If someone pitched you the idea of using a contentious event in New Zealand history that resulted in land confiscations, hundreds of deaths and years of intergenerational trauma as a marketing idea, what would your response be?
Down in Wellington at the Hurricanes rugby HQ, the answer was ‘great idea, go with it!’ Let’s examine the reasoning behind the decision to briefly dub the match between the Canes and the Chiefs this Friday night ‘The Taranaki Land War’.
At a guess, it’s pretty obvious that whoever thought up the tagline probably failed to learn about the New Zealand Wars at school (not to mention whoever approved it and published it). They then probably failed to do a quick Wikipedia search, where they would’ve found ample evidence as to just how horrific the three Taranaki Wars were – as well as the lasting ramifications that continue to this day.
The wars were fought, obviously, over Pākehā wanting, claiming and stealing Māori land. It’s somewhat difficult to imagine that fact alone not being enough of a red flag to any New Zealander, what with, you know, the Treaty of Waitangi being a constant political issue for basically the last 50 years.
Māori and British Imperial troops fought battles throughout the 1860s in the Taranaki region, with conflicts overlapping with those in Waikato and Tauranga. The end result was the confiscation of around a million acres of Taranaki land – a great deal of that taken from Māori who were themselves loyal to the Crown.
Wars being what they are, plenty of men died fighting on both sides. Plenty more women and children died through starvation and disease brought on by a British scorched earth policy. Some prisoners taken by the British were decapitated for a bounty, with the first campaign leading directly to the larger and more bloody Waikato War in 1863.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the actions taken by the New Zealand government back in the 1860s were acknowledged to have been so horrific their modern counterpart offered a formal apology as part of a Treaty settlement to eight Taranaki iwi.
So what’s this got to do with Super Rugby? Not an awful lot.
When the Hurricanes franchise was first drawn up, Taranaki was part of it. Then, not long ago, it decided to secede and become part of the Chiefs franchise. As far as the rugby side of it goes, that’s it. The change hasn’t really affected anything, providing no impediment to two of the biggest names in New Zealand rugby and Taranaki locals, Beauden and Jordie Barrett, from playing for the Hurricanes team their dad did back in 1996.
So if there hadn’t actually been a real Taranaki Land War, the name might have made some sense, but not really considering the split from the Hurricanes was purely a business decision and was handled reasonably amicably by both sides. In fact, after the Taranaki Union found its new home, the first scheduled game was between the Chiefs and Hurricanes – so as far as local fans knew, nothing much had changed at all.
Depressingly enough, this isn’t even the first time rugby has misappropriated history lately. The All Blacks announced they were going to do ‘Battle’ for the Gallaher Cup, which seems more than a little disrespectful given that Dave Gallaher’s life ended horribly in one of the most inhumane battles ever fought.
To their credit, it appears the Hurricanes took down the ill-thought out post about as quickly as it went up (which is more than the All Blacks have done). If nothing else, this shows why the New Zealand Wars need to be given a bit more prominence in our education system and days of remembrance – and also why the priority for social media quality assurance should be up there with making sure the Barrett brothers are fit to take the field.
Update: The Hurricanes have issued an apology via their website.