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The Lessons of History

July 2016  |  Hōngongoi

Features and News  |  Ngā Kōrero Tāhuhu

On Anzac Day this year, the Rt Hon Jim Bolger ONZ, Prime Minister of New Zealand from October 1990 to December 1997 and former Ambassador to the United States, delivered a remembrance address at the Waikanae Memorial Hall, entitled ‘The Lessons of History. He spoke of WWI, WW2 and the Vietnam War and the values and beliefs the young kiwis involved fought for; of today’s conflicts in the Middle East and of the endless streams of desperate refugees. This excerpt from his address refers to the story of Parihaka.

E nga rangtira, nga kumatua, nga kuia. Nga waka me tehau kainga. Tena koutou, tena koutou tena koutou katoa.

To the many chiefs, elders, women, the waka and the home people my greetings at this Anzac Day remembrance gathering.

I have titled my remarks ‘The Lessons of History’ because from my perspective if we collectively forget the lessons of history we expose ourselves to repeat past mistakes.

‘Peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding’ said one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, Albert Einstein.

This will be a slightly different Anzac address.

It is said that the first causality of war is the truth. The truth is that all wars kill people, kill brave people and innocent people alike as the memorials in towns and cities and remote valleys across our land and other lands testify.

While we correctly pay tribute on Anzac Day to those who served and fought in foreign lands, we tend to overlook those who were killed or injured during the Land Wars of the 19th century here at home in New Zealand. So today I acknowledge and pay tribute to them as well.

A short 35 years before the start of WW1, near the end of the New Zealand Land Wars, the village of Parihaka on coastal Taranaki – where Joan and I grew up ‒ became something of a home for those Māori displaced ‒ refugees if you like ‒ from earlier battles.

Parihaka was led by Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai.

It was a thriving community and, influenced by the teaching of Christian Missionaries, became the focal point for radical new thinking, passive resistance, long before either the great Mahatma Gandhi or the Rev Martin Luther King.

Unfortunately the new settlers, supported by the Colonial Government, wanted their land but instead of fighting, Tohu and Te Whiti encouraged their people to engage in various acts of non-violent passive resistance, which the Colonial Authorities found both puzzling and unacceptable.

Their response was in 1881 to march a large contingent of troops through the night to attack Parihaka at daybreak. Instead of the battle they expected they were greeted by children dancing and playing games and the women brought out freshly baked bread for the troops.

Te Whiti said in effect to the assembled leaders of the invasion, which included the Minister of Native Affairs on his white horse, that ‘why do we fight, there is enough for all to share’.

This approach was beyond the mind-set of the Colonial Authorities who worked on the assumption, that what they wanted they got, so they arrested both Tohu and Te Whiti and imprisoned them in cold caves in Otago.

Eventually they were released and returned to Parihaka, but their lands were gone and their people scattered.

That is a very much shortened history of a community whose philosophy should be studied if the world truly wants peace.

First they accepted large numbers of refugees, and then instead of fighting they declared there was enough for all.

If the world embraced that philosophy we would at last be moving towards peace.

Let me conclude by recalling for you the haunting words of the late Nelson Mandela; they are very powerful:

‘No one is born hating another person because of the colour of their skin or their background or their religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love’. The power of that observation should give us all hope that while all is not perfect there are grounds for hope of a more peaceful tomorrow.

On this Anzac Day as we remember past battles let us that live on the Kapiti Coast, that live in New Zealand, record our gratitude to all our servicemen and women down the ages who have served to keep us safe, and grateful thanks and encouragement to those who continue to work for a better world.

I end by observing that Anzac Day is a time for reflection and today as always there is much to reflect on.

The Rt Hon Jim Bolger ONZ is a parishioner of Our Lady of Kāpiti.