Resistance to conscription - Maori and the First World War

For whose 'King and Country'?

In his recruitment waiata, 'Te ope tuatahi', Ngata made it clear that the replacement recruits that he and his colleagues had raised had come from Te Arawa and the East Coast tribes of Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngati Porou and Ngati Kahungunu. These were all tribes noted for their loyalty to the Crown. Their tribal elders were influenced by ideals of patriotic service and the obligations of citizenship inherent in their ancestors' signed commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi. Naming them was an expression of honour and also an implied criticism of those not mentioned.

Those Maori who had not responded to the call to fight for 'King and Country' were largely from Taranaki and TainuiWaikato. Their absence reflected the events of the 1860s when their land had been confiscated as punishment for being in so-called rebellion against the British Crown. The important Waikato leader Te Puea Herangi was guided by the words of her grandfather King Tawhiao. After he had finally made his peace with the Crown in 1881, he forbade Waikato to take up arms again:

Listen, listen, the sky above, the earth below, and all the people assembled here. The killing of men must stop; the destruction of land must stop. I shall bury my patu in the earth and it shall not rise again ... Waikato, lie down. Do not allow blood to flow from this time on.

Te Puea and others in the Waikato took this as an injunction never to fight again. Te Puea was also of the view that Waikato had 'its own King' and didn't need to 'fight for the British King'. If land that had been confiscated (when Waikato had fought for their king) in the 1860s was returned, then perhaps Waikato might reconsider its position.

In 1917 in response to questions about Maori involvement in the war, the Maori King, Te Rata, had adopted a position that it was a matter of individual choice and that no one should be forced to serve.

Attitudes like these deeply embarrassed Maui Pomare, the MP for Western Maori and chairman of the Native Contingent Committee, as these iwi were in his electorate.

Of the 314 recruits who sailed for Europe with the third draft of the native contingent in February 1916, only 111 were Maori. The rest were volunteers from Niue, Rarotonga, and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. Pomare attempted to invoke the will of Tu-mata-uenga (the god of war) and appealed to a sense of utu in encouraging Maori to enlist. These attempts fell largely on deaf ears.

In 1916 conscription for military service was introduced to maintain New Zealand's supply of reinforcements. The Military Service Act 1916 initially imposed conscription on Pakeha only. Pomare wanted it applied to Maori. His wish was granted in June 1917 when the failure of the Native Contingent Committee to meet its reinforcement quotas (150 men every four weeks) saw the act extended to Maori. The conscription issue brought Maori opposition to participation in the war to a head.

Waikato resistance

As Waikato was seen as the centre of opposition to Maori participation, conscription was only imposed on Maori from TainuiWaikato. It was also argued that other iwi had 'done their bit'. The Waikato leader, Te Puea Herangi, supported those men who resisted conscription by gathering them up at Te Paina, a pa she had rebuilt at Mangatawhiri. Her stance attracted a lot of hostility from other Maori and Pakeha who accused her of being a German sympathiser.

Those Waikato men who refused to report for training when balloted in 1918 were arrested and taken to Narrow Neck training camp at Auckland. Any who refused to wear the army uniform were subjected to severe military punishments, including 'dietary punishments' (being fed only bread and water) and being supplied with minimal bedding.

Only a handful of the Tainui conscripts were ever put into uniform and none were sent overseas. By 1919 only 74 Maori conscripts had gone to camp out of a total of 552 men called. The imposition of conscription on the Waikato people had long-lasting effects, and the breach it caused was probably only restored with the Tainui Treaty settlement in 1995.

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How to cite this page: 'Resistance to conscription - Maori and the First World War', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/maori-in-first-world-war/resistence-to-conscription, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 19-May-2014