Lately I’ve spent a lot of time researching the soldiers that were part of WW1’s 1st Māori Contingent. In a letter sent back home, Lieutenant Henare Kohere who was in the 2nd Māori Contingent, spoke about arriving in Egypt and being welcomed by the remainder of the first.
When we neared the camp we could hear piercing the air the familiar Māori welcome. This handful of Māoris were surrounded by thousands of Pākehā troops. It was all too pathetic. There in the front of the masses of troops a thin dusky line, remnants of the brave 500 that left the shores of New Zealand a year ago. They gave us a rattling haka […] They looked a mere handful and how many of them are sleeping their last sleep on the slopes of Gallipoli.
Sometimes when I read these letters my allergies all of a sudden flare up and I get watery eyes. Every now and then reading about the trenches of Gallipoli gets a bit too heavy and so I go looking for someone to chat to. Last week I walked or rather lingered around the photography studio and subsequently had a grand tour. Wednesday I caught the eye (probably because I was just awkwardly standing there) of one of the install team players and got to see where all the heavy glass cabinets, half-filled paint cans and trays of screws, nails and other important installation tools are kept.
Tuesday was especially cool because not only did the sun come out but Anaru Rondon shared with the Mātauranga Māori team, his amazing knowledge of Te Ao Kōhatu. We learnt all sorts regarding what stones are from where and used for what and traded with whom. What was really amazing was seeing the patu onewa. I can’t really fathom how our tīpuna constructed such a beautifully sculpted and perfectly balanced taonga. Apparently it wasn’t too bad as a deadly weapon either. The amount of weapons in the taonga collection store does make me think about who collected these and to what end.
It’s probably all the reading about the 1st Māori Contingent that has heightened my senses to these weapons of war. During the early stages of WW1 the noble and warrior race theories were employed to recruit Māori soldiers and later maintained by their gallant actions. I like to side with Moana Jackson and Franchesca Walker on this one. Although I can only imagine what it would have been like for those back home waiting for letters and searching the papers for news about your son, brother, husband, father, cousin, uncle or friend. Maybe the hope that they descended from a warrior race might have eased that pain of separation. But as the late Irihapeti Ramsden said “Once were gardeners, once were astronomers, once were philosophers, once were lovers,” and when I look around at my whānau and friends, I reckon we still are.