Māori voices

This hook provides a photo of a significant Māori leader, Te Rangi Hīroa (Sir Peter Henry Buck), an extract from his diary and a brief newspaper article reporting the arrest of Tonga Mahuta.

Photo left: Te Rangi Hīroa (Sir Peter Henry Buck) on right, ca. 1914–1918.(external link)

Te Rangi Hīroa (Sir Peter Henry Buck) on right, ca. 1914–1918. Photographer unknown. Alexander Turnbull Library. 1/2-037933-F.

Dominion News. Taranaki Daily News , 26 August 1918, Page 4(external link)

Dominion News. Taranaki Daily News , 26 August 1918, Page 4

Peter Buck made this plea that the Native Contigent be allowed to fight:

Our ancestors were a warlike people ... the members of this war party would be ashamed to face their people at the conclusion of the war if they were to be confined entirely to garrison duty and not be given an opportunity of proving their mettle at the front. J. B. Condliffe, Te Rangi Hiroa: The life of Peter Buck (Whitcombe and Tombs, 1971), page 127


Māori had mixed views about the First World War. Some supported the war effort because they believed it was their obligation as signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi; others opposed it because they did not want to fight for the British Crown after experiencing the New Zealand Wars of the 19th century and their outcomes.

Apirana Turupa Ngata, who was 40 and father of a large family, could not serve, but threw himself into the Māori war effort, working with Māui Pōmare and other Māori MPs to recruit Māori troops and agitating to have them grouped together into a Māori battalion. Ngata wrote a famous waiata, “Te Ope Tuatahi”, which praised those serving and encouraged others to enlist. Some Māori called for the formation of a Māori unit. After completing training in Auckland, the Native Contingent, which had Māori junior officers and Pākehā in the higher ranks, sailed for Egypt in 1915.

Conscription was initially imposed only on Pākehā from1916 but was later extended to Māori; however, conscription was only enforced for Tainui iwi. Some people believed that this different treatment of Tainui was to even out enlistments because more men from other iwi had enlisted voluntarily; others believed it was because Tainui had not supported the war effort. Te Puea Hērangi led opposition to the government’s conscription policy. She claimed that her grandfather, King Tāwhiao, had forbidden Waikato Māori to take up arms after making peace with the Crown in 1881; she stated that if confiscated land was returned, then they might reconsider. She also stated that Māori had their own king so did not need to fight for the British one. Te Puea provided shelter for those ignoring the ballot and encouraged them in non-violent resistance. Many of those resisting were taken into custody and punished. The treatment of Tainui by the Crown during the First World War has had a significant impact on subsequent relations between Tainui and the Crown (see the third link below).

Further information:

Possible discussion questions

  • Why might Māori have had differing responses to the First World War?
  • How were the experiences of Māori soldiers similar to or different from those of non-Māori? How might Māori in the Native Contingent have felt at being given garrison duties?
  • Why were Māori initially not included in the conscription ballot? How do you think different groups of Māori might have felt about this? How might different groups of Māori have felt when conscription was extended to Māori but only enforced for Tainui?
  • Do you think it was fair that conscription was only enforced for Tainui? Why or why not?
  • How might the First World War have changed the lives of Māori in New Zealand and overseas?
  • How does the treatment of Tainui people during the First World War impact on our lives or society today?
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