Anzac Day: Pacific Islanders' contributions not forgotten

  • Breaking
  • 24/04/2013

As New Zealanders mark Anzac Day around the country, many Pacific Islanders will join the commemorations.

One hundred and fifty Niueans served during World War I, and formed part of a group called the Native Contingent, which also included some Rarotongans and Maori.

It was a time when Maori from Waikato and Maniapoto refused to go to war because of past transgressions from the Crown.

Sisikefutama Sisikefu is a proud Niuean – proud of his roots and his grandfather who fought in WWI. Like many New Zealanders, he too will commemorate Anzac Day.

"To us, it's part of our livelihood," he says. "We look forward, even our current grandchildren they look forward to commemorating and celebrating the day."

Mr Sisikefu's grandfather was among the 150 Niueans who landed in Auckland for training before heading to war. At the time, New Zealand was struggling to fill its quota of 150 troops to war each month, so Maori MP Sir Maui Pomare called on the help of the Pacific.

"Dr Pomare was the Cabinet minister at the time, he had the idea to call on the Pacific people."

Sir Maui encouraged Maori to join the war, but struggled to convince them. In the eyes of Maori from Waikato and Maniapoto, it wasn't their fight.

"It wasn't our war, was it?" says Mihi Poihipi of Te Puea Marae. "It wasn't our war. It was the Pakeha war, we had nothing to do with it until they came here."

In 1917 the Military Act was changed to make Maori conscription compulsory, despite objection from many. Ms Poihipi recalls fierce opposition from Tainui, spearheaded by prominent Kuia Te Puea Herangi.

"I can understand why she didn't want us to go to war – she didn't want our lot to go fight. As I said, it wasn't our fight. We could understand why – half of them didn't come back."

Ms Herangi continued to fight against Maori conscription, forcing the Crown to look elsewhere for troops.

"There was a very strong Niuean, Rarotongan in the conscription and in the numbers that formed the Native Contingent," says Tom Roa, Waikato-Tainui tribal executive chair.

Ligi Sisikefu's grandfather Talauta Mango was part of the Native Contingent, made up of Maori, Rarotongans and Niueans. It was the first time Niueans had left their homeland, and the journey was a difficult one.

"They went and left their families," says Ms Sisikefu. "Different food they're not used to, the clothing, the shoes... They've never worn shoes before, and they had to wear these heavy boots."

The Sisikefus would like more Pacific Islanders to mark Anzac Day.

"I'm part of this because my grandfather went, and this is one of the reasons why we want to get the others to be aware and be a part of Anzac [Day] and celebrate it with meaning," says Ms Sisikefu.

For the families of Niuean soldiers, it was an extremely sad time.

"They were not expected to return," says Mr Sisikefu. "In those days there was no communication. Maybe once a month the boat can come up to Niue."

Fortunately both their grandparents returned home to their families.

"I'm proud of our men, especially our grandfather, Sisikefu," says Mr Sisikefu.

It's a pride shared by many as the nation remembers all those who served.

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source: newshub archive