Content warning: Discussion of war, death and indigenous culture. I mean no disrespect to the Maori people of New Zealand, espeicially the members of the Nagti Toa tibe, whose haka I have used within.
The Last Haka
We advanced forward - the fighting was terrible - but we barely paused in our advance. Six of the stronger boys, Maoris, they were, broke on ahead as we fought our way upwards. The Turks guns fired faster, but once ours were loaded we had twice the number of bullets they did and it showed. Then, as we came up another ridge, the unthinkable happened. Whether it was a planned ambush or we were unlucky I couldn't tell you, but the men were suddenly split in two: those men who had charged ahead, the Maoris, were on the other side of a solid wall of Turks.
They fought on; for some time it seemed they might come through. Their position was such that the Turks could not swarm it, but could only come in small lots, each side taking shots, returning them. Those boys performed admirably, I tell you. We kept moving, trying to reinforce them, but the Turks wouldn't budge. It seemed that they were determined for us to get no further up the beach and they dug in gamely, like mules they stubbornly refused to move.
Then it happened, our boys in the hill stopped loading their guns. Ammunition spent they now had two choices: surrender or die. We could never get to them, though that did not stop us from trying. From above, we saw one man throw down his gun and, with heavy heart, we saw his fellows copy: they were to surrender.
Then, from the throats of these men came the most terrible sound, a roaring, vibrating cry, started by one man and then continued by his fellows and their words echoed over the beach, distinguishable even over the terrible gunfire and the screams of dying men.
"Ka mate, ka mate! Ka ora, Ka ora!
Ka mate, ka mata! Ka ora, ka ora!"
They pounded upon their legs and slapped their arms, standing their ground and pulling those grotesque faces as they are apt to do when they cry their war chant. The Turks facing them were greatly taken back, confused at this show of defiance from these unarmed men. They continued to chant, beating upon their bodies and refusing to flee. I had never seen the like in all my life, for men to face death in all its terror and be not cowered, but stand before him and challenge him, to dare death to come.
Though the Turks were not to be subdued for long. The order came and those of us trapped in the bloody melee below could do nothing to help as shots were fired and our men above fell, their war chants silenced by the terrible blast of the Turks guns.
Author's Note: This is a short story I wrote based on a story I read today at the Gallipoli Exhibition in Te Papa in New Zealand. During an advance, a small group of Maori men from the Wellington Division advanced slightly ahead of their men as they were fighting and ended up cut off by Turkish soldiers. They were briefly able to hold back the Turks, however eventually ran out of ammunition. As they were cut off from their unit, who were fighting below, they had no back-up and no way to get more ammunition. They were visible to their men below and were seen throwing aside their guns as Turkish soldiers advanced on them. Their men originally thought the Maori soldiers were planning to surrender, but instead these men stood their ground and began performing the haka. The Turkish soldiers were initially taken aback, but minutes later had fired on the six, brave Maoris, killing all of them. The rest of the Wellington Division who had partaken in that advance were driven back to their lines and those six brave men, like so many, many others in Gallipoli, lie in unknown, unmarked graves there.
It was not recorded which iwi (tribe) the men belonged to or which haka they preformed (each of the many Maori iwis in New Zealand had their own, distinct haka, or sometimes many), so for this story I have chosen to use the well known Ka Mate Haka, which is performed at various official events in New Zealand and, most famously, by the All Blacks before a rugby game. The Ka Mate was composed by Te Rauparaha, the chief of the Ngati Toa iwi, in around 1820. The Ka Mate remains sacred to the Ngati Toa people and I would like to acknowledge this and their spiritual and cultural ownership of this haka and their connection to it. The soldiers in this story may have been Ngati Toa people, as Wellington is within traditional Ngati Toa lands, or they may have been from elsewhere, belonged to other iwis and performed a different haka. It was simply recorded in the exhibit that the men stood their ground and performed a haka, so I hope they, their people and their descendants will forgive me if I have used the wrong one.
Reading this story at the exhibit today was deeply moving and I cannot imagine the terror these men must have felt when they realised they were out of ammunition, or what bravery it must have taken to hold their ground at the end and make that final, determined stand for their culture.
I wrote this story as if a soldier from the Wellington Division who survived the battle was writing about it in a letter home to his family. I would love to know what you thought of it, so please feel free to leave me a 'review' on the comments below.
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