Me maumahara tātou – we must remember. Not lest we forget. We must remember...It has to be that we go forward from a position of enlightenment, of māramatanga.
Rahui Papa, Chairman, Te Arataura, Waikato-Tainui, at the Wellington launch of The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800–2000, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 19 October 2016
Hailed as the first single-volume history of the Waikato War since 1879, the publication of The Great War for New Zealand by Vincent O’Malley has been met with a nationwide response.
The first official copy was presented to King Tuheitia and endorsed by tribal leaders at the Kīngitanga’s annual Waahi Poukai on 8 October 2016. It was only fitting that the people of Waikato-Tainui received the book first. As Vincent O’Malley said during his speech at the Waahi Poukai, it was time New Zealanders learned about the history that Tainui and other iwi carried alone for so many generations. The long queue of book buyers which formed after the official proceedings ended was a further endorsement by the people who are at the heart of the book.
At Te Papa’s Rongomaraeroa Marae on 19 October, Rahui Papa and Vincent O’Malley were joined by the Rt Hon Jim Bolger and the Hon Te Ururoa Flavell, Minister for Māori Development, in marking the book’s arrival. Jim Bolger explicitly linked events of the past and contemporary ignorance of those events with present-day social ills: ‘We should teach our history to every young New Zealander going through school, so they feel comfortable with it. And if they’re comfortable with it, they’ll be more comfortable as a society. If ever there was a time that it’s necessary, [it] is in a world that’s becoming more globalised, we have every culture, race, history and religion going to be with us [and] we need to know our own. Yesterday we had a very sad announcement. It was that we’re going to spend a billion making more prison beds. That, sadly, is a mark of failure.’
The other speakers echoed his conviction that the knowledge embodied by the book will produce social cohesion if widely shared. Waikato-Tainui leader Rahui Papa said ‘Vincent’s book…elevates some of the discussions, some of those things that people are shy to talk about. There is no more shyness, we have to embrace our history, we have to confront our history, we have to get over our history and we can only do that together.’
And at the Te Papa event, Emeritus Professor Atholl Anderson, speaking for the Bridget Williams Books Publishing Trust, announced that The Great War for New Zealand will shortly be placed in all secondary school libraries in November, enabled by generous funding from the Freemasons Foundation. This initiative was applauded by the Hon Te Ururoa Flavell, another of the speakers at Te Papa, who described it as an ‘absolutely huge’ gesture.
Young New Zealanders with a thirst for knowledge about their own stories have already recognised the significance of this history. In 2015 Ōtorohanga College students organised a petition calling for a national day of commemoration for victims of the New Zealand Wars, gaining over 12,000 signatures. The Government has since confirmed that such a day will be held, for the first time, on 28 October next year.
The Ōtorohanga students were presented with copies of The Great War for New Zealand at a third event held at Waikato Museum on 9 October. Petition organiser Leah Bell said of the book, ‘it’s important. It’s so important. Especially for our cultural identity. The more we understand our history, the more we understand who we are and the more united we can be.’ Fellow student Charles Ward acknowledged the book as representing more than just a historical resource: ‘It's basically awareness of our history – being able to just love who we are and who we were and getting everyone to know we are a nation that had wars and the wars weren't just overseas.’
This moving nationwide response to Vincent O’Malley’s book is set to continue with a major event at the Auckland War Memorial Museum on 21 November. Mihingarangi Forbes will chair a discussion, marking the book’s publication, between Rahui Papa and Tom Roa (Waikato-Tainui) and Vincent O’Malley. This is a public event and all are welcome.