Translated from Māori by Hemi Kelly
Both fiction and fact, this fascinating book is a kaleidoscopic exploration of the Battle of Orakau.
During three days in 1864, 300 Māori men, women and children fought an Imperial army and captured the imagination of the world. The battle marked the end of the Land Wars in the Waikato and resulted in vast tracts of land being confiscated for European settlement. Instead of following the usual standpoint of the victors, this book takes a Māori perspective. It is centred around Witi Ihimaera’s moving novella, Sleeps Standing, which views the battle through the eyes of a 16-year-old boy named Moetu.
Alongside the novella are non-fiction narratives from Maori eyewitnesses, together with images and a Māori translation by Hemi Kelly, further giving voice to and illuminating the people who tried to protect their culture and land.
It is estimated that, at the height of the battle, 1700 immensely superior troops, well-armed and amply resourced, laid siege to the hastily constructed pa at Orakau. The defenders were heavily outnumbered with few supplies or weapons but, when told to submit, they replied:
‘E hoa, ka whawhai tonu matou, ake, ake, ake!’
‘Friend, I shall fight against you for ever, for ever!’
About the author
Witi Ihimaera was the first Māori to publish a novel, Tangi, in 1973. He has gone on to become one of New Zealand’s leading writers, exploring Maori stories and history through literature, theatre and film. The first volume of his memoir, Māori Boy, won the Ockham Award for best non-fiction in 2016. He is currently working on the second volume of his memoir and other projects including Flowing Water, a musical drama set in the Waikato during the New Zealand Wars. He is ot Te Whanau a Kai, Te aitanga a Mahaki, rongowhakaata, Tuhoe, Whakatohea and Nagti Oprou descent.
About the translator
Hemi Kelly (Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Tahu, Ngati Whaoa) is a full-time lecturer in te reo Māori at the Auckland University of Technology, and a licensed translator and graduate of Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo/The Institute of Excellence in the Māori Language. In 2017, Hemi translated Witi Ihimaera’s novella Sleeps Standing. A Māori Word a Day is his first book.
An eloquent work of memory, witness and imagination, themes which strongly resonate with us as librarians. We liked its innovative mix of English and Māori, poeticism and realism, and how, in telling the story of a defining event in new Zealand history, Witi raises it to the level of a universal conflict, in which technological advantage is pitted against attachment to the land.
This important and passionate work gives various Māori accounts of the 300 Māori men, women and children who fought an imperial army in 1864.