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Māori and The Spanish Flu


During WW1 a flu virus began to move around the world.  Eventually called Spanish flu, it made its way to Aotearoa.  At this time Maori across the country were mourning their young people who had gone to war and weren’t home yet, or weren’t returning. 

Life for most Maori then was hard.  After a horrendous time with colonialism they still held hope for their tamariki and mokopuna.  That hope turned to despair as they saw half the Maori population wiped out due to another of the pakeha diseases.  Even pakeha were not spared and Aoteroa was devastated by an illness they couldn’t see and were ill-equipped to fight. The health practices then were not what they are today. 

Some were making strides in health by the turn of the century like Maui Pomare who was the first Maori doctor, and wahine Māori were already in the nursing profession. However first-hand accounts of the Spanish flu in New Zealand are few.  There are some collected in archives and with the recent pandemic interest in the Spanish flu has spiked so there are calls to grow the archives.  But in the archives accounts from Māori whānau who lived through it are even fewer.  Perhaps there are some stories in your family archives or stories that you can share with us?

Māori leaders tried where they could to take care of their people but it was an uncaring, ruthless enemy.  The sickness was fast and unmerciful, and most could not do enough to minimise the enormous damage to their respective hapū. . Most awful of all was that they could not farewell their whānau in the customary way and we are aware today of the mass graves at the entrances to urupa and other places. 

In the following decades health practices improved and with new epidemics and pandemics happening now we are better equipped to manage ourselves.  While Māori are still at greater risk than most because of the disparities they suffer in health, living conditions and income, Māori whānau across Aotearoa express their manaakitanga, aroha, resourcefulness and resiliency in times of need.

Many of our whānau work in health today and are in the frontline of the current COVID-19 pandemic while others find their skills and resources put to use in other ways.  Regardless of what they do, more often than not they are up front and centre in communities across the motu.

We salute them all.

He aha te mea nui o tea o, he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

Māori and The Spanish Flu


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