Newspaper article on Maori anti-war activists clash with New Zealand police

Papers Past _ SEVEN MAORI RESERVISTS ARRESTED (Dominion, 1918-06-12).pdf


This newspaper article, published in a major New Zealand daily newspaper, describes a confrontation between a group of Maori (New Zealand’ s indigenous people) and the police officers who had been sent to arrest several young Maori men. The men had refused to attend the medical examinations required of men drafted into the army. They were supported in this by Te Puea, a Maori leader, and other women of their community who confronted the police officers and shielded the men. The brother of the Maori king was one of the men called up and who refused to serve.


World War One was greeted with great excitement by many Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. Maori who supported the war believed that military service would win them social and political respect. The four politicians who represented Maori in New Zealand’ s government strongly expressed this viewpoint. However there were also powerful Maori leaders who were sceptical of the war. Why should they fight for the British, they wondered, when the British had colonized their country and brought disease, war, and settlers. Te Puea, a young, dynamic, and respected leader of her iwi (tribal family and community grouping) held this attitude. She spoke out against the war and supported the men of her tribe when they refused the draft. She rallied the women of her community and together they showed their support for men who refused to fight. They did this in songs and in confrontations such as the one described in this newspaper report. This newspaper clipping shows how controversial their actions were. Any challenge to the war effort was scandalous and was widely reported in the press. The cultural form of their challenge to the police is also significant. Song is politically significant in Maori culture. In this incident the women performed their anti-war music to make a political statement. They were showing their community that they supported and believed in their men. They wanted the men to refuse military service even though it was seen as central to masculinity at the time. The cultural clash between Te Puea’ s community and the police also inspired new songs and dances which stimulated a renaissance in Maori culture. This odd confrontation shows how the global events of the war caused local clashes in New Zealand. It shows women making a political intervention. As a result of their actions, Maori culture received widespread coverage in the mainstream press. As you read, consider the patronizing tone of the newspaper article but note, also, the fact that this was one of several major national newspapers that publicized the actions of these women and preserved a record of their use of Maori cultural forms to dispute the claims of the British Empire over their country and their manpower.