Kawiti, Hone Heke, Treaty, Flagpole and Land War


Left the notorious flagpole, Right Kororareka (Belich)

When the Europeans arrived in New Zealand the Maori quickly developed a taste for guns and a trade developed principally for guns in which Maori and European were involved in mutual trade to satify each of their ends.


Musket wars (Belich).

Certain Maori tribes promptly used the guns to settle inter-tribal scores in a running series of 'musket' wars, which brought a new kind of devastation to tribes which did not have such ready access to modern weapons.


Maori girls and women were prominently involved in the comfort trade (Belich).

According to Belich women and sexual favours played a very significant role in the purchase of weapons. Kororareka was notorious as a flesh town with whole crews of itinerant sailors teaming up with local women on the foreshore. Three-week marriages were commonly negotiated. Women bore the tattoos of their itinerant lovers and were renowned by the French for their sexual forwardness. The US ambassador decryed the town as a Gomorrah the scourge of the Pacific, which should be struck down by the ravages of disease for its depravity.


A Maori chief signing the Treaty of Waitangi, signatures on the Treaty (Belich)

New Zealand is somewhat unique in being a country in which the colonists engaged in a treaty with the local inhabitants. The Treaty of Waitangi was intended to be a two-sided document which protected the rights of both people. However once the government flag became the only flag flying on the flagpole, Hone Heke realized correctly that this meant the annexation of the land.


Harriet, Hone Heke and Kawiti (Basset et. al.)

Hone Heke had been the first person to sign the Treaty of Waitangi and had begun to fear the Pakeha or white man would take all their land. Ironically, he flew the American flag on his war canoe. The flagpole was cut down four times, the first three in sport, but when the fouth time it was guarded, he and Kawiti planned together a strategic assault. Kawiti entered the town and caused a diversionary attack. This drew out the soldiers guarding the pole and it was promptly felled. The constabulary went into full retreat and the population took to sea in boats. After a night of pillage, conflict again erupted and and Kororareka, New Zealand's first European town was a smoking ruin. Thus the colonial capital of an empire which spanned the globe was sacked and its inhabitants thrown out. The population made off in ships to Auckland which was itself prepared for seige with many leaving for the safety of Australia. However Whakanene entered battle with Hone Heke on the side of the British and he was injured and suffered considerable losses.


Left: Kawiti, Hone Heke in family pose, Kawiti (Belich).

The British then dispatched the army and brought in much heavier armaments and support. They systematically laid seige to the pas of Kawiti and Hone Heke. Kawiti was a man of seventy years who had witnessed the entire transition from Maori society to colonial occupation, and had acclimatised with a unique degree of shrewdness and military innovativeness.

In a series of encounters beginning when the army marched on Puketutu and continuing through to Ohaeawai, Kawiti, through the use of a new style of military stockade designed purely for warfare, equipped with trenches and in fact inventing the art of trench warfare, designed to protect against bombardment through underground shelters and able to entice the military into deadly close ambush proved devastatingly effective against the army. At Ohaeawai 114 soldiers were killed and the pa was defended with a 6:1 shortfall of fighting men mocking the power of the British army.


The devastating seige of Ohaeawai and the inconclusive seige of Ruapekapeka blunted the Brisish onslaught (Belich).

Kawiti thus held his ground and inflicted commensurate military damage. Even when the next major confrontation came, Kawiti joined by Hone Heke who had recovered from his wounds successfully escaped in the seige of Ruapekapeka 'the bat's nest'. This time, after continued bombardment, the bulk of the defenders vacated the pa leaving only Kawiti and a few others, Kawiti seeming intent on standing as long as possible with his fortification. In the skirmishes which flared up in the surrounding forest the ambush did not fully succeed and there were equal casualties on both sides, but Kawiti and Hone Heke escaped and the British had only a tactical success after a draining assault without clear victory.


Left: Ruapekapeka today, Right: A model of the original pa (Belich)

Hone Heke had written to Grey: "Because God made this country for us it cannot be sliced - if it were a whale it might be sliced ... let us fight for the land that lies before us". Governor Grey eventually made peace with Heke (Basset Sinclair and Stenson 53). The north settled into a peace that was 'never broken'." (Condliffe and Airey 71).

This was not a peace of submission. The missionary Henry Williams commented "It cannot be said we have peace of a healty character. Heke is exciting much sympathy. He is at large and his cause is by no means extinguished." A clear indication of the nature of this peace is that it was only after Hone Heke and Kawiti both passed away that the flagpole was re-erected and then only by Kawiti's own son.


Left: the flagpole at Waitangi the scene of many protests during the celebrationsof the Treaty signing on Waitangi Day. Protesters have traditionally gathered on the place at Paihia across the estuary from Waitangi where the chiefs originally gathered to parley adorned with carvings (above) . Notice the traditional prominent penis on the centre figure (King). The original site of the pole cut by Hone Heke shows out on the headlands beyond Opua (right). This remained felled to avoid provoking further conflict until righted by Kawiti's son, the person with the apporpriate mana to re-erect the pole.

The relationship between Hone Heke and Christianity can be summed up in his own words:

"To Jesus Christ and the book, I will turn my back and empty my bowels on them".

The annual commemorations of the signing of the Treaty on Waitangi day have become a repeated saga of political protest in which protesters have stamped on the flag and uttered a variety of insults to the dignitaries attending the celebrations on behalf of the crown. There have been repeated pitched battles with police guarding the causeway from the chiefs gathering ground to the Treaty House and the occasion was brieful moved to Wellington during the 1990s.