Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Parihaka - Cecily McNeill

Advent 2008           The Common Good, No 47

The story of Parihaka in Taranaki 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 would come to crush resistance. A movement to commemorate the peaceful resistance to colonisation at Parihaka on 5 November instead of Guy Fawkes is gaining momentum.
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 policies the settler government enacted against Māori.
Resistance through nonviolent action    The first war began on 18 March 1860. By 1879 European encroachment on Māori land threatened all Māori settlements. Te Whiti sent his people to plough on confiscated land. When arrested the ploughmen offered no resistance. In 1880 the Parihaka people erected barricades across roads, pulled survey pegs and escorted road builders and surveyors out of the district. 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. 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 5th 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. Te Whiti and Tohu were led away to a mock trial and incarceration in the South Island. 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. 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.
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 Te Whiti replied that ‘Indeed the Pākehā did have 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 each month but 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. 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. Parihaka was described in the 1890s and again in 1902 as being ahead of or in line with the most advanced municipal developments in the country. The leaders Te Whiti and Tohu died during the year 1907. 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 stand that Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged as preceding his own.        



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