In the darkness on the corner of Rangiaowhia and Puahue Roads on the morning of February 21, a karakia was spoken to begin the commemoration of the attack on the Maori village in 1864.

Already a large crowd had assembled for the day of events.

Ngati Apakura kaumatua Tom Roa was overwhelmed by the response to the now annual event — first held in 2014 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of what is described as 'atrocity'.

Tom said the accepted history is that the warriors were out of the village and prepared for battle against the colonial forces — but instead the forces attacked the village where the elderly, the sick, and women and children were.

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The sun rises on the dawn service at Rangioawhia. Photo / Dean Taylor
The sun rises on the dawn service at Rangioawhia. Photo / Dean Taylor

So on the day of commemoration Tom asked that those assembled particularly think of the women and children and the losses that were suffered.

Rangiaowhia was home to Ngati Apakura and Ngati Hinetu — now they have no home.

Tom explained that while they have marae it is all on land where either Rangiaowhia people married into other tribes or land that was gifted by Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Hikairo and Ngati Tuwharetoa.

He is looking to redress that wrong in the future — to build a 'home' where the people of Ngati Apakura and Ngati Hinetu can whakapapa to.

"It will be our cradle," said Tom.

Primary and Secondary School students from across the Waikato took part in the commemoration. Photos / Caitlan Johnston
Primary and Secondary School students from across the Waikato took part in the commemoration. Photos / Caitlan Johnston

On the day students were told stories from women who are descendants of females who survived the attack on Rangiaowhia.

First to speak was Dale Powers who spoke about how her great grandmother Rahapa Te Hauata had her land taken away from her during the attack.

Rahapa was believed to be at home with her two younger children Catherine and Ellen while her husband Thomas Powers was in Auckland with their three older children Margaret, Mary and James. She also had a man and a woman staying with her at the time.

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"When the colonial forces came in they took everything they possibly could, they killed all their pigs, they killed their fowls and they took their house. The forces took anything they wanted, they even took some of the children's clothes," said Dale.

Dale said Rahapa wrote a letter asking the Governor how she was going to be able to feed her children and help the community, however she was told to gather her things and leave the area. It is believed she settled in the Wairarapa area.

The letter was written in Te Reo Maori and in this letter Rahapa also clearly asks for her land back that they took away from her.

Dale Powers tells school children the story of her great great grandmother Rahapa Te Hauata. Photo / Caitlan Johnston
Dale Powers tells school children the story of her great great grandmother Rahapa Te Hauata. Photo / Caitlan Johnston

Hazel Wanders also told the students about her great grandmother Wikitoria who played a game with some of the children to keep them safe from the soldiers on the day of the attack.

It was Wikitoria's job to take some of the children down to the puna (spring) says Hazel.

"They played this game where you get a kuta (bamboo spike) and then you bob down under the water and breathe through it. That was the game they played as kids and that was the game she had to play with them that day to keep them safe," said Hazel.

With whare, kaumatua and other tamariki being burnt in the attack Hazel says her great grandmother was faced with a problem. She decided take herself and all the children she was looking after to the only place she knew she had whanau which was in Otorohanga.

Ōtorohanga students attended the commemoration - it was students from this school that challenged the Government to have a day to remember the New Zealand Land Wars.
Ōtorohanga students attended the commemoration - it was students from this school that challenged the Government to have a day to remember the New Zealand Land Wars.

Upon arriving in Otorohanga, and when her family heard of the atrocities in Rangiaowhia, her name was changed to Te Mamae which means pain and sore.

"When we asked my mother how she got from Rangiaowhia to all the way over there (Otorohanga) my mother said they swam all the way," said Hazel.

"I want you to think about that… this day for me is about the courage and the challenges that our young ones had to face. The majority of those who actually escaped the atrocities were tamariki like you guys."

Waipa Deputy Mayor Liz Stolwyk then made the final speech before lunch was served and talked about how the Waipa District Council is investing in the district's heritage.

"Rangiaowhia is featured as a very important part of Te Ara Wai Journey's — a series of six self-drive tours through the district that you are able to do today.

Waipā District Council Deputy Mayor Liz Stolwyk talked about how important it was for council to be investing in the districts heritage. Photo / Caitlan Johnston
Waipā District Council Deputy Mayor Liz Stolwyk talked about how important it was for council to be investing in the districts heritage. Photo / Caitlan Johnston

"We also have a very important Te Awamutu Museum that is actually not too far away and Rangiaowhia will also be a main feature," said Liz.

"We're honoured to embark on this new chapter of investing in our districts heritage and sharing the very important stories and perspectives of the New Zealand Land Wars that many of us simply haven't learned as older people, as my generation haven't learnt through education growing up."