Parihaka – A Call to Non-Violence

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 47, Advent 2008

Cecily McNeill

A movement in Aotearoa New Zealand to commemorate the first peaceful resistance to colonisation at Parihaka on 5 November instead of Guy Fawkes is gaining momentum.

In November 2007, the Whakarongotai Marae in Waikanae was crowded with people gathered to talk peace on the anniversary of government troops moving in to crush Māori ownership of land in 1881. At the same time, an Upper Hutt parish also started marking Parihaka Day on 5 November with a school and parish fete. This was followed up with another hui this year.

The story of Parihaka in Taranaki is one that engenders a sense of pride in the founders of our nation and horror at the way Māori landowners were treated as British interests used all means to tighten their grip on the country. At the head of the movement begun in the 1860s was Te Whiti o Rongomai who, with Tohu Kakahi, led the people of Taranaki in a peaceful land occupation that challenged the government’s punitive confiscation of lands. Te Whiti was a charismatic figure and he prepared the people well for the moment when soldiers on horseback would come with their weapons to crush one of the country’s last strongholds of resistance.

A movement in Aotearoa New Zealand to commemorate the first peaceful resistance to colonisation at Parihaka on 5 November instead of Guy Fawkes is gaining momentum.

Parihaka is a small village about halfway between Mt Taranaki and the Tasman Sea. It was formed in the 1860s during mass land confiscations and by the 1870s had become the largest Māori village in the country, a haven for dispossessed peoples.

Te Whiti and Tohu offered both spiritual and political leadership drawing on ancestral as well as Christian tradition. Both were committed to non-violence in resisting the invasion of their estates and protecting Māori independence. Both men advocated good relationships and interaction between all races as long as Māori ownership of lands and independence from Pākehā (European) domination was respected. Throughout the wars of the 1860s the Parihaka leaders forbade the use of arms and condemned violence and greed. They challenged the colonial government over the illegality of the wars, the confiscation of the land and the punitive policies the settler government enacted against Māori.

Resistance through nonviolent action

Meetings were held at Parihaka on the 18th day of each month when Māori and Pākehā leaders discussed the injustices and strategised for the resistance to land grabbing and assimilation. The date is significant because the first war in Waitara began on 18 March 1860.

By 1879 European encroachment on Māori land threatened all Māori settlements. Te Whiti sent his people to obstruct the surveys and to plough on confiscated land. When arrested the ploughmen offered no resistance but were often treated badly.

In 1880 the Parihaka people erected barricades across roads, pulled survey pegs and escorted road builders and surveyors out of the district. The Native minister John Bryce described Parihaka as ‘that headquarters of fanaticism and disaffection’. Parliament passed legislation enabling the government to hold the protesters indefinitely without trial. By September 1880 hundreds of men and youths had been exiled to South Island prisons where they were forced to build the infrastructure of cities like Dunedin. Many never returned to Taranaki – death took, on average, one every two weeks. Meanwhile Taranaki settlers continued to survey and take possession of land. The resistance continued, as did the imprisonments.

The invasion and plundering of Parihaka

On the morning of 5 November 1881 the invasion force led by two cabinet ministers entered Parihaka. More than 2000 Parihaka people sat quietly on the marae while children greeted the army. The Riot Act was read and an hour later Te Whiti and Tohu were led away to a mock trial and incarceration in the South Island at Addington Prison. The destruction of Parihaka began immediately. It took the army two weeks to pull down the houses and two months to destroy the crops. Women and girls were raped leading to an outbreak of syphilis in the community. People suspected of being from other areas of the country were thrown out. Thousands of cattle, pigs and horses were slaughtered and confiscated.

Fort Rolleston was built on a tall hill in the village; four officers and 70 soldiers garrisoned it. The five-year military occupation of Parihaka had begun.

While in prison Te Whiti and Tohu were shown the so-called wonders of European technology. They remained unimpressed and always complained of being there against their will. Their jailor was allowed to take them from the prison to visit important colonial sites, like the cathedrals and museums. At the Kaiapoi Woollen Mills, Te Whiti became perhaps the first Maori to speak on a telephone and at the railway workshops in Christchurch he used a mechanised saw to cut plate steel.

Throughout the wars of the 1860s the Parihaka leaders forbade the use of arms and condemned violence and greed. They challenged the colonial government over the illegality of the wars, the confiscation of the land and the punitive policies the settler government enacted against Māori.

When asked what he thought of the great European technology he replied that

‘Indeed the Pākehā did have some useful technology but not the kindness of heart to see that Māori also possessed much great technology which, if Pākehā were prepared to adopt, would lead to stability and peace and the building of a great new society’.

In 1883 the Parihaka leaders were escorted back to Parihaka but hundreds of their men and youths remained incarcerated in the South Island, their families living in extreme poverty.

On his return Te Whiti resurrected the practice of discussions on the 18th of each month but was quickly assaulted by government troops for refusing to accept an order not to resume the meetings. Instead Te Whiti used these meetings to mount further protest action on confiscated lands. In 1886 he was imprisoned again along with Titokowaru his protest companion. Days before Te Whiti was released in 1888 his wife and the mother of his children, Hikurangi, died. He was not allowed to return for her tangihanga (funeral).

Te Whiti returned to Parihaka in 1888 with his future son-in-law, Tāre Waitara. The modernisation of Parihaka continued at a great pace. Elaborate guesthouses were built complete with hot and cold running water. Streets, lighting and drainage were installed along with a bakery, an abattoir, shops and a bank. Parihaka people ran agricultural contracts throughout Taranaki sowing seed, cropping and labouring.

On 12 July 1898 the last of the Parihaka prisoners returned to a hero’s welcome. This ended 19 years of imprisonment for Parihaka men and boys.

Parihaka was described in the 1890s and again in 1902 as being ahead or in line with the most advanced municipal developments in the country.

The Parihaka leaders te Whiti and Tohu died during the year 1907, Only weeks separated their deaths.

The Parihaka Legacy

It is to this momentous set of events in this country’s history that groups around the country are looking for a principled and courageous example of peaceful protest.

A festival has been held at Parihaka in January for the past three years and increasingly crowds are flocking to celebrate the stand that Te Whiti and Tohu and later Titokowaru took – a stand that Mathatma Gandhi acknowledged as preceding his own. As leader of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi instituted a highly influential programme of non-violent protest against British domination between 1920 and his 1934.

Meanwhile, Ani Parata of Waikanae called a meeting at the Whakarongotai Marae to mark the anniversary with shared kai and stories about peace. Some 150 people turned out to support the issue including people from the Quaker church who had given up their Sunday meeting to be there.

Ani has been a voice for nonviolence on the Kapiti Coast for the past 30 years but she decided that nonviolence wasn’t achieving the desired result because it still contained the word, ‘violence’. ‘So I thought I would try the other word instead and get people talking about peace.’

This is awesome,’ they said. ‘It’s about passive resistance, it’s about peace, it’s about sustainability, it’s about everything that we believe in so why don’t we know the story?’

While spending time in Motueka with the Riverside Community set up by men who were conscientious objectors during the second world war, Ani discovered that many people did not know the history of Parihaka. ‘This is awesome,’ they said. ‘It’s about passive resistance, it’s about peace, it’s about sustainability, it’s about everything that we believe in so why don’t we know the story?’ Ani is Ngati Awa from Waikanae but descended from Taranaki Ngati Awa. She says until she started to think in terms of peace rather than nonviolence, she found the history of Parihaka too painful to read.

Links:

www.parihaka.com/About.aspx

www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/gandhi_mohandas.shtml

www.parihaka.com/Festival/2007/Festival.aspx

www.welcom.org.nz/?sid=699/p>

www.parihaka.com/About.aspx

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