and no privilege can exist without the corresponding responsibility. Now do you see how the Treaty favours conscription, and how you have erred in regard to its provisions?

“Now in regard to Potatau. Do you recollect his coronation oath? When my predecessors made him King of the Maori tribes, do you remember what they said, ‘Potatau, we make you King. Henceforth you and Queen Victoria shall be united—the law shall be the carpet [whariki] for your feet and the religion of Christ your joint religion for ever.’ And what did Potatau say? ‘Yes, for ever. There is but one eye to the needle, through which the white, the black, and the red threads must pass.’ You tell me to-day that Potatau's needle must have more than one eye; for you contend that there should be a different law for the Maoris, that conscription should be a different law for the Maoris, that conscription should not apply to them. ‘Beware of Kura's urn, lest the dust from the feet of your ancestors arise and smother you.’

“It is true that Tawhiao (the second Maori King) spoke the words, which you have quoted, regarding the banishing of war from New Zealand, but were not these words uttered by him at a peace conference with the pakeha? Has not war been banished from these shores? Is there fighting between Pakeha and Maori to-day? ‘I have sheathed the sword.’ Mark, he did not turn the sword into a ploughshare, neither did he destroy it, but he sheathed the sword. Why? In order to protect the sword from rust and from being blunted, so that whenever the time should arise, when it should again be wanted, it would be found still keen and bright.

“Tawhiao returned all fighting across the sea. Where is the fighting now? Is it not across the sea? Therefore, in order to keep his words sacred, in order to keep the fighting across the seas, you must enlist, you must see that your sons fight across the waters, and not allow the foe to fight here. ‘Beware and do not shift the landmarks of your ancestors, lest the gods curse you.’

“Now I come to your fourth reason—the shedding of blood is against your religion. I ask, are you Christians? Did not Christ say, I come not to bring peace but a sword? Did he page break
Mr. Henare Whakatau Uru, M.P. for Southern Maori District. Member of the Maori Regimental Committee.

Mr. Henare Whakatau Uru, M.P. for Southern Maori District.
Member of the Maori Regimental Committee.

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Group of Ngati-Tuwharetoa Soldiers taken at Opaea, Taihape, under the command of Lieut. K. H. Hakopa.

Group of Ngati-Tuwharetoa Soldiers taken at Opaea, Taihape, under the command of Lieut. K. H. Hakopa.

page 21 not say to Peter to catch a fish, and when the fish was gutted was not a coin with Caesar's superscription found on it? And did not the Founder of the Faith say, ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's.’ Now, Caesar is demanding from you the things which are his. Are you Christians?

“Which of you, having a child who is being tortured to death by another, will hand him a Bible and say, brother, love your neighbour as yourself. It is our Christian duty to root out all evil, and the greatest evil of the age is the German evil.

“You say the Pakeha must right the wrongs which he inflicted by the confiscation of our lands during the Maori war. I will not go into the merits or otherwise of your claim, because I know some of the confiscated lands were paid for by the ‘Takoha’ monies. That question involves a legal wrangle, which I hold you still have the option of bringing before a legal tribunal. That is a family quarrel. Put aside the petty quarrels of the family, and take hold of the battles of the Nation.”