Māori Princess and Red Cross Queen: The Memorial Arch to Hera Takuira

Aaron Ackerley's picture


Bryan McClure

Department of History, Western University


Marking the entrance of Jubilee Park in the town of Te Puke in Bay of Plenty, Aotearoa (New Zealand) stands a twelve-foot tall marble arch. Writing on the pillars in English and Te Rao identifies it as a war memorial to Hera Takuira, a young Māori woman who died in 1918. Erected to commemorate one person, the memorial demonstrates the struggles of the Māori to gain recognition from settler communities as their attempts to showcase loyal service did not translate into meaningful action.

Hera was a teenager during the war, the daughter of Takuira Mita and Pare from Maketu and was also known as Sarah in local newspapers. Hera became famous in the community of Te Puke when in May 1918 the Red Cross organized a campaign to raise funds for the war effort which took the form of a Queen Carnival.

Different towns in the area nominated a Queen to represent them and they undertook a variety of fundraising efforts to raise money in a contest between them. The Queen that raised the most money would be crowned victorious. Hera was nominated as the Māori Queen and finished fourth in the contest, raising £748 9 shillings.[1] Hera, however, was apparently ill during the carnival and several weeks later she passed away. The exact date of her death is unclear as newspapers stated it occurred on June 28th, while the memorial states her death occurred on July 2nd.[2]

The desire to commemorate Hera began shortly after her death when her family approached Te Puke town board to erect a memorial to her. Their desire to memorialize her publicly was due to her participation in the Queen Carnival.[3] The erection of the memorial took time as the town was hesitant to support its erection, and opposition from other Māori arose over fears that the memorial would see Hera’s mana enter the town as was against custom as she was not from Te Puke but Maketu.[4]

In November 1920 the memorial was finally constructed in the form of a marble arch near the eastern entrance to the town. The funds for the memorial though were raised entirely by Māori of the region and it is not clear if the town board gave their blessings to the memorial or not.[5] The memorial has since moved several times since it was erected and today it stands as the entrance to Jubilee Park from the parking lot.[6]

The marble arch is designed with a red cross on the keystone, with inscriptions on each pillar. Written in both English and Te Reo, the text of the memorial speaks about Hera and her ancestry. The arch is marked as a war memorial with the line, ‘She loyally assisted the Empire in the Great War 1914-1918’ which also served as the justification for her to be commemorated.[7]

The memorial to Hera was not the only memorial erected by Māori after the war to commemorate their service. Sir Apirana Ngata, a Māori MP helped commemorate multiple Māori soldiers who died in the war. Sir Apirana commissioned St Mary’s Church in Tikitiki on the East Coast as a war memorial using traditional Māori arts and crafts in its design.[8]

 The design and language of Indigenous memorials reveals several strains of how these communities viewed the war and worked to shape the memory of the conflict. One of the key elements in the design of the memorials was the mix of Māori and British culture. The language used on the memorials reflect similar sentiments and phrases used on settler memorials. It is clear that commemoration of Māori service in the war was to reflect positive messages of loyalty rather than objections to settler colonialism.

The war, and the service of the individuals being commemorated, was to showcase the valuable contributions Māori communities provided to not just the Dominion, but the Empire. These individuals were symbols of the equal service given to the British not just in armed combat, but at home as the memorial to Hera Takuira demonstrates.

The use of British styles of commemoration spoke to the way these individuals saw commemoration and their people’s participation in the war as a way to further their rights and relationships with the settler populations. The war, rather than open the rights for Indigenous peoples, saw little to no changes on how they were treated, with many veterans of the war leading new pushes for change and rights that they thought they had earned and fought for in the war.[9] The language of the memorials failed to achieve the desired goals of their creators as the messages of service and sacrifice failed to change the way settler colonial governments treated them.

As pushes for greater remembrance and commemoration of people who have been neglected in public memorials in calls for decolonization, it is important to remember the memorials that came before, and what they strove to achieve. New memorials are not to be discouraged, but rather they should be considered only part of the decolonization process as memorials ailed in the past to alter the structures of settler colonial power structures.


You can find Bryan on Twitter @brymcclure

Cover image: 'Hera Takuira memorial arch, Te Puke', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/hera-takuira-memorial-arch-te-puke, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage) [accessed 20 Septembr 2022]

[1] ‘Queen Carnival Contest’ Te Puke Times, May 28th, 1918, p. 2. (All newspaper articles can be found here: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers, [accessed 20 September 2022])

[2] ‘Paengaroa Notes’ Te Puke Times, July 9th, 1918, p. 3. (To see the memorial visit: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/hera-takuira-memorial-arch-te-puke, [accessed 20 September 2022])

[3] ‘The Te Puke Times’ Te Puke Times, July 9th, 1918, p. 2.

[4] ‘The Te Puke Times’ Te Puke Times, August 20th, 1918, p. 2.

[5] ‘Local and General’ Te Puke Times, November 2nd, 1920, p. 3.

[6] The arch can be seen from Google Street View from the parking lot of Jubilee Park in Te Puke.

[7] Hera Takuira Memorial Arch, Te Puke, NZ History Memorial Register, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/hera-takuira-memorial-arch-te-puke.

[8] Tikitiki Church War Memorial, NZ History Memorial Register, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/tikitiki-church-war-memorial, [accessed 20 September 2022]. (To see the church visit: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/tikitiki-church-war-memorial, [accessed 20 September 2022])

[9] Timothy C. Winegard, Indigenous Peoples of the British Dominions and the First World War, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 229-255.

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