In the early 1860s following an influx of settlers to Whanganui and land loss, members of Whanganui hapÅ« from the upper reaches of the Whanganui River joined with members of the Pai marie (Hauhau) faith founded by Te Ua Haumene to express their discontent. HapÅ« in the lower reaches of the river did not accept the Pai Marire movement, because of the influence of Christian missionaries.
In May 1864 MÄtene Te Rangitauira of Taumarunui led a party of warriors gathered from upriver hapÅ« to attack the Wanganui township.
Rangatira from the lower river including HÅri KÄ«ngi saw the attack as a threat to their personal mana and that of their hapÅ«. They decided to mount an opposition force and a battle was fought at dawn on the 14th day of May 1864 at Moutoa, a small island on the Whanganui River between Hiruharama (Jerusalem) and Ranana.
The Hauhau followers were defeated and the attack on the town was averted.
As a sign of their gratitude the citizens of Whanganui Township commissioned a statue to honour ‘loyal’ MÄori who had stood firm against the Pai Marire threat. The statue was erected at Pakaitore renamed Moutoa Gardens to commemorate the battle.
The inscription on the memorial – New Zealand's first war memorial – reads:
To the memory of those brave men who fell at Moutoa 14 May1864 in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism.
The reference to those Pai Marire followers as fanatics and barbarians would be the source of ongoing controversy and debate.