Parihaka Day Campaign

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 44, Easter 2008

In December, the Catholic Worker launched a campaign to have November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day, renamed Parihaka Day to honour the 2000 Maori passive resisters who were arrested, jailed and persecuted in the Crown invasion of Parihaka on November 5th 1881. To that end, we wrote to each of the parliamentary political parties seeking their support for the renaming of the day. We print below our letter which we sent to the Government, with similar copies to all political parties. As responses come to hand we will publish them.

Prime Minister

Parliament Buildings,

WELLINGTON

12 December 2007

Dear Helen Clark,

For some time we have been disturbed at the focus as a country we continue to give to Guy Fawkes Day, November 5th. You will know that it commemorates a failed attempt in 1605 to blow up the British Houses of Parliament and kill King James I in protest at protestant rule. In this country, the day has been promoted largely, it seems by, commercial interests in an effort to sell fireworks. Every year there is alarm expressed as to its dangers and scorn poured on its relevance.

For us there is a more important issue which is obscured by the Guy Fawkes celebrations. It concerns the date it falls on – November 5th. As you know well, on that date in 1881 a military force of 1589 armed constabulary and volunteer militia led by Native Affairs minister John Bryce invaded and occupied the unprotected village of Parihaka. On the marae, 2500 unarmed adults sat waiting with Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi in their midst. The soldiers were made to walk past rows of children playing and rows of women sitting, to where the men waited. The two leaders, along with several others, were arrested and led away to subsequent terms of imprisonment in the South Island. The writ of habeas corpus had been suspended at the time. The men did not resist arrest.

We all now recognise November 5th 1881 as a shameful day in New Zealand’s history. That same history teaches us – confirmed by the findings of the Taranaki Report of the Waitangi Tribunal – that the invasion was essentially a grab for land for new pakeha settlers. The resistance was perceived by the colonial government as unacceptable and the full force of military might was applied.

But there is another way of looking at the events of Parihaka. It was also a day of huge triumph of the human spirit of non-violence in confronting the power of the state without spilling one drop of blood. It is a day we could rejoice and take great pride in because of that fact. It could so easily have been a massacre.

The people of Parihaka chose non-violence as their way of responding to the violence of the invaders. They gave what may have been the world’s first mass non-violent response to coercive state power in a most creative fashion by refusing to be complicit in what amounted to gross theft of their lands by the government while at the same time accepting the consequences of their actions.

While the story of Te Whiti and Tohu is better known now than previously, it is not as well known as it might be. In an age of continual international warfare and unacceptable levels of domestic violence, the creativity of non-violence has yet to be explored fully and promoted to its potential. Incidentally, restorative justice processes seek to do precisely this in the criminal justice field.

We have always been somewhat bemused by the lack of knowledge of the Parihaka tradition in this country when the nation’s leaders from all sectors and the corporate media constantly condemn the violence prevalent in our modern society. The story of Parihaka, and the lives of Te Whiti and Tohu, are stories we should proclaim at every opportunity, promoting them into the consciousness of all New Zealanders to sit alongside other iconic moments in our history.

Our suggestion is that all of us should give serious consideration to promoting November 5th as Parihaka Day and stop referring to it as Guy Fawkes Day and that it should become recognised as a national day, not unlike ANZAC Day – though not necessarily a public holiday. In the US, Congress has decreed 15 January as Martin Luther King Day to remind Americans of the contribution of King and his movement for non-violent social change and the price paid for resistance to state violence. Something like that could happen here. Already there is a groundswell developing for such a change. We were recently at a meeting of 60 in Christchurch which endorsed such a concept and there have been several meetings in the Wellington region.

Calling November 5th Parihaka Day would immediately bring the wonderful Parihaka story into the forefront of consciousness in this country. It would highlight the leadership Te Whiti and Tohu gave the rest of the world in promoting non-violence and would honour their actions in an age desperately needing heroes in non-violent behaviour. After all, wasn’t Gandhi inspired by hearing of the non-violent response at Parihaka? Why do we not know the Parihaka story as well as we know of Gallipoli?

In this year commemorating 100 years since the two prophets died, it would be a fitting tribute to them and a way of honouring them.

We appreciate that to name the day Parihaka Day would require the permission of the people of Parihaka and the first step would be to seek that permission. We have become a nation more and more tied to global issues of security and terrorism and more and more needing to develop a national spirit of creative non-violence to build on our anti-nuclear and peacekeeping stances.

Recognition of the history and tradition of Parihaka would be a great touchstone for such a development. The notion of Parihaka Day on November 5th could become a focal point and hold much public appeal, it having the added impetus of being a relatively fresh idea. It may be an idea whose time has come.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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