Musket Wars

Page 5 – Aftermath

End of the wars

By the 1830s, most tribes were heavily armed. Quick, decisive battles no longer seemed possible and rivals looked for ways to make peace without losing face. The Christian missionaries who had been ‘long ignored by warring chiefs’ now had an opportunity to exert more influence. On his deathbed, Hongi Hika had apparently told his people to allow the missionaries to stay.

The truth of the matter was that Māori were war-weary. Tribal economies could no longer sustain fighting on this scale, and some of the original reasons for it no longer applied. 

Shifting boundaries

Some of these campaigns drove tribes out of their traditional areas and into exile with relatives. Whole regions were depopulated, complicating questions of ownership. When migrating iwi faced resistance from tangata whenua (local people), conflict spread and new grievances were generated.

In claims to the Waitangi Tribunal, some iwi have argued that muskets enabled land to be unfairly acquired. There have been calls for the recognition of tribal boundaries prior to European contact.

The acquisition of land by conquest was well established in Māori tikanga (custom). Ballara locates these wars on a long-term continuum of political and social interaction. Hongi’s desire to gain utu for a previous battle supports this interpretation.

Place in New Zealand history

In The Penguin book of New Zealanders at war, Gavin McLean points out that despite the massive carnage and dislocation caused by these wars, they remain ‘shadowy events for many New Zealanders’. This may reflect views about when New Zealand history ‘starts’. These conflicts were almost exclusively the concern of Māori, with European participation largely confined to the supply of weapons. They seemed of little consequence to early Pākehā writers seeking a grand narrative of European colonisation.

As well as having a profound impact on Māori, the Musket Wars – and in particular the unease of British authorities about the role of traders in enabling them – contributed to the decision to colonise New Zealand in 1840.

How to cite this page

'Aftermath', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 11-Sep-2015