Questions for further discussion
The three “big ideas”
Teaching about the Māori Battalion using the video clips in this resource provides educators with an opportunity to re-think our traditional ideas about presenting historical events to students. We should consider three main ideas to help guide our teaching:
1. Understanding and using historical evidence
(“Evidence is a footprint at a crime scene. Information is something you find in a phone book.” - Seixas)
- Discuss what “evidence” we expect to find when studying the Māori Battalion.
- How can it alter our understanding of history?
- What are its limitations?
2. Understanding historical perspective
(“To understand people in the past, we must contextualise their actions – we must understand, as best as we can, their worlds and how they saw it, no matter how greatly those experiences and perceptions differed from our own.” – Barton & Levstik)
- Discuss with students the need to look at history through the “eyes” of the people who lived it, and not based on modern pre-conceptions.
- Discuss the idea of perspective – for example, the deeds of the Māori Battalion through the eyes of soldiers, non-Māori New Zealand, iwi/whānau, and the enemy.
- Highlight Te Puea and Ngata as important figures who had differing perspectives on Māori participating in the war.
3. Understanding historical relationships
(“Human Agency or ‘the role of human effort in bringing about and resisting change’” – Denos and Case)
- Discuss the ideas of cause and effect, and continuity and change – what were the reasons Māori enlisted?
- Why did some refuse?
- What were their various expectations?
- What changed for Māori as a result of their participation? What didn’t?
Thinking critically about the Māori Battalion
The following key questions are designed to encourage critical thinking, to emphasise historical perspectives and to challenge traditional views of the past. These questions could be used to engage students before, during and after the teaching process:
In history, whose experiences are remembered? Whose experiences are forgotten?
- How do we remember history? Often we think the “important” things are written down, and often for a purpose. However, we need to question the author, time period and intended audience. In the case of World War Two, many soldier experiences were deliberately not remembered or spoken of, including Māori soldiers. Why would this be?
- Discussion could also include the nature of ‘remembering’ in the Māori and non-Māori worlds; for example, the difference between oral and written history. Why do Māori have a tradition of oral history and not written? Why are the deeds of their soldiers commemorated in song? (For example, the tribute to Ngarimu in the waiata E te Hokowhitu a Tū and the iwi perspective on Haane’s downgraded VC in the haka Haane ).
- How do non-Māori soldiers remember their sacrifice? For example, do they have equivalent “songs”?
Who is suffering? Who is not?
- The Māori Battalion lost more men per head than other units. What are some reasons for this significant loss? For example, does it indicate courage or unintended sacrifice?
- How were Māori included in the war effort at home, and were their sacrifices remembered as equal with other New Zealanders?
- What role did Māori women play while the men were at war? (See clip on Māori women, highlighting leadership at home)
How do we remember history?
- Encourage further discussion on oral and written histories and the pros and cons of both. For example, is oral history any less legitimate because it is not written?
- What is the purpose of oral tradition in the Māori world?
- How can historians use oral tradition to understand the past and interpret what people see as important to remember?
What do we choose to forget? Why?
- Discuss the role of the Māori Battalion – the bravery and sacrifice (for example, Ngarimu and his Victoria Cross) but also the defeats (for example Cassino and Crete). Which is more “remembered”? Why was the waiata E te Hokowhitu a Tū written with Ngarimu in mind?
How and why is history contested?
- There are differing interpretations on historical events. For example, historian Paul Moon re-ignited the debate (in 2010) on the refusal to award Haane Manahi a Victoria Cross for his actions at Takrouna. Why then is the interpretation of the past constantly being contested? Is this “good” for history? What are the motives of those who seek to reinterpret the past?
How do different communities memorialise the past?
- Discuss how all soldiers were remembered and memorialised; for example, through local war memorials.
- How were Māori remembered? In the same way? For example, Haane Manahi and his deeds are also remembered through a symbol in (St Faith’s) church - a place where European and Māori worlds collided through Christianity.
How and why do different communities draw different conclusions from historical experiences?
- Why are the deeds of the Māori Battalion remembered so fondly - especially by Māori?
- How might this extremely high regard for the Battalion do other soldiers an injustice?
- Is it more special for Māori communities, in particular, to have bravery as a warrior, as a defining attribute? Why/ why not?
- Draw links to Willie Apiata and his Victoria Cross for bravery in Afghanistan in 2007. Was his celebration homage to this tradition? Explore possible links between Apiata and the Māori Battalion.
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