15 Jul 2021
Interests Mahara Gallery is the district public gallery for the Kapiti Coast. It offers a diversity of curated group and solo exhibitions in contemporary art and cultural heritage.
"What is it we think of when the phrase ‘New Zealand Wars’ occasionally comes up in conversation? A remote, windswept battlefield in regional North Island? A bronze plaque or perhaps a lone monument recording the largely forgotten names of British or settler militia: the regiments they fought in and who died near or at the site. But what of the thousands of anonymous toa ‘Māori warriors’ who lie fallen? They too fought to maintain their land, their authority over it and the cultural legacy involved in it.
Ngā Pakanga Whenua o Mua ‘the NZ Land Wars’ are a far more powerful presence and legacy in Aotearoa than is widely understood today. Beginning in Wairau in 1843 and the North in 1845, the Wellington region in 1846 (spreading later to Taranaki, Tāmaki, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and other regions in the 1860s) these events and the values that drove the conflicts continue to cast a shadow across contemporary Aotearoa. Te Rangihaeata’s pā at Pāutahanui is a only a short distance south of the Waikanae gallery. The shadow of the events referenced in this exhibition Ātāroa ‘long shadow’ is then not simply an historical reference, but rather a contemporary presence.
The references to the impact of Ngā Pakanga are part of a reflective contribution of paintings and photographs found in the Ātāroa exhibition. These two genre are used to suggest the values and ideals that ngā toa ‘Maori warriors’ fought for in their efforts to maintain their mana whenua and their authority over their tribal lands. The photographs are largely factual records of battle sites in the Northern Wars but perhaps not the ones conventionally taken. The land itself and the natural environment is actually the strongest witness to these conflicts. On that tilted, elevated site at Ruapekapeka (1845/1846)) one can still actively imagine the scene in the remains of the earth fortifications and in the pūriri forest and native bush that surrounds the site. I have returned many times to Ohaeawai, Ruapekapeka and more recently Otuihu to photograph and research. I am not looking for plaques or monuments I am searching for other more intangible reminders.
As Hone Heke suggested in his correspondence with Queen Victoria in 1849, ‘the conversation still lives...’ In 2021 the NZ Land Wars continue to teach us that there is a continuing need for aroha as Māori and tauiwi make efforts to acknowledge one another and to avoid the darker, more tangible presence of Ātāroa returning"
Dr Rangihiroa Panoho