NOTNew Zealand was a war zone in the mid-1800s. On one side were the British and the colonial government, eager to seize more of the country’s land. On the other, the indigenous Maori people, struggling to preserve tino rangatiratanga: their sovereignty and self-determination.
On April 29, 1864, the British invaded Pukehinahina, also known as Gate Pā. Although vastly outnumbered, the Maori repelled the attackers using concealed trenches and guerrilla tactics. It was a fleeting victory in a war that ultimately led to the confiscation of 3 million acres of Maori land.
Niel de Jong took his young sons, Henry and Lewis, on road trips past Pukehinahina. Half Dutch and half Maori, he told them how their great-great-great-grandfather fought and died there to protect indigenous freedoms. On other outings, he showed them Hatupatu Rock – where the myth says a young boy was magically protected from an attacking birdwoman – and Lake Rotoiti, the home of their Maori ancestors.
A trained record producer, Niel also introduced his boys to music. Guitars, pianos and even a harpsichord were scattered around the house, and he displayed them on everything from Bob Marley to Rage Against the Machine.
Today, Henry and Lewis are the 21-year-old drummer and 19-year-old singer / guitarist, respectively, of Alien Weaponry, a groove metal trio complemented by bassist Tūranga Morgan-Edmonds (who amicably replaced member longtime Ethan Trembath in 2020). Their tracks are sung in the Maori language and incorporate the musical training and heritage of the De Jongs into a soundscape that is both folkloric and vicious. On the new album Tangaroa, Īhenga pays tribute to the explorer of the same name, who discovered and named Lake Rotoiti, while Ahi Kā recalls that the Auckland council burned down a Maori village to “beautify” the city for Elizabeth II’s visit in 1952. As Lewis says, celebrating and preserving Maori culture will always be inherent in the group: “Maori are not treated the same as others in New Zealand and, until let that change, we will not be done. “
Once named “the world’s hottest young metal band” by Metal Hammer, Alien Weaponry performed their first show when Henry and Lewis were only 13 and 11 years old. between a gay bar and a strip club, ”recalls Henry, surprisingly more talkative than his little brother, who as the leader bellows on stage. “We played in front of three people, doing the same five songs for about two hours.”
In 2017 – barely in their mid teens – Alien Weaponry went viral, transcending the metal belly not only by making confident, stomping hymns, but singing in Maori as well. Their debut album, Tū, reached No.5 on the New Zealand charts and resonated around the world, as the UK download festival’s main stage opening proved. Since its release in 2018, the single Kai Tangata has racked up nearly 12 million views on YouTube.
Lewis says that in the same year a Slovenian festival called MetalDays gave them a sense of how far they have come. “A huge crowd showed up and they were all singing the lyrics in Maori. They barely knew English, yet they knew the lyrics to our songs. People on the other side of the world said they were learning Maori or going to study it because of us.
This has always been Alien Weaponry’s main goal: to keep the Maori language alive through its music. Henry becomes more assertive and passionate when discussing politics – often to the detriment of what Lewis said. “What happens with a lot of New Zealanders is that they will start to learn Maori and then they will lose it, because it is not spoken enough,” said the drummer. “We are at a point where either we are fighting for the tongue to be revived or it will die.”
A century and a half after white colonialists captured New Zealand’s lion’s share, only 4% of the population speaks Maori. Anglophone schools barely teach Indigenous language or history, while those that do are threatened by dwindling government funding and a lack of skilled teachers. Few know this better than the De Jongs, who studied at kura kaupapa (Maori language immersion schools) before being forced to leave at nine and six years old.
“You need qualified teachers in teaching, but you also need teachers who are fluent in Maori,” says Henry. “Most of the time, schools have to make decisions like, ‘Are we going to pick that person with a teaching degree who can kind of speak Maori, or that person who can speak beautiful Maori but who doesn’t. has not learned to teach? ” It was a very common problem when we were in kura kaupapa. “
As has been the case in all colonized countries in history, domination of land and resources has led to oppression of the natives. Lewis says her great-grandparents’ generation were beaten up in school simply because they were Maori and racist practices persist today, right up to the New Zealand parliament. “There are quite a few people in parliament who are actively trying to pass bills that will suppress Maori television. They see it as special treatment or whatever, ”he growls.
Henry adds, “Even in the justice system here, racism is rampant. Maori face much higher sentences, on average, than other people in New Zealand. There are still racial prejudices here; people like to pretend there isn’t one, but there certainly is.
“There’s also this hole that society has put a lot of Maori in,” he continues, “where they’re in a financial situation where one of the few things they can turn to is drugs. They have to join gangs just to survive. There are rich Maori but when you say Maori many people think poor. “
As a result, Alien Weaponry has a long history of writing songs that are illuminating stories about the customs and persecution of a culture. Their groundbreaking track, Rū Ana Te Whenua, tells the story of the Battle of Pukehinahina, as the De Jong’s father did to them when they were children. Whispers vehemently samples former national party leader Don Brash – who claims that “most Maori benefited enormously from colonization” – and laments the Foreshore and Seabed Act of 2004, which ceded ownership of the ocean New Zealanders to the Crown, overthrowing Maori protests.
Despite Alien Weaponry’s anti-imperialist venom, the De Jongs are optimistic. Henry sees glimmers of hope in the post of Prime Minister of Jacinda Ardern, who, he says, “paved the way for Maori to speak out more freely. It solidified more Maori ideologies in government, while other governments were very pragmatic and “Western”.
He adds, “There will always be that push – and I want to be a part of that push – not just to keep Maori alive, but to let the language and culture thrive. This is the New Zealand I want to live in.
Tangaroa is now available on Napalm Records.