The Maori at War and Strategic Survival: Tu by Patricia Grace

By Wilson, Janet | Hecate, May 2008 | Go to article overview

The Maori at War and Strategic Survival: Tu by Patricia Grace


Wilson, Janet, Hecate


Maori Writing about War and Tu as a War Novel In Patricia Grace's novel Tu (2004), about the Maori fighting in World War Two, the Tainui Maori leader Te Puea Herangi makes a brief appearance to articulate a view which was unfashionable for those times: the incongruity of Maori fighting a war of Empire on soil not their own, of participating in the colonisers' battle. (1) Defying the expectation that her people should 'go away to fight for God, King and Country' Te Puea asks: 'Why would they want to fight for the people who had had stolen their country?' (2) Yet the prospect of fighting was a serious temptation to young men seeking new horizons overseas and keen for adventure, and colonial troops like the ANZACs made a massive contribution in both wars although they also suffered serious losses. (3) The Maori troops in World War One gained renown for their courage in Gallipoli where they fought with the ANZAC soldiers, while the Maori 28th Battalion of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) in World War Two performed deeds of heroism in the Mediterranean and North African campaigns, being rivalled in bravery only by the Ghurkas. (4)

Tu develops a direction hinted at in Grace's earlier novel Cousins (1992), which tells of the lives of three women living in Wellington during and after World War Two, whose loved ones return home traumatised, in that it locates much of its action in the exclusively masculine domain of the battlefields overseas which in Cousins is only talked about. (5) The novel was inspired, as Grace says in the Author's Notes, by her father's active service with the Maori Battalion in the Italian Campaigns from 1944 (283). Along with other texts published early in the new millennium, notably Witi Ihimaera's The Uncle's Story (2000), which studies masculinity and Maori identity in relation to the Vietnam War, and Alistair Campbell's volume of poetry, Maori Battalion (2001), dedicated to his brother Stuart who joined the infantry company, Division D of the Maori Battalion, it marks out the twentieth-century wars of empire as a subject for Maori fiction for the first time. Although Otto Heim has noted the previous neglect of this topic with surprise, given the central place of violence in Maori Renaissance writing, (6) such neglect may be due to the orientation of these wars to the cause of empire and the fact that local sacrifices were made in the name of this monolithic geo-political ideology during an era of assimilation at home. This may have been considered less urgently in need of fictionalising in the early decades of the Maori Renaissance which focussed on the politics of Maori sovereignty and survival through cultural recuperation and revival.

The current recreations of the Maori presence in the international world of war can be described as transnational and, in their consideration of issues of home and belonging which arise when fighting on foreign soil, can also, more speculatively, be described as diasporic, a point which this paper will address later. The theme of war inspires what Elizabeth Deloughrey calls the 'transnational geographical imagination', but the authors approach their subject through detailed research. (7) Grace reconstructs the Maori Battalion's part within the New Zealand Division in the battles for Cassino in 1944, and their capture of the railway station round house and attack on the Hotel Continental, a centre of German resistance, drawing upon J.F. Cody's official army history, 28th (Maori) Battalion (1956), Wira Gardiner's Te Mura a Te Ahi [The Blazing of the Fire], The Story of the Maori Battalion (1992), and accounts of the Cassino campaign such as those by Fred Magdalany (Cassino, Portrait of a Battle (1957) and The Monastery (1945)); for her personal tragedy of three brothers fighting in the Maori 28th Battalion, she turned to family memoirs, memorial programmes, oral accounts, photos and tape recordings (284-86).

The recent fictions about Maori fighting in foreign wars of the twentieth century have also had to accommodate to new legends of valour the cultural heritage of warriorhood, the fighting codes of traditional Maori society, which was reinforced by the customary codes of mana ('prestige, power, authority'), tapu ('sacredness') and the obligations of leadership. …

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