Northern iwi mark 175th anniversary of Ruapekapeka battle

By Whatitiri Te Wake

People packed the marae for the start of the three-day event

Hundreds gathered today at Kawiti Marae in Waiomio, just south of Kawakawa to commemorate the 19th-century battle at Te Pā o Ruapekapeka. Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Manu and Te Kapotai welcomed whānau, hapū and iwi representatives despite the stormy conditions.

The Ruapekapeka battle was the final conflict in the northern war waged between some northern tribes and government troops, which had erupted in March of that year  at Kororāreka (Russell) in the Bay of Islands. 

The three-day event shares themes that organisers say will encourage people to learn more about the historic battle. The theme of day one is “Poroa ngā ringaringa me ngā waewae,” which was the declaration of war made by Te Ruki Kawiti when Hone Heke visited one of his papakāinga at Te Wahapu in early 1845.

The organisers' booklet on the commemoration says that Hone Heke arrived and placed a mere pounamu smeared with human excrement before Te Ruki Kawiti. "Known as the 'Mere Whakakopa,' it was a tangible expression that the supposed authority of the British (the excrement) was contaminating the rangatiratanga of the chiefs (Mere Pounamu).

“The metaphorical response by Kawiti was a clear declaration of war.”

Warm greetings were shared as New Zealand history was remembered

Sharing stories

Separately, Associate Culture and Heritage Minister Kiritapu Allen reflected on the battle of Ruapekapeka and said the commemorative event was an opportunity to understand New Zealand's past to build a better foundation for a shared future

 “Marking 175 years since the battle of Ruapekapeka provides us with an opportunity for reflection and remembrance of the events that took place there, and for the stories of our past to be shared more widely,” she said

The commemorations will continue until Sunday.

In late 1845 Governor George Grey had convinced his superiors of the need for more men to win the war. A force of around 1300 British troops and 400 Māori began to advance on Ruapekapeka in early December.

After hauling 30 tonnes of artillery and supplies over nearly 30 km of rugged country, the British force assembled before Ruapekapeka – ‘the bat’s nest’. The highly intricate pā with tunnels, rifle pits and trenches was surrounded by a strong palisade, but its garrison was outnumbered four to one. The British had three naval 32-pounder cannon, an 18-pounder, two howitzers and a number of mortar and rocket tubes. Te Ruki Kawiti had an ancient 12-pounder (which was destroyed shortly after the British began shelling the pā) and a 4-pounder.

The stormy weather didn't stop hundreds from marking the anniversary


Slipped away

Hōne Heke joined Kawiti inside Ruapekapeka with 60 reinforcements during the night of January 9, 1846. He and Kawiti now had a combined force of perhaps 500.

A full-scale bombardment on 10 January created three small breaches in the palisade.

The following day, January 11, scouts discovered that only Kawiti and a dozen men were still inside the pā. When troops attacked, this group fled into nearby bush after firing a volley.

When the British followed they were fired on from hidden positions. Fighting intensified briefly and Kawiti’s men seemed to be trying to retake the pā. The conflict fizzled out when the British refused to be lured into the bush. A dozen British had been killed, and rather more Māori. Some of the British may have been shot by their own side as they scoured the pā for non-existent loot.


Planned events include visits to whenua riri sites at Māwhe Kairangi, Te Ahuahu, Ohaeawai and Ngāwhā supported by themed wānanga with guest speakers.

On Sunday, commemorations will begin at Te Ruapekapeka Pā with the raising of whānau-hapū kara (flags). This will be followed by a ceremony including a tribute to the wāhine and tamariki who were also involved with the conflict when British troops attacked the pā on January 10, 1846.

The commemorations are being held from Friday 8 to Sunday 10 January at Kawiti Marae.