The New Zealand city of Hamilton on Friday tore down a statue of the colonial military commander after whom it was named, joining a growing list of places worldwide that are reckoning with their past.
A crane hoisted the bronze sculpture of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton from the town square after requests from local Maori and threats from anti-racism protesters to topple it.
A small group of cheering spectators looked on.
Hamilton City Council acknowledged the statue’s extraction was part of a push to remove memorials “which are seen to represent cultural disharmony and oppression” sparked by global anti-racism protests.
“I know many people — in fact, a growing number of people — find the statue personally and culturally offensive,” mayor Paula Southgate said.
“We can’t ignore what is happening all over the world and nor should we. At a time when we are trying to build tolerance and understanding… I don’t think the statue helps us to bridge those gaps.”
Hamilton was a naval commander who fought indigenous Maori defending their land against British colonial expansion in the 19th century.
He died at the Battle of Pukehinahina, or Gate Pa, in 1864, when — in an early example of trench warfare — a group of Maori in a fortified encampment successfully fended off British troops and artillery, despite being outnumbered.
The statue was donated to the council in 2013 and the council said its removal came after a formal request from the regional iwi, or tribe, Waikato-Tainui.
– ‘He’s a monster’ –
Anti-racism protesters had vowed to tear it down at a demonstration this weekend, with activist Taitimu Maipi labelling Hamilton a murderer.
“How can we accept that he’s a hero when he’s a monster who led battles,” Maipi told the Waikato Times.
Waikato-Tainui praised the statue’s removal, saying it was discussing other problematic colonial names and symbols with Hamilton council, including the prospect of restoring the city’s original Maori name Kirikiriroa.
“This was a devastating time for our people and these injustices of the past should not be a continual reminder as we look to grow and develop our beautiful city into the future,” iwi chairman Rukumoana Schaafhausen said.
Hamilton council said the fate of the British commander’s statue and what, if anything, should replace it were still under discussion.
Statues and place names honouring figures such as slavers and colonial military figures are being reassessed worldwide in response to anti-racism protests sparked by the police killing of African American man George Floyd.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said removing depictions of historic figures was part of “a wave of idiocy” that would prevent future generations learning from past mistakes.
“Why do some woke New Zealanders feel the need to mimic mindless actions imported from overseas?” said Peters, who leads the populist New Zealand First Party, a coalition partner in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government.
“A self-confident country would never succumb to obliterating symbols of their history, whether it be good or bad or simply gone out of fashion.”
Ardern has not yet weighed in on the statue debate but last year ordered that study of the conflict between Maori and British colonialists, known as the New Zealand wars, become compulsory in all schools.