Skip main navigation

Ngā Tamatoa

Learn about the 1970's Māori protest group Ngā Tamatoa. Learn about their work on the Māori language petition, and other protest actions.
a black, white, and red Māori design of interlocking koru patterns.
© Te Papa. All rights Reserved

After the concentrated suppression of te reo Māori through the early 19th century, societal shifts and new legislation saw the increased urbanisation of Māori. This movement from rural Māori living enmeshed in traditional Māori culture to more isolated pockets in big centres led to many young Māori feeling increasingly disconnected from their cultural identity, whilst also facing racial discrimination.

”Between 1877 and 1951 there was a separate census for Māori and until 1945 they did not receive full old age and widows’ pensions. Bars, hotels, cinemas and swimming pools sometimes excluded Māori and some properties were not available to rent.”
Te Ara, The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

Ngā Tamatoa

As this era of explicit segregation ended, a new generation of Māori youth was finding their voice to fight against the marginalisation that still persisted. Some of them came together to form the civil rights group Ngā Tamatoa (The Young Warriors) in the early 70s. They challenged the discriminatory ways that Māori had been treated, and the loss of their cultural heritage. In an earlier step, we heard about their protest at Waitangi in 1972, a seminal moment that galvanised the organised protests there that continue to this day.
The story of Ngā Tamatoa is captured in the full-length documentary Ngā Tamatoa: 40 years On, which interviews many of the original members, including several who went on to become well-known figures in a changing nation; as artists, lawyers, academics, politicians, and community leaders.
Our tohu at the time was tama tu, tama ora, tama noho, tama mate, tamatoa – meaning stand up and do something, don’t sit and do nothing.
– Ngā Tamatoa member Taura Eruera reflecting back to the group’s beginning
Ngā Tamatoa shot to the fore of the national consciousness amidst accusations from the government that they were violent revolutionaries. Though there were members willing to fight for the causes they championed, it was overwhelmingly their significant peaceful protest actions that made an impact and gained the support of Pākehā groups such as the Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination (ACORD).
“In my mind, the women-led everything…If you think about it, back then, we were sitting there making a lot of noise but it was the women who were leading the charge. …We were there, but when you have a look at those who made the changes from the top of the north island down to the south, and the leadership from one tribe to another, they were all women.”
– Ngā Tamatoa member Taitimu Maipi.
A black and white phots of Ngā Tamatoa members, six Māori men and one woman. All are dressed in 70s fashion, sitting on concrete steps. Group of young Ngā Tamatoa members on the steps of Parliament. Back row, left to right: Toro Waaka (Ngati Kahungunu), John Ohia (Ngai Te Rangi, Ngati Pukenga), Paul Kotara (Ngai Tahu), and Tame Iti (Ngai Tuhoe). Front row, left to right: Orewa Barrett-Ohia (Ngati Maniapoto), Rawiri Paratene (Nga Puhi) and Tiata Witehira (Nga Puhi). Dominion Post (Newspaper). Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Ref: EP/1972/5388/11a-F.

Māori language petition

With the support of other groups such as Te Huinga Rangatahi (the New Zealand Māori Students’ Association) and the Wellington-based Te Reo Māori Society, one issue Ngā Tamatoa tackled was the widespread decline of te reo Māori.
In 1972, Ngā Tamatoa and their allies produced a petition to teach te reo Māori (the Māori language) in schools. They gained 30,000 signatures, and delivered the petition to parliament. Notably, the petition had a large share of Pākehā signatories, signalling the start of what would be quite a dramatic shift in public sentiment when it came to Māori rights and culture.
A downward photo of a pile of papers, they contain lists of handwritten signatures. Petition to introduce te reo Māori in schools, 1972. Courtesy of Archives NZ CC BY 2.0
“We the undersigned, do humbly pray that courses in Maori language and aspects of Maori culture be offered in all those schools with large Maori rolls and that these same courses be offered as a gift to the Pakeha from the Maori in all other New Zealand schools as a positive effort to promote a more meaningful concept of integration.”
Te Petihana Reo Māori – The Māori Language Petition

The immediate outcome of the petition was the introduction of optional te reo Māori classes in primary and secondary schools, and a teacher training programme for fluent reo Māori speakers to support the classes.

In the next step, we will cover what else blossomed out of this petition in terms of Māori culture and te reo in the subsequent decades, but first we’ll look at some of Ngā Tamatoa’s other significant protest activity.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Ngā Tamatoa’s activism

The inclusion of te reo Māori in schools wasn’t Ngā Tamatoa’s only rallying cry, they were involved in protest for the return of Māori land, Māori representation in parliament, and an honouring of the commitments made in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

He Taua

‘He Taua’ (The War Party) was the name of the members of Ngā Tamatoa who occasionally pursued more physical direct action. Their most famous action was on March 1, 1979. Despite decades of complaints, including an attempt by Ngā Tamatoa the previous year to prevent it through official channels, the overwhelmingly Pākehā Auckland University Engineering graduates were winding up to their controversial capping tradition -– ‘the Haka Party’. This consisted of a bastardised version of the traditional Māori haka (war dance) ‘Ka Mate’, performed in hard hats, work boots, and grass skirts, with male genitalia and profanity painted on their bodies. The Māori words of the haka had been changed to ones that used offensive terms to refer to Māori and suggested they carried disease.

During a rehearsal, they were confronted with around 20 He Taua members, and the ensuing fracas led to stitches, bruises and bloody noses on both sides. He Taua received widespread condemnation for the confrontation from both the Pākehā world and from Māoridom. The incident was reported in the media at the time as an incursion of gang members bashing students and many were convicted of crimes including rioting, but they achieved their goal. The ‘Haka Party’ ritual never took place again.

Black and white photo of a short Māori woman facing away from the camera. She has her arm outstretched to 5 Pākehā in a row, They wear face paint, grass skirts and have paint on their faces and arms up mid-haka. Māori student, and Ngā Tamatoa member, Hilda Halkyard (Ngāti Hauā, Te Rarawa) confronts Auckland University engineering students performing a mock haka in 1978, Craccum, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

The incident exposed the tensions caused by unchallenged racism at the time, and sparked an inquiry by the Human Rights Commission and the Race Relations conciliator. This led to a wider inquiry into the nature of Māori and Pākehā relations in the country as a whole. This exposed further divisions and cracked open a conversation that had been simmering for decades.

The Engineering department in question has since gone from one Māori student at the time, to over 170 Māori & Pacific Islanders.

Other events

This group was involved in organising the 1975 Land March, covered in a previous step. At the end of the march, Ngā Tamatoa members of the group held a three-week sit-in (what they called a ‘tent embassy’) on parliament lawns protesting issues such as Māori land loss.

Ngā Tamatoa also joined the coalition of groups and people protesting against the 1981 Springbok tour covered later in the course.

Honouring Hana

Hana Te Hemara was a leader of Ngā Tamatoa, and she spearheaded the Māori language petition and personally presented it to Parliament in 1972. Watch the short clip below to see one way her legacy is honoured today.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Further resources

Watch the full ‘Ngā Tamatoa: 40 Years On” documentary (~60mins)

The Story of Ngā Tamatoa, Episode 3

Rangatira: In the Blood / He Toto i Tuku iho – Donna Awatere Huata documentary on Ngā Tamatoa leader Donna Awatere Huata

© Te Papa. All rights Reserved
This article is from the free online

The History of Protest in Aotearoa New Zealand

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now