Topic: Battle at Pukehinahina: A Play Based on the Battle of Gate Pā by Debbie McCauley (2013)

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Debbie McCauley wrote this play in 2013 to help children gain a practical understanding of the Battle of Gate Pā at Pukehinahina on 29 April 1864. It was sent out to 64 local schools as part of the Teacher's Education Pack at the end of Term 4 in 2013. It was also performed during the 150th commemorations with class visits to Tauranga City Library in March and April of 2014 along with a reading of the book 'Taratoa and the Code of Conduct: A Story from the Battle of Gate Pā' by Debbie McCauley.

Props required:

  • Maori:
  • Cloaks or grass skirts for Maori warrior x 4
  • Feather for use as a pen
  • Gun (Tūpara)
  • Name labels
  • Parchment scroll
  • Palisade (cardboard)
  • Wooden bowl
  • British:
  • Armstrong gun & tennis balls (painted black).
  • British soldier’s costume x 4
  • Name labels
  • Sailor’s hat
  • Ship (cardboard)
  • BANG BANG sign
  • SAD FACES sign
  • Sun (Te Rā)

The narrator reads ‘Taratoa and the Code of Conduct’ up to page 15. Then came the battle. 

  1. Ask the teacher to choose nine children to be actors. Put the children in costume and make sure they all have name labels so no-one gets confused as to who they are.
  2. Explain to the ACTORS: When there are battle scenes someone will be shot. That person will fall to the ground, but do it GENTLY because the floor is VERY hard.
  3. Explain to the CLASS: Talk about how they can participate and what makes a good audience. Show them the signs and explain what they are to do when they see them. Have a couple of practices with the signs - especially stopping when the sign is put down.
  4. Also explain that ‘artistic license’ has been used, which means some things that are said in the play may not have happened in real life. We weren't there, so we don't actually know what was said.

Now we will introduce all of our characters:

  • Rāwiri Puhirake (Māori Leader)
  • Hēnare Taratoa (wrote Code of Conduct)
  • Pene Taka Tuaia (Pā Engineer)
  • Hōri Ngātai (Māori Chief)
  • Duncan Cameron (British General)
  • Henry Greer (Lieutenant-Colonel)
  • Henry Booth (Lieutenant-Colonel)
  • Sailor
  • Te Rā/Sun

One hundred and fifty years ago, during the New Zealand Wars when Māori and Pākehā were fighting each other, British soldiers set up camp at the northern end of the Te Papa peninsula. (British mime setting up camp).

Māori leader Puhirake knew a battle was coming. He said to the other chiefs...

Puhirake: ‘We need a meeting’.

The chiefs met at Poteriwhi (Port are reef ee) Pā next to the Wairoa River. (Māori warriors group together). They agreed on a Code of Conduct for the coming war.

Taratoa said: ‘I’ll write it’ (Taratoa sits cross legged writing with a quill).

This was sent, along with a challenge, to Greer. (Taratoa takes paper to Greer).

Taratoa: ‘Here you are’.

Greer glanced at the papers. Greer: ‘What’s this rubbish?’

Then he threw them away. (Greer chucks piece of paper over his shoulder).

Puhirake decided to build a fighting pā at Pukehinahina. This later became known as Gate Pā as it was next to the gate dividing missionary and Māori land.

Tuaia said: ‘Dig a trench over there’ (Māori warriors mime digging trenches and hide behind the palisades).

Tuaia had designed trenches and hidden bunkers behind palisades, which are a type of fence. The Māori warriors hid themselves.

(British walk into stage with large cardboard ship).

Booth and more soldiers arrived from Auckland, along with Royal Marines on their big ships. Cameron took overall command.

Cameron: ‘I’m a General. I’m in charge!’

One huge Armstrong gun and four smaller ones were unloaded from the ships and dragged to within firing distance of Gate Pā. This is near where the Tauranga Hospital is today. (Unveil the gun and put it facing the palisade).

(Te Rā crosses the stage).

The day of the battle dawned. At first light the guns started firing. (Soldiers fire balls through Armstong Gun at the palisade – hold up BANG BANG sign for audience – turn it away and then hold up once more).

Nine hours later they stopped firing and the British got ready to attack. (Te Rā crosses the stage again).

Puhirake spoke to his warriors.

Puhirake: ‘Trembling hearts be firm!’

The Māori warriors sprung up from their safe hiding places and fired at the British.

(Māori leap up from behind the palisade and take turns firing the gun – hold up BANG BANG sign).

Booth was shot through the spine and right arm. (Booth collapses on the ground).

The troops were driven back. (All British apart from Booth sit down at the side).

During the night, the wounded called out for water.

Booth: ‘Water, water!’

Remembering the Code of Conduct the chiefs had drawn up, Māori warriors carried water to the wounded.

Taratoa: ‘Here you are’ (Taratoa takes a bowl of water to Booth, give him a sips then leaves it on ground next to him).

Booth: ‘Thank you’. (Drinks). Booth was to die of his injuries the next day. (Hold up SAD FACES sign).

When it was dark, Māori left the .

Ngātai: 'Come on, lets go'.

(Māori go and sit down at the side).

The next morning a sailor crept up to the . (Sailor creeps up to the pā and looks over palisade).

He found it deserted.

Sailor:‘They’ve gone’. (Sailor creeps up to Booths side and holds up bowl).

The sailor saw that some of the wounded had water vessels beside them.

A force of 1,700 soldiers and sailors had been defeated by just 230 Māori. Later, the Pukehinahina trenches were filled in. Now Cameron Road, named after General Cameron, cuts right through the middle of the fighting pā

The End. Actors please come and take a bow (actors take a bow, remove costumes and return to their seats).

Resume reading ‘Taratoa and the Code of Conduct’ at page 16.

Marble freize on Rāwiri Puhirake New Zealand Wars memorial (1914)

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Battle at Pukehinahina: A Play Based on the Battle of Gate Pā by Debbie McCauley (2013)

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
Battle at Pukehinahina: A Play Based on the Battle of Gate Pā by Debbie McCauley (2013) by Debbie McCauley (Tauranga City Libraries) is Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International