Parihaka – A Legacy of Non-violence

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 56, Lent 2011

Tariana Turia

On 11 May 2011, Hon Tariana Turia, MP for Te Tai Hauauru, presented a petition to Parliament from the Parihaka Day Committee seeking to have Parliament recognise 5th November each year as Parihaka Day ‘to commemorate the peaceful resolution of conflict in New Zealand’. This was the culmination of a campaign, supported by the Catholic Worker and other groups, to recognise the significance of Parihaka in the development of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

I am humbled to stand in support of the petition from Don Rowlands and 891 others, on behalf of the Parihaka Day campaign. This is a very important tono to Parliament – a request for Parliament to recognise the 5th November as Parihaka Day to commemorate the peaceful resolution of conflict in New Zealand.

The petition is but one part of a long-standing campaign to raise public awareness of the ongoing legacy of two visionary leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi – and the symbol of peace associated with their name, and the small Taranaki settlement of Parihaka.

Land Wars

The wars waged against Maori in the 1860s have been well documented by the Waitangi Tribunal. It is a story of mass confiscation and dispossession of Maori from their lands. The central point of state actions was based at Parihaka which by 1870 had become the largest Maori village in Aotearoa – a fact which bears much reflection when we consider the fateful events of the 5th November.

I have always thought it really quite bizarre that on 5th November, most New Zealanders celebrate, with fireworks and bonfires, the activities of a Catholic activist, Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the English parliament in 1605. To think that over 400 later, across the world in Aotearoa, our nation celebrates the capture and execution of a man attempting to assassinate the English royalty and Parliament is unusual in itself.

The philosophy of passive resistance, led here at Parihaka, is a history that precedes Gandhi’s first non-violent civil disobedience campaign in South Africa by over a quarter of a century; and Martin Luther King’s first campaign for black civil rights, by 75 years – but who knows of it here in New Zealand?

Meanwhile on that very same day, the 5th November in 1881, events were taking place under our own horizons that barely rated a mention in mainstream reporting. I am referring to the invasion of Parihaka by 1500 colonial government troops to seize approximately three million acres of Maori land for the new settlers.

The build up to that day had been carefully executed. More than 600 armed constabulary had been assigned to build roads through some of the most fertile land in Taranaki – pulling down fences around Maori gardens. Te Whiti and Tohu responded by organising their people to re-erect fences across the roads, and to pull the survey pegs out of the land.

Parliament passed urgent legislation to enable Government to hold the protestors indefinitely without trial; and by 1880 over 600 men and youth had been exiled to prisons in the South Island – in Dunedin, Hokitika and Lyttelton.

Passive Resistance

The philosophy of passive resistance, led here at Parihaka, is a history that precedes Ghandi’s first non-violent civil disobedience campaign in South Africa by over a quarter of a century; and Martin Luther King’s first campaign for black civil rights, by 75 years – but who knows of it here in New Zealand?

Throughout the illegal arrests and imprisonment, Te Whiti commanded that the ploughers should resist arrest and violence passively, saying:

Go, put your hands to the plough. Look not back. If any come with guns, be not afraid. If they smite you, smite not in return. If they rend you, be not discouraged. Another will take up the good work.

So it was, on the morning of 5th November 1881, that an invasion force led by two Members of Parliament, both Cabinet Ministers, arrived at Parihaka. In accounts of that day, some 200 young boys performed a haka; followed by a group of young girls skipping. Around 2500 adults had been sitting in silence since midnight, bracing for the attack. More than 500 loaves of bread had been baked to feed the militia. The Riot Act was read, Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and taken away, leaving their people sitting in silence, in passive resistance.

Next day the troops returned and began destroying the town and forcibly dispersing some 1600 people. Houses and crops were destroyed, and thousands of cattle, pigs and horses were slaughtered. Women and girls were raped, leading to an outbreak of syphilis in their community. Meanwhile many men and youths imprisoned in the South never returned, as they died on average at one man every two weeks from the cold or malnutrition.

Throughout this long, bitter invasion on the people the spirit of non-violence prevailed. Te Whiti and Tohu themselves, were held without trial for almost two years.

And yet at the end of his life, Te Whiti remained true to his cause, stating:

It is not my wish that evil should come to the two races. My wish is for the whole of us to live peaceably and happily on the land.

National Parihaka Day

And this sentiment – this heroic expression of peace – is precisely what has inspired this petition to Parliament today. The petition asks us to consider our own history; to be proud of two visionary leaders who pioneered a way of life which was about living in harmony with the land and with humanity. The model demonstrated at Parihaka is one of non-violent resistance to injustice. But it is also driven by a belief in the peaceful and respectful coexistence of tangata whenua with all others who have come to this land.

While Mahatma Gandhi was still a teenager, Te Whiti and Tohu were carving out a path promoting the spirit of non-violence.

Why do we celebrate Halloween or Guy Fawkes – instead of the unique leaders of Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi? While Mahatma Gandhi was still a teenager, Te Whiti and Tohu were carving out a path promoting the spirit of non-violence.

The period of colonial attack on Taranaki is a tragic indictment on former administrations – confiscations which were in direct breach of the Treaty of Waitangi.

This administration, this Parliament, has an opportunity to confront the unresolved hurts of the past, and to move forward in a way which honours the extraordinary courage and visionary ideals of these two indigenous leaders at the settlement of Parihaka.

I commend this petition to the Select Committee with their hopes for a future founded on patience and on peace rather than war. The details of a national day to commemorate Parihaka have not yet been fully developed.

Finally, I mihi to the people of Parihaka and the teachings of passive resistance symbolised by the white feather which they still wear today.

This petition is a way to keep that spirit alive, the spirit of peace.

Tena tatou katoa.

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