Iwi from across the motu, as well as Government representatives, converged on Waikato today to commemorate 160 years since the battle of O-Rākau.

O-Rākau Heritage Society spokesperson Kaawhia Muraahi said the commemorations were a chance to openly discuss and reflect on the significant events that have shaped the country.

“[It’s] a history often untold, and often swept under the carpet by historians. That allows us to reflect on what happened, why things happened, so that we can contextualise how this country came to be, who paid the price, and more importantly, to create a space for ongoing conversations about the future.”

The siege on the pā, which is located near Kihikihi, southeast of Te Awamutu, marked the final war of the campaign between colonial government troops and Waikato Māori. The invasion of Waikato ran from 1863 to 1864 and resulted in a large number of Māori casualties and the confiscation of vast amounts of land belonging to iwi.

The O-Rākau battle alone historian Vincent O’Malley describes as a “brutal, bloody and awful” conflict that saw more than 150 people inside the pā killed.

“Rewi’s last stand”, as it’s often described, ended the Waikato War, before more than 400,000 hectares of Māori land was taken.

“[The] site itself was one of the most important historic sites in the country, and how it was marked by the Crown and local authorities was they run a road through the middle of the pā site and desecrated it.

“This is a wāhi tapu, there are 40 people buried here.”

Beyond the battle, Muraahi said it’s easy to see the long-lasting impact it had on Māori — statistics on health, education, imprisonment, employment, and housing “say everything there is to say”.

“One people benefited from the invasion, while another part of our nation, the Māori people, did not benefit in any way, and it’s been an intergenerational cost we’ve had to bear for the rest of the nation.”

It is hoped the 160th commemoration event will help to heal past grievances and shed some light on a shared history.

“A lot of people become open to conversations that they would not otherwise be open to be having and that’s really quite important,” Muraahi said. “Information and wisdom creates and helps shape attitude.”