Aotearoa's oldest war memorial, Weeping Woman, to be relocated after complaints of 'racist' inscription

The oldest war memorial in the country is set to be removed after complaints arose over its inscription with "racist stereotyping".

The 'Weeping Woman' statue in Whanganui was erected in "the memory of those brave men who fell at Moutoa 14 May 1864 in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism".

Now representatives of Whanganui iwi say it promotes "ongoing racist stereotyping" and stains the town's history.

Jay Rerekura, chair of the Pākaitore Historic Reserve Board said the inscription's wording is "offensive" to many.

"That inscription is in our face every time [we] come down to Pākaitore, a place that's very important for uri all the way from the mountain to the sea," he told Local Democracy Reporting.

The decision was made to remove the Weeping Woman following an iwi request, Rerekura added.

"Ultimately, with combined representation from Whanganui District Council, iwi and the Crown, we were able to come to the decision."

What was the statue commemorating?

The statue commemorates 15 Māori and one Pākehā/European settler who were killed in a battle with a taua (war party) of Māori who lived 80km upstream of the Whanganui River, at Moutoa Island.

The "fanaticism and barbarism" mentioned in the engraving is believed to be talking about followers of the Pai Mārire faith - some of whom tried to attack Whanganui to drive the settlers away.

But the attacking taua from upriver suffered a heavy defeat, and the settlers took the victory at Moutoa as a sign of loyalty from Māori in their community who defended their settlement.

Later on, Isaac Featherston from the Wellington Provincial Council bought a generic statue of a crying woman, and placed it at Pākaitore in December 1865, to commemorate "patriotic services".

Pākaitore was a historic village, trading site, and mahinga kai (gathering place) for Māori on the bank of the Whanganui River.

It was renamed as 'Moutoa Gardens' by settlers in 1899.

The whakamaumaharatanga / memorial is in Pākaitore, Whanganui.
The whakamaumaharatanga / memorial is in Pākaitore, Whanganui. Photo credit: Newshub.

What lead to the decision to relocate it?

Former politician Dame Tariana Turia first made the petition to the Pākaitore Historic Reserve Board, alongside kuia Retihiamatikei Cribb and Nancy Tuaine.

It was launched after discussions at marae in Whanganui, during February commemorations of the 1995 Pākaitore occupation.

"I thought, why are we allowing this [monument] to still be a representation of us as a community?" Tuaine told Local Democracy Reporting.

She said some uri (descendants) wanted the statue to remain, to help start conversations, but there's more support for a relocation.

"We just asked for it to be removed from Pākaitore."

Whanganui iwi agreed the statue should be moved, but said education is key.

Tuaine said the monument recognises "whānau who fell as a result of that battle" but only refers to one part of a wider story.

"To say that the way we practised our values, traditions and beliefs was barbarism or fanaticism is just not okay and is just a symbol of colonisation," she told Local Democracy Reporting.

The Pākaitore Reserve Board was established in 2002, after tangata whenua signed an agreement with the Government and the district council to share responsibility over the land.

A decision on the monument's new location is pending.