Te Reo ote Hokowhitu-a-Tu was a newsletter for veterans of the Māori Pioneer Battalion, edited by Rangipouri Reihana Taraua Marumaru (1887 - 1939) of Ngāti Apa. Marumaru was from a well-known Ngāti Apa whānau and a farmer at Parewanui, near Bulls, as well as a licensed interpreter. He had been the signatory to a telegram sent to the government in August 1914 expressing Ngāti Apa’s desire to offer their services in defence of the Empire. He joined up in August 1917 and left New Zealand for Europe as part of the Wanganui and West Coast reinforcements to the Māori Battalion in February 1918.
The Māori Pioneer Battalion began as the Native Contingent, the first Māori unit to fight in World War I. The Contingent was made up of 500 volunteers, who came together in Auckland in October 1914. They sailed from New Zealand on 14 February 1915. After serving briefly on Malta, they then fought at Gallipoli. After Gallipoli the men that were left were reformed into a pioneer battalion, along with the remnants of the Otago Mounted Rifles. A pioneer battalion is one that provides skilled labour for essential tasks such as building roads and railways, or trench digging rather than fighting. However this work often takes place on the front line and the Māori Pioneer Battalion served on the Western Front in both France and Belgium.
By August 1917 there were enough Māori reinforcements to fill the battalion and so on 1 September 1917 it became the first fully Māori unit ‑ the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion. The other name the Battalion was known by - “Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū” (the seventy twice-told warriors of the war god Tū) - came from Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki chief Wī Pere, the kaumātua of the original East Coast-Gisborne contingent. Although a pioneer battalion they were often near the front line and by the end of the war, 336 men had been killed and over 700 wounded.
At the end of the war the battalion were going to become part of the Rhine garrison but in the end the British high command decided not to use ‘native troops’. The Māori Pioneer Battalion was sent home, sailing for New Zealand in March 1919. They were welcomed back with hui throughout New Zealand, including at Pūtiki marae at Wanganui.
Once home Marumaru pushed for a society to be started to promote the welfare of the returned Māori soldiers. This became the Wanganui Maori Returned Soldiers Union. The need for a separate organisation for returned Māori soldiers seems to have developed out of the realisation that although Māori had fought alongside Europeans overseas, back in New Zealand Māori still were excluded from many things. Locally there were tensions - in May 1919, three Māori returned soldiers had been refused service at the Rutland Hotel and in July a fight started outside the Rutland when another Māori returned soldier was refused entry.
As well as being involved in the establishment of the Wanganui Maori Returned Soldiers Union, Marumaru started up Te Reo ote Hokowhitu-a-Tu. Published in Auckland by Wilson and Horton, the first issue came out on 15 Noema (November) 1919. Only three issues were ever published, with the last issue being 15 Hanuere (January) 1920. Not just a newsletter to reminiscence about the war or to connect with past comrades, it contained articles on land sales and parliamentary elections and reflected Marumaru’s concerns about the future of Māori in New Zealand.
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