The Parihaka stories are such a proud, shameful and powerful reality in our country’s history that they keep looming larger as fresh generations of New Zealanders come to grips with what led up to and then culminated there in Taranaki in 1881.
In brief, there were more than 1500 colonial troops — armed constabulary and volunteer militia — invading a peaceful, pacifist village whose leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, were among the hundreds of Māori arrested and then jailed in the South Island for not welcoming the land confiscations and the invasion.
Rachel Buchanan has a Parihaka whakapapa as well as a scholarly background in researching and writing about those early days and the consequences. For instance, she’s the author of The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget, which Huia published in 2009.
Now, in a new BWB text, Ko Taranaki Te Maunga, she revisits that scene and also traces her whānau links back to her tupuna Taare Warahi (Charles Wallace), a trusted translator — who you’ll meet in this excerpt from Rachel’s book.
Parihaka welcomed not just members of the Taranaki iwi but any Māori person who was prepared to follow the kaupapa of non-violent protest. While the non-violence was a spiritual, political stance, it was also pragmatic.
By 1866, Māori were radically outnumbered by well-armed soldiers and settlers. The British Army was preparing to leave the colony but the local Armed Constabulary and volunteer militia forces took over. New weapons were needed — weapons disguised in gestures, symbols, buildings, words and actions.
“What separated Parihaka from other forms of resistance used by rangatira such as Titokowaru, Te Rangitaake, and Te Ua Haumēne was not any underlying difference in objective or ideology but simply a difference in method or strategy,” writes Ruakere Hond.
“Tohu and Te Whiti adopted alternative approaches to the traditional response to conflict. They were able to break with tradition in order to respond to their circumstances.”
The Crown declared Taranaki land confiscated in 1865 but it did not send “settlers” (that is, non-Māori people who were born overseas) to occupy confiscated land right away. Fighting continued in Taranaki, then it stopped, then it started again with Tītokowaru’s attack on soldiers in Pātea in 1868.
By 1869 Tītokowaru had withdrawn, and the Crown was busy with Te Kooti’s war in the East Coast, Taupō, Tongariro and Te Urewera. In Taranaki, there was a lull. The king tide receded.
Māori built tollgates along the old beach road by the coast. My relatives said who could come and who could go, and they charged people for the privilege.
The understanding was that no land in the Taranaki iwi rohe — roughly from Ōkato in the north to the Waingongoro River just south of Manaia — would be made available for settlers until the Crown had provided reserves for locals, including the hundreds of people who now lived at Parihaka.
But land was not set aside, and in 1878 surveyors entered Tītokowaru’s territory south of Parihaka to begin surveying the Waimate Plains prior to sale. Te Whiti’s requests for information about the promised reserves came to nothing.
In May 1879 he sent out the first team of men to plough Māori land that had been occupied by “settlers”. Between 30 June and 31 July 1879, 182 men and boys were arrested for ploughing, charged and sent to Mt Cook barracks in Wellington pending their shipment to jails in Lyttelton or Dunedin. Laws were introduced that allowed most prisoners to be held without trial.
In July 1879 Land Purchase Commissioner William Williams was one of those who spoke at a hearing for eleven Parihaka ploughmen who had been arrested for ploughing “Mr John Finlayson’s land at Normanby” and planting potatoes on it.
Williams told the Resident Magistrates Court in Pātea that the men “knew they were breaking the law, and that they were doing it not merely to plough up the land, but to plough up the feelings of the government”.
Koro Charles Wallace was the interpreter in court that day, and he has left us the following translation of an exchange between a man the newspaper calls “Tuki Tuki” (Tukino) and Farquar Finlayson, a farmer at Manaia:
Tuki Tuki – Who does the land belong to?
Mr Finlayson – The land belongs to John Finlayson, my brother.
Tuki – Who gave the land to John Finlayson?
Mr Finlayson – My brother holds the Crown grant for it.
Tuki – Who sold you that land?
Mr Finlayson – The land was purchased from a man named Allen.
Tuki – Who did Allen buy it from?
Mr Finlayson – Allen obtained it from a man named Moeller.
Tuki – Who did Moeller buy it from?
Mr Finlayson – He bought it from some of the Wanganui Native Contingent to whom it was granted by . . . Government for their services.
Tuki – Who gave the land to the Government?
The dialogue ended before Finlayson could answer. “The court declined to allow the discussion to go any further, as the action was not a question of title,” the newspaper report said.
I laughed when I read that line. The action was precisely a question of title. That was the only point Tukino was making.
Two months later, Koro Charles was fortunate to be allowed to enter Parihaka and to listen to Te Whiti speak about politics, and then to translate Te Whiti’s views into English.
Koro Charles was with Lyttelton Times journalist [Samuel] Croumbie-Brown. The latter wanted to know “about the Native difficulty”. Koro Charles told him that Te Whiti said the land had been wrongly confiscated. It had to be returned to Māori and it would be returned, via the (ploughmen) prisoners who had “allowed themselves to be arrested”.
In a separate report, Koro Charles worked with Croumbie-Brown to dramatise key moments in the long dialogue with Te Whiti and render them as direct speech.
Te Whiti: I do not know whether it is of any use my tiring out my lips to tell you about the way in which the Government has wronged us. What I mean by wronging us is this — thieving our land, and then calling it “confiscation” (rau o te patu). Did you not hear, in the South Island, about the land that was taken from us, and then called “confiscated land”?
Myself [Croumbie-Brown]: Yes, we have heard all about what the Government call “confiscated land”. . .
Te Whiti: I do not think the people have any power over the Government; the Government rule the people. We do not complain of the people, but of the Government. I am quite sure that if the people had the power we would have justice done.
Historian Hazel Riseborough rightly points out that Pākehā translators of Te Whiti’s speeches, such as R. S. Thompson, used conjecture and inference to express ambiguous statements, but in the words chosen by Koro Charles I see a delicate touch that conveys, even now, at least some of the power contained in the words uttered by Te Whiti and his followers.
Riseborough also notes that Croumbie-Brown was something of an opportunist (is there a journalist who is not?) and he initially went to Parihaka as both a correspondent and a government spy. It did not take long, though, for Croumbie-Brown to switch his allegiances, and he was soon producing influential anti-government, pro-Parihaka reports for the Lyttelton Times.
Again, I believe the skill of Koro Charles had some influence on this shift.
In late 1879 the government passed the Confiscated Lands Inquiry and Maori Prisoners Trials Act, and the resulting West Coast Commission into the “alleged grievances” of Parihaka people held its first hearing in February 1880.
The West Coast Commission never sat at Parihaka and it took evidence only from Māori people who were “loyal” to the Crown. Even so, it recommended that the government stop plans for surveys or roads until proper reserves had been granted along the West Coast.
In 1880, when Parliament passed an updated version of the Maori Prisoners Trials Act — the legislation suspended the ordinary course of law and allowed prisoners to be imprisoned without trial indefinitely — the member for Eastern Māori, Hawke’s Bay politician Hēnare Tomoana, was one of those who spoke up against it.
He said, “Te Whiti has always said he cares not to fight. His only weapon is his tongue … he has no firearms, no gunpowder. His tongue and his voice are all he uses.”
Meantime, despite the commission’s recommendations, Native Minister John Bryce ordered six hundred heavily armed men disguised as “road builders” to move into the Waimate Plains.
In my thesis and book, I have analysed the way the government hid its desire to crush the last bastion of independent Māori power in Taranaki behind the construction of infrastructure. A road, a telegraph line, a lighthouse — these were merely necessary components of modernity. Why were the people of Parihaka so backward?
Te Whiti sent out boys and men to repair fences that had been torn down by soldier-road builders and, in some cases, to put up fences across the unwanted road that was under construction. Surveyor Stuart Newall’s hand-drawn maps are compelling evidence that the road builders were purposefully cutting through Parihaka cultivations. Between 19 July and 5 September 1880, 223 boys and men were arrested for fencing and sent to jails in Lyttelton and Dunedin.
The tortuous wording of the charges against the Parihaka men demonstrates just how hard the Crown had to work in Taranaki to impose its definitions and its laws on the land. Here is what a member of the Armed Constabulary wrote next to the names of about a dozen men arrested for fencing:
That they did at a certain place to whit Pungarehu in the County of Taranaki in the Colony of New Zealand within the confiscated territory mentioned in the West Coast Settlement Act 1880 wilfully and unlawfully place upon a certain Road such Road being a highway which The Governor by notice in the Gazette has declared to be a highway in accordance with the provision of said Act a certain obstruction to wit pieces of fencing with a view of impeding the free use of such highway on the part of Her Majesty’s subjects on the 4th day of September 1880.
You really can’t make this stuff up. You say the sky is blue, I say it is green.
If one side will not accept the truth of the other, then you can turn your opponents’ world upside down, and that is what the Crown did in Taranaki. It arrested and imprisoned most of the men, and left the women and children with the task of growing enough food for a large settlement that attracted hundreds of visitors a month — a task that was complicated by the presence of hundreds of heavily armed men.
In 1881 the government decided to survey land for sale on the block between Parihaka and the sea, a site of ancestral cultivations. At the same time the political prisoners were released from jail in Dunedin, Hokitika and Lyttelton, and allowed to return to Parihaka.
As ships docked at Ōpunake with more “dangerous” returned prisoners, the government sent even more troops to Taranaki. An ultimatum was issued. Accept the reserves, the “large and ample reserves”, that were promised; accept the authority of the Queen, or … lose the lot.
The answer Parihaka gave was to sit down quietly and wait. On 5 November 1881 the invasion force entered the pā. There was one soldier for every two residents, extra garrisons of men at Pungarehu and Rāhotu, an Armstrong cannon up on the hill.
The children skipped and sang, the women carried bread they had baked for the troops. The Riot Act was read, obviously.
You say the sky is blue. I say it is green.
Dr Rachel Buchanan (Taranaki, Te Ātiawa) is a historian, archivist, journalist, and curator based in Melbourne. Ko Taranaki Te Maunga, published by Bridget Williams Books, is being launched this week.
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