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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Patu: The New Zealand Wars by Gavin Bishop

This long-overdue book is a stunning visual history of the New Zealand Wars of the 1800s by the multiple-award-winning Gavin Bishop.

The large-format book, suitable for children and adults, details the key people, perspectives and battles of the New Zealand Wars.

It is, as we've come to expect from Bishop (Ngati Pukeko, Ngati Awa, Ngati Mahuta, Tainui), a visual feast. His distinctive ink and watercolour illustrations captivate the reader with intricate pou sitting alongside settler ships. Bold colour and contrast draws readers in. Complete with foldout maps of key pā, villages and battle sites, this is a book that will engross readers of all ages as it brings to life a period of Aotearoa's past.

Bishop skillfully explores the complex narratives of New Zealand, weaving his own whakapapa into Patu. This inclusion is a subtle yet important one, Bishop highlights the reality so many of us have to balance, that within our own families the roles of colonised and coloniser both exist, how ordinary families were, and continue to be, affected by the events of the times.

Bishop uses his in-depth research of those times to carefully construct a narrative that younger readers can relate to. The complex content is accessible and nuanced, with every reading offering a new tidbit. Bishop imbues so much knowledge, but also gifts the reader kernels to explore themselves. Bishop traverses a huge number of topics - from the musket wars to the Taranaki wars, kingitanga to wars of the Māori prophets, Te Kooti to the Legislative Wars, and so much more. Most importantly, he places these events in context, grounding the reader in time and space.

I was fortunate to learn about this part of our country's history during high school in the early 2000s. My story is not one that is common - New Zealand Aotearoa Histories only became compulsory within our education system this year, 2023. It is vitally important that we learn and know about our history. It helps us shape our sense of who we are, who we and our ancestors came to be here. History is a continuous thread; Me tiro whakamuri, kia anga whakamua - If we want to shape Aotearoa New Zealand’s future, start with our past.

Guiding readers through the bitter armed clashes over land and sovereignty that make up just one small section of our shared thread, Patu is an essential book for every person who calls this country home.

Reviewer: Rebekah Lyell



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