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Political Statues

Written By: - Date published: 12:16 pm, August 25th, 2017 - 42 comments
Categories: colonialism, Deep stuff, International, racism, us politics, war - Tags:

Not too good in the U.S. about statues recently.

New Zealand endured a massive and protracted internal war from the late 1850s to the late 1870s. But you wouldn’t know it: there’s barely a memorial to this most divisive war. Unless you look pretty hard. In fact most of those battles now exist in physical form as mere shadows on the ground from earthen ramparts.

And yet directly after this war, the New Zealand Parliament in full retribution mode passed laws that confiscated millions and millions of acres from Maori ownership. There you have most of the cause of the entire Treaty of Waitangi process that still goes on today.

So why almost no memorials to our massive civil war?

After all, only thirty years after we had been busy fighting against each other in the New Zealand Wars, we finished our World War One participation, and for that there were war memorials put up in every town and city and borough the full length of the country from Kaitaia to Bluff. There are still peaceniks who would prefer to see those World War One statues of soldiers to glorifying mass orchestrated competitive sadism to be smashed and turned into flower gardens to peace. But ANZAC services grow and grow and grow.

There is an entire U.S. industry devoted to remaking and re-enacting civil war battles, but you sure won’t find that here. If Waitangi Day was treated like ANZAC Day in New Zealand, the entire naval fleet would sail into every harbour, and great kapa haka competitions would raise everyone’s hairs: it would be a national day in competitive showing-off. In terms of the theatre of expressing challenge and conflict, what better form is there than the haka?

Perhaps we find it all faintly embarrassing. So why do people proudly flock to parade around ANZAC Day memorials specifically for remembering historical conflict, when emotional remembrance at Waitangi is relentlessly mocked? Maybe there’s some internal national trigger that makes it just too hard to even represent military conflict between Maori and settler European. Maybe Maori would prefer not to remember that some Maori were on different sides and their motivations complex.  Maybe we would prefer to just leave thinking about that kind of difficult thing to textbooks for intermediate school children, and drop it later.

Maybe we don’t trust ourselves to be thoughtful about complex and emotional civic issues, as if talking about hard stuff strips us of all dignity. Or more correctly, … “emotional Maori issues”.  Monuments are always concentrations of history that express contradictions of grandeur and suffering, forced labour and peak societal achievements, grand scale and territorial pettiness, patronage and allegiance.

When Oliver Cromwell took his chance and deposed the monarchy temporarily in England in the mid -1600s, his troops were charged with entering churches and smashing down all the statues they could find. Same after the French Revolution, and similar after the Soviet Union fell. It’s an aniconic drive to deny representation of the sacred and assert new order. Crosses of course are illegal in Chinese mainland churches, so they are taken down. It’s quite a religion that puts extraordinary torture as its physical representation.

But the Charlotteville confederate memorials defined specific things: they helped define and enforce the City’s racial boundaries through the Jim Crow years. Maybe, dare I say it, our “race relations” are more advanced than those of the U.S. Maybe a bit.

We don’t have too many large statues of actual generals on horseback. There’s no General Chute or General Cameron astride a steed somewhere in 5 metre high bronze that I am aware of. Not even a great big Titokowaru at the prow of a great waka ready to storm anything. Maybe we’re shy.

If we did have such statues, they could just turn into yet another Motoua Gardens protest. That garden has a memorial with a plaque. Maybe, in New Zealand, proper statues would turn into something that we contest and refresh our memories about every year just like other war memorials. To test our identity upon as individuals and as a whole bunch of us. Empty pedestals have a few teachable moments – but surely we can teach the politics of representation without turning them into rubble first.

Now after many decades of trying, the second floor of the Auckland War Memorial Museum has devoted one room of its second floor devoted to war memorialisation, to this war between Maori and settler government. There, that wasn’t so hard.

42 comments on “Political Statues ”

  1. dukeofurl 1

    I understand a lot of the civil war confederate generals statutes were mass produced-by factories in the north- and were erected in the 1920s, a time when the racial discrimination laws were tightened and after the 50 year aniversaries of teh end of the war.

    “Many Civil War commemoration statues—such as the one pulled down in Durham—were cheaply mass produced by northern factories, which simply switched the belt buckles’ insignia to suit Union or Confederate clients.”

  2. Candy1 2

    Whites need to be reminded that they stole this country from the Maori peoples.

    • D'Esterre 2.1

      Candy1:”Whites need to be reminded that they stole this country from the Maori peoples.”

      No. Nobody alive had anything to do with the large-scale land confiscations of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
      Some people now alive may be descendants of those involved; the rest of us are not. And in any event, blaming all pakeha for the crimes of the past is more or less equivalent to blaming present-day Jews for the death of Jesus, or all Germans for the crimes of the Nazi era. It’s bizarre and pointless.

  3. joe90 3

    So why almost no memorials to our massive civil war?

    Wander around any provincial centre and they’re right there.

    Do you live in a street named after someone who murdered your whānau? For Māori, many of us do. #Colonisation https://t.co/hhJ181ml8T pic.twitter.com/NW2VjhkU0M— Te Kawa Robb (@tekawa_robb) August 16, 2017


    • Ovid 3.1

      Well, Cumberland Street is a main thoroughfare through Dunedin and my forebears on my father’s side were on the losing side of Culloden. And descending from Irish Catholics on my mother’s side there is the little issue of the entire town of Cromwell.

    • dukeofurl 3.2

      the NZ style was some sort of artillery piece rather than a person. I remember seeing a book that covered them in detail, it was a very thick book.

      Other than that , the land wars mostly have a sign along a back road that just says ‘Redoubt’ pointing to a hill or ridgeline. Rangiriri is the most obvious one on a main highway.

  4. Thanks for the post.

    “Maybe Maori would prefer not to remember that some Maori were on different sides and their motivations complex.”

    nah I don’t think many if any would think that – the nature of Māori warfare included those ideas and there are many histories around those types of behaviors.

    you may remember this from September last year

    “A racially-charged debate is igniting over research that has revealed “white supremacist” comments made by the prime minister Massey University is named after.

    Now, almost a century on, a top academic is calling for the university to consider a name change.”


    possibly even bigger than a statue topple?

    There are and have been many examples including changing place names and so forth where Māori and others have asked for the history to be added. This is also regarding battles including the colonisation ones.

    Statues are western – carvings are Māori and I’m am sure the events of those times have been recorded in wood as well as memory for Māori.

    I do agree that a nice big discussion with Māori and others would prove enlightening and fruitful in this area.

  5. Bill 5

    I don’t think those statues should be destroyed (if that’s what’s happening).

    The US has some really fucked up history and it shouldn’t just be eradicated so people can ‘feel’ better about themselves and/or the country they identify with.

    How’s about they get shifted from prominent positions outside city chambers (or wherever they are) and installed in new dedicated civic spaces so that people don’t get to forget or ignore their uglier pasts?

    • francesca 5.1

      In Russia they have partly solved the problem by gathering soviet era statues in a sculpture park,Muzeon Park of Arts, previously known as Fallen Monument Park
      A repository for historical artifacts, an educational resource, part art history, which curates historic and contemporary sculpture
      Rather than pretend certain figures never existed or were never memorialised , they appear as contemporary reminders of past ideologies


    • francesca 5.2

      In Russia they have partly solved the problem by gathering soviet era statues in a sculpture park,Muzeon Park of Arts, previously known as Fallen Monument Park
      A repository for historical artifacts, an educational resource, part art history, which curates historic and contemporary sculpture
      Rather than pretend certain figures never existed or were never memorialised , they appear as contemporary reminders of past ideologies


      • joe90 5.2.1

        I guess when he’s done with Stalin, Putin will turn his hand to rehabilitating lessor known heroes.

        Although condemned for his brutality after his death, Stalin is now getting new respect from both an older generation nostalgic for the lost Soviet empire, which collapsed in 1991, and a younger generation of nationalistic Russians.

        About 10 statues of Stalin have gone up around the country since 2012, said Pavel Gnilorybov, a historian who works with a group that tracks human rights abuses.

        Some of the renewed admiration comes from President Vladimir Putin, who often laments the breakup of what had been the world’s only other superpower besides the United States.

        Putin condemned the “excessive demonization” of Stalin during an interview that aired this summer with Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone. Putin said attacks on Stalin amounted to “attacking the Soviet Union and Russia.”


        • francesca

          To be fair, and although it doesn’t get any airing in the western press, Putin also said “whoever doesn’t mourn the soviet union has no heart, whoever wants it back, has no brain”
          I have a Russian friend, now married to a NZer, who is taken aback by the tone and bias in media coverage of anything to do with Russia or Putin
          She says his words are consistently mistranslated and she finds it hard to recognise the Russia written about compared to the Russia she knows
          She herself is no great fan of Putin, but the alternatives are more dire

          • Stuart Munro

            There are no alternatives. Single party state.

            • CoroDale

              Lets be real about the two party states. Labour and National also basically a neo-liberal flip-flop of good-cop-bad-cop. Or MMP friends in Germany for example; not only is there no clear ideological difference between the two main parties SPD and CDU, these two focus on rubbishing ideas of the small parties and even officially rule together in a grand coalition!

            • francesca

              single party state?????
              Its one of the most multi party governments,(7 currently represented in the State Dumas)
              Regional parliaments currently have 10 parties participating in regional government

              • Stuart Munro

                Tell it to Nemtsov … oh, sorry, you can’t – Putin had him killed.

                • francesca

                  Oh come now.
                  Nemstov couldnt even get above the threshold .Very few Russians vote for Yeltsin era liberals.The only reason they still exist is through the beneficence of NED and the US embassy payments.
                  The communist party is a far more potent threat to United Russia, yet we dont see them getting killed.
                  Even the most rabid Russophobes don’t blame Putin for Nemtsov

                  • Stuart Munro

                    “Nemtsov didn’t even get above the threshold.” So it’s ok for Putin to have him killed. One party state – the bad kind.

                    Nemtsov was killed in the most highly monitored piece of ground in the whole of Russia. The omnipresent security was conspicuously absent, the video footage likewise. Putin took personal responsibility for the investigation, which of course went nowhere.

                    It was a political hit with significant insider support – that’s what it takes to make the security presence and the video evidence go away.

                    Putin cheated to get elected, murders journalists, and prevents the development of opposition parties. He’s old cold war in the worst way – the natural descendant of the Okhrana.

                    You’re not the only one with Russian friends.

                    • D'Esterre

                      Stuart Munro: ““Nemtsov didn’t even get above the threshold.” So it’s ok for Putin to have him killed. One party state – the bad kind.”
                      I think a bit of logical thinking wouldn’t go amiss. Why on earth would Putin have him killed? What would be the point? Nemtsov wouldn’t be worth the effort, to be blunt.
                      Francesca has pointed out that the communists are much more of an electoral threat, yet Putin isn’t accused of bumping off any of ’em. Curious…
                      “Nemtsov was killed in the most highly monitored piece of ground in the whole of Russia…..Putin took personal responsibility for the investigation, which of course went nowhere.”
                      Last I looked,there have been arrests, a trial and convictions in this case.

            • D'Esterre

              Stuart Munro: herewith a list of opposition parties currently in the Duma.
              1. Communist party
              2. Liberal Democratic party
              3. A Just Russia
              4. Rodina
              5. Civic Platform
              At present, 3 seats are vacant.
              United Russia – the party of government – holds a thumping majority.
              Please don’t just talk about rigged elections. Produce the evidence: and not anything from the CIA or any of its puppet NGOs. Talk is cheap…

              • Stuart Munro

                It’s not particularly easy for me to produce the evidence from half a world away, but electoral tampering was widespread when Putin was first elected and subsequent reports suggest that it remains so.

                This story points to the ongoing tampering.

                The 2000 election was the subject of an investigation by the Moscow Times (since shut down) which found widespread evidence of tampering right across the country. In fact Putin would have won on the second ballot, his majority was secure – but he cheated anyway.

                • D'Esterre

                  Stuart Munro: “This story points to the ongoing tampering.”
                  Ah, you’ll need to do better than the WaPo, if you wish to change the minds of such as me.
                  I used to believe all that stuff too, until one day I realised that it all came out of one source – the US of A – and it had the decided look of a “just so” story. Then Noam Chomsky, and – qu’on dit – the rest is history.

                  • Stuart Munro

                    I’m not particularly concerned with what you believe – I’m more concerned with the truth.

                    People without Russian friends would do better to look critically at Putin rather than swallow the RT line sans salt and imagining they’re ‘edgy’.

                    With respect to Nemtsov, Ukrainian links or sympathies are probably material. But you shouldn’t imagine that Putin needs a strong rational argument – the killing of Litvinenko wasn’t strictly logical – he had few or no secrets left to spill. Like Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the combination of power and spite is sufficient explanation.

    • Ovid 5.3

      Most of these were erected in the 1920s – in parallel with a surge in popularity for the KKK or in the 1960s as a reaction against the civil rights movement.

      If museums want them, they should be welcome to take them, but statues on their own are a poor way to educate people about their history.

    • adam 5.4

      Don’t agree there Bill. The overwhelming majority of these were put up after the first world war, when Jim Crow was just getting seriously into stride.

      They server a direct political purpose to both black and white Americans. My white friends from the south, talk about the reminder being don’t rock the boat, and side with black Americans at any turn.

      Where are the statues of Eugene V. Debs?

      • joe90 5.4.1

        after the first world war

        Dedications and monuments were part of post reconstruction efforts to disenfranchise the new others.



        • adam

          Thanks joe90, must have got monuments and schools mixed up in what I was reading.

          That Southern Poverty Law Report is nothing short of stunning. They do some great work.

      • Bill 5.4.2

        So my angle is this Adam. You know all those caves down by the bottom of Otago Harbour? And how “no-one” knows what they are or what they’re about? And how the placement of Rongo Rock was an overgrown piece of wasteland? And how ‘settler NZ’ would rather pretend that everything was just mungbeans?

        And no. There are no memorials to Eugene Debs, or Lucy Parsons or Mary Barbour or any other working class hero, and we well know the reason why.

        • McFlock

          “No-one” knows? Don’t be so sure.

          And I recall walking past a plaque commemorating a seminal speech against poverty that was given in a church somewhere near Stafford Street. ISTR a memorial in wellington for Parnell of the 8 hour day.

          But statues don’t preserve history, only some aspects of it. And some of those aspects need to be removed from the present, and become history.

          The statues of Robert E Lee aren’t just historical. They keep that injustice alive and healthy.

  6. Stuart Munro 6

    Somewhere along the line the southern US went much further than NZ colonizers, with a corporate model of slavery. Modern slavery was very much associated with labour intensive export crops, notably sugar (as cultivated in Sicily under Arab rule in the ninth century), which seems to have been the model that spread to other plantation products like tobacco and cotton.

    Adam Smith was persuaded that slavery was uneconomic, because slave owning was more costly than hiring labour, the theory being that labourers find their own housing or subsistence, which slaves do not. But he did not anticipate the speculative market in slaves as stock, and was in any case influenced by the anti-slavery views of Hutcheson.

    The monolithic corporate agriculture that developed slavery on a large scale has generally been absent from NZ, at least until the recent dairy intensification. But large scale slave run agriculture (the Sardinian and Sicilian grain farms) were a feature of the Roman late republic and contemporaneous with its decline. Slavery depressed wages in the southern part of the US and arguably held back its development as compared to the north, for all that individual slave owners became in some instances very wealthy.

  7. AsleepWhileWalking 7

    We have Waitangi day. Who needs dusty old statues to glorify war?

    Evolution 4.0 (predictive software with a 96% accuracy rate) put the chances of civil war breaking out in the US at 70% back in April/May of this year. Hardly a good example to follow.

  8. dukeofurl 8

    Theres a park in Taipei where they parked all the unwanted Chiang Kai shek Statues

    Theres 100s apparently, its quite bizarre

    In Auckland, the Council asked for a got a statute of George Eden, Earl of Auckland that originally was in Kolkata. They had a policy of removing these colonial relics, Eden had been Governor of Bengal or something.

  9. JC 9

    “The Great South Road that was the original route over the Bombay Hills was first built as a supply line for military invasion. That invasion was instigated by political manipulation that excluded Māori from any meaningful say and largely benefited wealthy Auckland speculators.

    The British troops weren’t bringing civilisation when they crossed the Mangatawhiri River. They were about to wreck it.”




    or this great piece by Jack McDonald on Parihaka


    Theirs Hope yet…Without the rubble

  10. Steve Alfreds 10

    But there are various statues around the country celebrating the Crown’s hand in the Land Wars. The Nixon Memorial in Otahuhu is an example. It’s in honour of Colonel Marmaduke Nixon who fought in the Waikato Land Wars.


    Here’s another example. The Ihaka Whaanga NZ Wars memorial in honour of the Ngati Kahungunu chief who fought with the Crown to suppress the Hauhau in the Hawkes Bay in the 1860s and 1870s.


    Should they be pulled down, or do they serve as a reminder of the country’s dark past?

    • dukeofurl 10.1

      Theres a small monument just beside a bridge on the road to Waiuku, which I think is for some local settlers killed fighting the Maoris in the 1860s

  11. CoroDale 11

    Interesting stuff. Relevant to consider the War Memorials on the wooden walls in the Beehives’s main debating chamber. Paradoxical to hear an Old Boy from the Mana Party naming this as justification for his conservatism on issues in the leaders’ debate.

    When will the walls of Parliament celebrate cooperation and peace?

  12. JC 12


    A list of our national monuments… from the NZ Ministry of Culture and Heritage….

    Sad really.. or Really Sad!

  13. Huginn 13

    There used to be a statue in Symonds St, Auckland, at the intersection of Wakefield St (I think).

    From memory, the plaque was dedicated to British troops and ‘friendly Maoris’ who fought the Land Wars.

    It was tarred and feathered, and painted red a few times in the 1970’s, taken away, and cleaned up, and put back. And then, probably around 1981, the council decided not to put it back.

    I’m not sure how I feel about it at the moment. Something needed to be done about it, but we can see now that it’s removal has also enabled an erasure of the memory of the wars

    • D'Esterre 13.1

      Huginn:”There used to be a statue in Symonds St, Auckland, at the intersection of Wakefield St (I think).

      From memory, the plaque was dedicated to British troops and ‘friendly Maoris’ who fought the Land Wars.”

      It’s still there;we walked past it a couple of hours ago.

      In my view, it is where it ought to be. Attempting to expunge such symbols of the past smacks of revisionism.

      As LP Hartley famously said, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. Back then, perspectives that are now deplored were almost universally shared. Many of you commenting here might well be horrified by what your great-grandparents thought about the world. My late grandmother said of my late mother: “Oh, Catherine’s a real little democrat”. It wasn’t a compliment. Mother told the story with great relish!

  14. Antoine 14

    > Perhaps we find it all faintly embarrassing.

    I think this is the key point. Americans are much more prone to Public Displays of Patriotism. Look at all the fuss they make over their flag.

    I would think that pretty much most Kiwis would be embarrassed to make a big deal out of any statue in NZ, whatever their political beliefs or what it was a statue of.


  15. eco Maori/kiwi 15

    Well of course the New Zealand Land was are a embarrassment to the Government.
    It was basically Maori against Maori as Maori out number the settlers by about 10 to 1.
    And Maori were the first use Papatuanuku for war i.e trench warfare the Europeans copied this tactic off Maori in world war one and two.
    Also Maori never lost a war to the settlers never you see Maori had a war fighting culture fighting wars was part of our DNA . These old Rangatira {Chief} were as clever as Sun Tzu they did not like losing a war or any of there Mata-kai-kutu {Warrior] .
    These Rangatira would never engage in a fight with out a retreat plan or in a war that the opposition had the high ground or a greater tactical position.

    Nagti Porou were the tribe that sided with the settlers as tactfully this move was good for the tribe you see the Maori tribes all ways did what was good for the many.
    And look at how the Government has rewared Nagti Porou .
    They have the highest unemployment in New Zealand the drug PEE runs rampant trough there community’s .Like I have said Nagti Porou are a shadow of there days when Apirana Ngata was was a live. Nagti Porou were the back bone of the New Zealand economy.
    But all the Nga Iwi of New Zealand were great and industrious and advanced educated people. In 1840 The Maori had a higher % of people reading and writing than the settlers Maori were the first to export to Australia.
    This is why I say to all of us with Maori ancestry to be proud of this fact and hold your head up high so as to Honour our Ancestors .
    But now were are all Kiwis in New Zealand lets not discriminate against others.

    • Exkiwiforces 15.1

      Well said and having visited a number of New Zealand Land War sites in my younger days. The Maoris knew a thing or too about war fighting than the Poms/ Settlers did.
      During WW1 awful lot of Maoris volunteer for active service, but government of the day were still shit scare of the Maoris taking up arms again and thence why the Maoris were given a so called non combat role as Pioneers role not a full combat Infantry role. But in saying that I understand a number NZ officers did turn a blind eye on occasions as the sound of the Maoris going in combat put the fear of god into the poor old Boche who by the way thought it was dammed ungentlemanly using theses savages/ natives in a white mans war.

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