Remembering the Invasion of Parihaka

Remembering the Invasion of Parihaka

This November fifth many in Aotearoa New Zealand will remember and recognize 137th anniversary of the invasion of Parihaka. In 1881, a combined force of 1,500 constabularies advanced on the Māori community deep in the bush at the foot of Mt Taranaki. They were greeted by signing children, offering food, and having been forewarned, the community of Parihaka awaited them unarmed. The leaders of the passive resistance movement established there, Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi were the first to be arrested. Before being hauled away, Tohu urged to the crowd that they remain calm, telling them ‘even if the bayonet comes to your breast do not resist.’ Over the following days and weeks, the settlement was cleared, and countless arrests were made. Te Whiti and Tohu were imprisoned in the South Island for two years. At the time, the absurdity of their arrest was not lost on the Supreme Court and while the Government abandoned their prosecution they quickly passed the West coast Peace Preservation Act. This legislation enabled the crown to detain the two prophets without trial and consequently denied them their basic rights and protections as British subjects.

Te Whiti and Tohu were significant spiritual leaders in the Taranaki. Driven by war and confiscation they moved in-land with whānau of Ngāti Moehu and Patukai and other costal hapū of the Warea area, to Parihaka. The settlement’s foundation was likely in 1866, also the year in which Te Whiti and Tohu were endorsed as being mediums of God by Te Ua Haumene, the prophetic founder of the Pai Mārire faith that had spread across Te Ika-a-Maui by the mid-1860s.

Conflict in Taranaki began with the forced survey of the Pekapeka block in March 1960. When Te Āti Awa resisted, they were supported by other Taranaki iwi who recognised that fundamental relationships set out in the Treaty of Waitangi, between rangatiratanga and kawanatanga (sovereignty), were symbolically tied up in the fate of this 600 acres on the Waitara river. Taranaki Māori had real success in the first years of conflict with the British forces. However, with the return of George Grey, the colonial Government continued the policies of his predecessor Thomas Brown with a renewed determination to assert their authority over the Kingitanga and Taranaki resistance. On 4 April 1863, Imperial troops occupied the Tātaraimaka block and from that point war in Taranaki would last for five more years. The replacement of British red coats, with Government forces and colonial militia produced harsher tactics and bush scouring. Land that had been formally confiscated now began to be surveyed. By 1865, some 1.2 million acres of land had been confiscated in Taranaki.

Te Whiti’s decision to move inland to Parihaka occurred in this climate. Their livelihoods and papakainga had been destroyed by the war; whānau had been driven from Warea in 1860; Ngakumikumi in 1865; only to move Waikoukou to see that settlement destroyed. Through the 1870s the community at Parihaka enjoyed relative quiet following the successes of Titokowaru’s war. Parihaka’s population grew to over 300, and even came to include the military leader Titokowaru. However, when the colonial government suddenly began the systematic survey of the Waimate plains in 1878, the Parihaka community was forced to respond and protect their livelihood.

Initially, Taranaki Māori resisted the surveyors by dismantling their technical equipment and tents. In one instance, they packed up an entire camp and transported it to the main road by the Waingongoro river. However as surveying activity increased, their resistance became more direct. To demonstrate their ownership of the land, Te Whiti and Tohu sent out groups of men to plough the land from Hawera to Pukearuhe. They also erected fencing around Parihaka’s borders, intentionally cutting across the land surveyed for a coastal road. Each day, these groups would be arrested, and each day another group would plough the recently surveyed farmland. The framework for this resistance was articulated in religious and political terms by Te Whiti. A millenarian belief that God would restore their rangatiratanga appealed far beyond Taranaki and the population of Parihaka quadrupled over the following years to over 1,300 people.

In many ways, the invasion of Parihaka failed to suppress its expression of mana motuhake. When Te Whiti returned to Parihaka in 1889 the community was rebuilt. Over the following decades the community continued to dictate the terms of their engagement with the Pākeha world. They embraced stricter hygiene standards and electricity (which Parihaka enjoyed even before Wellington). However, the native school system was rejected and Parihaka continued to support non-violent resistance with ploughing occurring as late as 1897.

Parihaka’s legacy of resistance and self-determination remains central to the living relationship between Māori and the Crown. The Crown’s breaches of its treaty responsibilities there has been recognized by the Waitangi Tribunal in their interim report on Taranaki, Kaupapa Tuatahi. However, Taranaki iwi remain in negotiations towards a settlement. The 7th of June this year also marked the passage of one year since the signing of Te Kawenata ō Rongo, the Deed of Reconciliation between the Crown, Parihaka, and the Parihaka Papakāinga Trust. In this document the Crown articulated a formal apology to the Parihaka community for the violence, imprisonment and subsequent repression they experienced. Importantly, the Deed also set out a framework for a continued future relationship between the Crown and Parihaka based upon principles of partnership. This agreement will be actualised by a bill currently being read in parliament that will also provide resources for the establishment of a Parihaka fund and provide for future redevelopments in the community there. These developments add important layers to the story of Parihaka. They also indicate the possibility of a different future where Te Whiti’s visions of peace and justice changes from esoteric history, to something possible and present.

Ryan Anderson
Sources and further reading:
Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney, and Aroha Harris, Tangata Whenua: an Illustrated History, Wellington, 2014.
Danny Keenan, Te Whiti I Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka, Wellington, 2015. Dick Scott, Ask that Mountain: The Story of Parihaka, Rosedale, 2008.
Waitangi Tribunal, The Taranaki Report: Kaupapa Tuatahi, Wai 143, Wellington, 1996.