Rebuilt Waikato pā to tell story of historic Land Wars battle

Source: Te Karere

The ramparts and trenches that formed the core of the Rangiriri Pā's defences are ready, and the reconstructed North Waikato pā is being formally re-opened on Saturday.

An iwi-led tourism venture, the Rangiriri Historical and Cultural Heartland Project began two years ago, and aims to tell the story of one of the most significant battles of the New Zealand Land Wars in Waikato - the Battle of Rangiriri 1863.

The project was initially given $2.97 million from the government to rebuild the battle trenches. An education centre is also in the works.

Ngāti Naho chair Brad Totorewa heads the team that spearheaded the project.

“The time has come for the country and the world to hear stories from the people of this land,” Totorewa said.

The pā is being officially re-opened on Saturday by the Māori King, Tūheitia Potatau Te Wherowhero VII. The day will also feature battle re-enactments, tours, and kapa haka performances.

Land Wars and the history of Rangiriri Pā

Rangiriri Pā was built and garrisoned by Ngāti Naho, and Kiingitanga supporters such as Ngāi Tai. It was the centre of the battle of Rangiriri in 1863.

In late November, the walls of Rangiriri Pā stood firm, unbreeched and untaken after sustaining two days of bombardment and attacks from over a 1000 men.

The garrison capitulated when they ran out of ammunition. A call for a parley was misinterpreted as a call for surrender.

The marshes that impeded the approach of the invading troops slowed down the Kingite (Kiingitanga supporters) retreat.

Brad Totorewa, Ngāti Naho chair

The invasion of the Waikato began in 1863. Governor George Grey issued a notification in the NZ Gazette, accusing the so-called Chiefs of the Waikato of threatening to invade Auckland and harbouring criminals.

The proclamation said he was sending a Lieutenant-General to establish posts in the Waikato and take “necessary measures for the future security of persons inhabiting that district”.

Grey added that any Māori waging war against the Crown would lose the treaty right of retaining possession of their lands. The Waikato War was the catalyst the confiscation of 1.2 million acres from Waikato-Tainui.

The loss of these lands was the core of Tainui’s “fiscal envelope” settlement in 1995.

Kīngi Tāwhiao responded by saying if Government troops crossed the Mangatāwhiri River it would be seen as an act of war. The Great South Road was built to facilitate the movement of troops and supplies as they headed south.

The first major battle was at Meremere, 30 October 1863. But the pā was unfinished and quickly fell to the invaders.

A view of the reconstructed Rangiriri Pā

Pene Te Wharepū designed the defences at Rangiriri, which held up against more than 1400 men and artillery. It fell on November 21 1863.

Once Rangiriri fell - Ngāruawāhia - the Kiingitanga capital fell next on December 8 1863. Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) followed soon afterwards.

Knowing they could not take the pā at Pāterangi, on February 21 1864 Government troops attacked Rangiaowhia. The families of the Pāterangi garrison were taking refuge in a local church. It was set on fire, allegedly with the whānau still inside.

Further south, Ngāti Maniapoto chief Rewi Maniapoto made his last stand at Orākau. His pā wasn’t finished and he lacked sufficient troops and ammunition to fight for long.

It fell on 2 April 1864. The famous call of defiance: “Ka whawhai tonu mātou ake ake ake!” (we will fight on for ever and ever) was uttered by the defenders of Ōrākau.

In a statement, Ngāti Naho spoke of the importance in preserving and developing sites like the Rangiriri Pā which were valuable tools for gaining deeper understanding of historic battles that took place between Māori and Crown forces.

“How we reclaim and enshrine our past speaks to how we heal and navigate our shared future.”