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The Forgotten Wars: Why the Musket Wars matter today by Ron Crosby


I did 7th form history back in 1993, when the teacher got to decide whether we focused on New Zealand history, or... Elizabethan England. She chose the latter. As useful as that was for my London OE in my 20s, I’ve had to do my own research as an adult to get to know the history of my own country.


So I was pleased when this handy little book landed in my lap. It’s for people like me, who don’t wish to wade through a lengthy academic textbook to glean some insight into what life was like here before European settlement fully took hold. In fact, The Forgotten Wars is a condensed version of Crosby’s 1999 opus, The Musket Wars, which comprehensively covered the complex issue of inter-iwi conflict between 1806 and 1845.


Funnily enough, Crosby - an ex-barrister who specialised in resource management and iwi claims - was prompted to write The Forgotten Wars when the Ministry of Education recently released a draft curriculum for the compulsory teaching of New Zealand history, which included subjects such as initial contact between Māori and Europeans and early colonial history - but omitted the Musket Wars.


What are the “Musket Wars” anyway? In a nutshell, the introduction of muskets by Europeans led to an imbalance of power in 19th Century Aotearoa: the Māori’s hand-held weapons were no match for the gun’s ability to kill from a long distance. Iwi (tribes) in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) were the first to get their hands on the new weapons and conduct wide-sweeping taua (raids), which eventually led to iwi across the nation desperately trading flax and other resources in order to upgrade their ammo.


The resulting warfare claimed tens of thousands of lives, killing, wounding or displacing up to half the Māori population; it exceeded the casualty figures of the later New Zealand Wars; it disrupted mana, land ownership and resources. The Musket Wars also had far-reaching consequences: desirable tracts of land that had been vacated because of the wars became the first locations to be purchased by the New Zealand Company and occupied by the early Pākehā settlers.


The Forgotten Wars is accessible, enlightening, and culturally significant for all who call Aotearoa home.


Reviewer: Stacey Anyan

Oratia Books, paperback, $39.99