10 November 2013
Acknowledging our History of Conflict, Part Two: Parihaka
by Wendy Fowler
I have found that most people in New Zealand fall roughly into three camps when you mention the word Parihaka. There’s the group that nods and smiles, all the while challenging their memory in vain as they try to recall what you may be referring to. The second group shows promise: they nod seriously (they know a bit). They frown and scratch their heads and then the 1000 yard stare commences… Then there is another group with whom the word Parihaka resonates deeply and profoundly. Which group are you?
In my previous blog I had meant to write only on Parihaka. Side-tracks happen so easily especially when passions run high; so I wrote about a bit of our shared history that came before Parihaka. With that in mind I will share some things about Parihaka. Parihaka is one of those subjects that stirs up the history-person in me. It also breaks my heart. Parihaka makes me want to stand on rooftops and tell anyone and everyone about another part of our shared history that we should be acknowledging but sadly do not. As I do not have a rooftop this blog will suffice.
As a Christian it is so easy to identify with the ethos of Parihaka; a thriving Maori village founded in about 1866 by two chiefs, Te Whiti o Rongmai and Tohu Kakahi. Tired of an unjust war they put down their weapons and said, ‘No more!’ Parihaka stood as a beacon of light in a very dark place, in very violent times. It is located between Mount Taranaki and the Tasman Sea. (Here a quick read of the Taranaki unrest in my previous blog is suggested). It had as its motto ‘Glory to God on high peace on earth and goodwill to men’. They 2000-strong population lived the teachings of Matthew 5:38-40 offering no resistance in word or deed as their young men and the very old were time and time removed from their village and illegally remanded without trial for years at a time. In 1881, Parihaka was dealt the death-knell. For nearly 15 years its inhabitants had practised non-violent resistance against the confiscation of land by the crown. A pan-tribal group, they simply lived, farmed and worked in the largest Maori village in the country. The problem; it was on confiscated land. It was an open village and we are told that European visitors were impressed with its cleanliness, cultivation and industry. Then on 5th November before dawn the destruction of Parihaka began. This is our shared history. How did this happen?
In late 1878 the government began surveying confiscated land and offering it for sale. From the village of Parihaka, Te Whiti and Tohu responded with a series of non-violent campaigns. In biblical fashion they went out two by two. They pulled up surveyors’ pegs and ploughed the ‘sold’ land. Later they raised fences across roadways that were being built by the government. This is what Te Whiti instructed his followers to do:
Go, put your hands to the plough. Look not back. If any come with guns and swords, 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. If evil thoughts fill the minds of the settlers, and they flee from their farms to the town as in the war of old, enter not you into their houses, touch not their goods nor their cattle. My eye is over all (June 1879).
As a result of their ploughing, more than 400 Maori were arrested without trial and jailed in icy South Island prisons. Many were imprisoned in caves in the Dunedin area where they died of illness and exposure. New ploughmen took their places. Imprisonment without trial lasted for as long as 16 months with the aid of new laws which stated that the illegal act of imprisoning Maori without trial was now legal. Our shared history… (When time affords read up on the Maori Prisoners’ Trials Act of 1879).Overseas newspapers ran these stories. Very few New Zealand papers did.
Te Whiti knew of the planned armed take-over of Parihaka. The soldiers had a six-pound Armstrong gun mounted on a nearby hill and trained on the village. He prepared his people. Shortly after 5am on 5 November, soldiers, constabulary and volunteers converged on Parihaka. They found their way blocked by 200 children singing hymns. They were offered bread. Wahine (including those whose husbands were incarcerated) had baked 500 loaves to feed the troops. Older girls were behind the children. They were skipping. A colonel of the armed constabulary described it as ‘extraordinary’. He did not grasp that Te Whiti had taught the people of Parihaka that their weapons were no longer earthly but spiritual. In biblical fashion and in a time of war and despair, they had abandoned their warfare for the ploughshare. Behind the girls at the Marae sat 2500 villagers. Dressed in their best, they had been there since midnight. What an anti-climax for John Bryce and his men! What a witness to the gospel of peace.
Later that day, Bryce read the Riot Act: ""Persons unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together, to the disturbance of the public peace had one hour to disperse or receive a jail sentence of hard labour for life.” How ironic! Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and this time sent to trial. Everyone sat quietly until evening and then dispersed silently to their homes.
The village was pillaged, women were raped and many infected with syphilis as a result. Many of their children were born with congenital birth defects. The remaining men were arrested. All this on New Zealand soil!
A press blackout was declared. But three reporters slipped into Parihaka. Their records are in the Turnbull Library. It took the troops two weeks to raze the village houses, and two months to destroy the crops and kill the livestock. Many of the wahine – wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the prisoners – tried to follow them south, wanting to assist their kin. These women often lived in poverty, and many died during their exile. How could this have been allowed to happen here? Yet it did. So let’s acknowledge it. It is our history.
Before long the government was faced with the realisation that the remaining trials were so flimsy that they were in danger of collapsing. They urgently passed a new law; the West Coast Peace Preservation Act, 1882. The act included provisions allowing Te Whiti and Tohu to be imprisoned indefinitely.
Two years later, as old men, they were released. They returned to reconstruct Parihaka as a model (and modern) community. It even had gas lighting before Wellington did! So the story has now been told in brief not from the rooftops but in a simple blog. Gandhi referred to Parihaka when taking a stance against injustice. The Russians knew this story in 1954. (Find out why.) Now you know a snippet of it. Don’t leave it there.
http://www.edgekingsland.co.nz/blog/2012/11/graeme-carle-the-story-of-parihaka/ (listen to podcast by Graeme Carle, evangelist and Emmaus movement leader).