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Ed Sheeran

Influenza epidemic reshaped Maori society

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It’s 100 years today since the Royal mail ship Niagara arrived in Aotearoa bringing a strain of influenza.

Historian Monty Soutar says while the ship was blamed for the disastrous pandemic that killed more than 9000 people in the last three months of 1918, it now seems that strain of the flu was already in the country.

He says it reshaped Maori communities, with at least 2500 Maori dying.

"In our own family around Whakatane, it hit that community hard and Maori relocated as a result of the devastation that hit small communities there. Other communities it didn't touch. For example, there were 148 deaths in the Wairoa district but in Lake Wakaremoana, there was not one there," Dr Soutar says.

Many Maori communities can still point to the part of the urupa where the flu victims were laid, and the devastation it caused was also a factor in the creation of the Ratana movement.


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