'No future here', calls for Pākaitore statue to go

By Contributor

Pākaitore statue claims Māori were fanatics and barbarians. Photo / NZME

By Ben Carter, NZH Local Focus, Whanganui

Pākaitore, also known as Moutoa Gardens, is a significant historic site in the Whanganui town centre. In the 1800s it was a trading post and fishing village for Whanganui iwi, later becoming a port for Pākehā settlers.

In 1995, Pākaitore was in the news every night as protestors occupied Moutoa Gardens, sparking a 79-day occupation.

The protests attracted a strong police presence and divided public opinion but were resolved peacefully after 79 days.

Every year on February 28, Whanganui iwi return to Pākaitore to celebrate their Whanganuitanga, commemorate the 1995 protests and highlight important issues.

Nowadays, most public opinion recognises Māori grievances and iwi land rights in Whanganui. But there are still grievances to reconcile.

“The people are not happy with one of the statues,” said Rangimarie Manuel.

“They want the statue either knocked down, or the words taken off and some other words put on.”

The monument in question is Aotearoa’s first war memorial. Unveiled in September 1865, it was dedicated to kūpapa Māori - those seen as loyal to the Crown. The statue reads:

“To the memory of those brave men who fell at Moutoa 14 May 1864 in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarianism. The monument is erected by the Province of Wellington.”

Manuel describes the monument as “hurtful” and feels concerned about the message it sends to Māori children.

”It’s cruelty, and that’s the part that is hurting the people here,” she said.

”This is a big kōrero that everybody needs to have something to say about.”

Political activist Ken Mair also objects to his ancestors being labelled fanatics and barbarians. Especially because they were trying to protect land that was rightfully theirs.

“All our lands from our perspective were thieved, by the colonisers and the Crown of that particular time, from the 1840s onwards,” he said.

“Pākaitore was only a small part of that picture, of 90,000 acres that was pinched from us through the misdeeds and the deceptive behaviour of people like Donald McClean and the surveyors that pinched our land.”

When approached for comment, Whanganui mayor Andrew Tripe wrote:

“Any decision on the statue would be made in consultation with the wider community, including Iwi.”

Mair doesn’t want to remove the statue entirely, but says it should be put in its correct place.

“It should be within the museum. We’re not into putting aside history or destroying history.

“That’s the reality at the time and people need to understand that some people within our society at that particular time saw [others] as rebels, fanatics and barbarians and it’s inscribed on this rock.

“It has no future here.”

Manahi Cribb from Awa FM returned this year for the 28th anniversary of Pākaitore Day.

“We want to keep alive the kaupapa and the real reasons why we came here back in ‘95,” he said.

“Celebrate and remember those, obviously, who have gone ... who’ve paved the way for us.”

In 1895, visiting American author Mark Twain objected to the statue. One-hundred years later the words were still there, motivating the Moutoa Gardens occupation, at which Mair was vilified for bluntly speaking out. Nowadays Mair is mostly vindicated, but still the statue remains.

“[It] reflects and continues to basically undermine, from my perspective, our Whanganuitanga, because it’s a statue, a piece of rock, that has a particular historical perspective from the colonisers and using the words barbarians and fanatics. In other words, describing our tūpuna, my tūpuna as fanatics and barbarians.”

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air