Traditional haka performed at Ruapekapeka commemorations

By Harata Brown

Ngāpuhi and people from other iwi gathered at the site of the Ruapekapeka battle today to give a traditional welcome to representatives of the Crown. 

While it was Ngāpuhi's day to commemorate the last of the Northland conflicts, the first series of battles fought against the Crown, it was an opportunity for tribes affected in the NZ Land Wars to reaffirm their call for a national day of commemoration.

Today commemorates the end of the Northern Land Wars 170 years ago, with the Battle of Ruapekapeka. Haka leader Akeni Tai Tin says that the haka performed today are the same haka that Ngāpuhi performed in battle.

“Ancestors such as Kawiti, and Penetaui, they cried the words such as, 'E tama te uaua, e tama te maroro, ina hoki ra te tohu o te uaua kei taku ringaringa te upoko o te Kawau, ta Ta Hika.' That was the war cry of victory at Ohaeawai,” says Akeni Tai Tin from Ngāti Hine.

Ngāpuhi fought the Colonial Government when it tried to impose the Queen's sovereignty over them. Ruapekapeka, The Bat's Nest, was designed by Te Ruki Kawiti to counter the cannons of the British forces and the scars on the land are still seen today.  

“Te Aho is another ancestor that is well known amongst us. That is who the Cherrington line descend from. Modern War Hero Willie Apiata is one of them. There are many tūpuna who were here, like Mataroria and Te Toro from Ngāti Wai. Te Kapotai were also some of our allies. So many sub-tribes still hold those names and histories today,” says the chairman for the Ruapekapeka Trust, Peeni Henare.

Representatives from far-flung iwi like Waikato, Tūhoe and Tauranga Moana also took part in the commemoration.

There is growing support for a day to officially remember the Land War battles like Ruapekapeka.

“We have truly become Ngāpuhi, so yes this day is a day where we stand in unison, as one, for the overall purpose of remembrance,” says Awanui Black from Tauranga Moana.

“For a moment there, I thought I was in Ruatāhuna, but no, this is an awesome occasion, great for the soul,” says Pou Temara from Ngāi Tūhoe.

Ruapekapeka is subject to a Treaty claim. While Ngāpuhi are yet to settle their treaty grievances with the Crown, Henare says that much can be learnt from the Ruapekapeka commemoration.

“We must unite first here at home. The problem with our claims is that we continue to let the process divide us. So we must come together like today, and we can see even through haka, through our generation we are able to haka together, to stand together. It is hoped that our leaders here at home can do the same,” says Henare.