Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū: The Pioneer Māori Battalion were a group of soldiers who served during the first world war. They were conscripted to fight alongside other soldiers in defence of the British Empire. Many Maori in particular those from Taranaki and Waikato were against Maori joining the war effort. Other Maori, some as young as fifteen signed up eagerly seeking adventure. However did serving during the war improve the life for Maori in New Zealand?
One reason the Maori had a better life after the war was because there was a focus on education. The soldiers were able to help whanau understand opportunities beyond their villagers by teaching them about the world, it’s cultures and the adventures awaiting. The war also helped form a better understanding between the races. Maori and Pakeha formed friendships and connections on the battlefield that would continue in New Zealand. The Maori and Pakeha experienced the same hardships on the battlefield that would help them understand each other better. It is believed that better relations between Maori and Pakeha were formed because of the shared experiences at war.
Although positives that came from Maori going to war there were still a lot of negatives. Even after fighting alongside one another Pakeha still saw the Maori as different. The Maori returned to New Zealand to lower paid jobs. Maori were still poor, and were in worse health. Serving during the war meant the number of Maori young men also declined. 366 Maori soldiers were killed and more than 700 wounded. Even with their great sacrifices the quality of life for Maori did not improve dramatically. They were still viewed as different and inferior to Pakeha.
Overall the hopes of Maori were not realised. The Maori thought that after serving in the war, they would be viewed as equal and gain respect from Pakeha. Unfortunately this is not what happened. The Maori were still considered different and many stayed poor, had worse health and no land. Maori soldiers that were able to come home to their families shared their new understanding of the world and gained lifelong friendships. However the lives of the Maori people that stayed in New Zealand did not improve because of those that served in the war.