Te Puni Kokiri

Language preference: Māori English

Language preference: Māori English

The New Zealand wars were a series of 19th-century battles involving some Māori tribes and government forces, which included British and colonial troops and their Māori allies. The two major periods were a series of battles in the 1840s and more widespread battles in the 1860s.

Naming the wars

Though ‘New Zealand wars’ is the most common name, a number of other names have been used. Originally Europeans called them the Māori wars. This echoed the tendency of the British to name the wars after their enemies – as in the Boer War and the Zulu War. In the late 1960s thought was given to renaming the wars. One popular suggestion was the land wars, due to the importance of land in the disputes. Another suggestion was the Anglo–Māori wars, indicating the two major groups involved. Other less common suggestions included the New Zealand civil wars and the sovereignty wars. Māori names for the wars have included Ngā pakanga o Aotearoa (the great New Zealand wars) and Te riri Pākehā (the white man’s anger).


The first series of wars took place in the 1840s, when Māori were still a majority in the North Island, though Pākehā dominated the townships. A precursor to the wars was the 1843 Wairau incident, which saw armed conflict between Nelson settlers and Ngāti Toa forces over land at Wairau. The 1840s wars began with Ngāpuhi fighting government troops at Kororāreka (Russell) in 1845. A series of battles ran from 1845 to 1846. In 1846 there was fighting between government and Māori in Wellington, and there were battles in Whanganui in 1846 and 1847.

1860s and 1870s

The most sustained and widespread campaign was the clash between the British Empire and the Māori king fought in Taranaki, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty in 1860–64. The last period of the wars, from 1864 to 1872, was largely fought by colonial troops and their Māori allies against followers of Māori prophetic leaders. These wars occurred in Taranaki, the East Coast and the central North Island.

Confiscations and impact

After the wars significant areas of Māori land in the North Island were confiscated by the government. Reactions against the confiscations saw a period of continued tension after the wars. In Taranaki peaceful protests against land confiscations were led by prophets Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi at Parihaka. On 5 November 1881 Parihaka was occupied by government forces and houses burned. The protest against confiscations continued.

After the wars the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) established an aukati (boundary) which prevented Pākehā crossing into the King Country. The King Country was autonomous until negotiations saw it opened up from 1883.

Final confrontations

In the 1890s Tūhoe people opposing surveying in Te Urewera were arrested by armed forces. This was described by Māori politician Āpirana Ngata as a small war. In the late 1890s some Ngāpuhi who opposed government dog taxes, led by Hone Tōia, were arrested by a significant government force and imprisoned.

The last skirmish between the government and Māori occurred in 1916 with the arrest of Rua Kēnana at Maungapōhatu for sedition. Two Tūhoe men were killed during a firefight.

This information has been provided by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

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