WelCom October 2020
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” – Matthew 5:9
Founded in the mid-1860s, the settlement of Parihaka on the western foothills of Mt Taranaki, began attracting dispossessed and disillusioned Māori from around the country. Its main leaders were Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, both of Taranaki and Te Āti Awa iwi.
All were welcomed to Parihaka on the condition they followed the kaupapa of non-violence, summarised in the leaders’ reference to the biblical announcement of Christ’s birth: Glory to God, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Peoples.
The thriving community utilised a strategy of passive resistance to oppose the Crown’s efforts to purchase land for Pākehā settlers. When in May 1879 the colonial government moved to occupy fertile land on the Waimate Plains, south of Parihaka, that had been declared confiscated in the 1860s, Te Whiti and Tohu developed tactics of non-violent resistance.
Ploughmen from Parihaka fanned out across Taranaki to assert continuing Māori ownership of the land. The government responded with laws targeting the Parihaka protesters and imprisoned several hundred ploughmen without trial.
On November 5, 1881, 1600 volunteers and Constabulary Field Force troops, recruited from all over New Zealand, marched on Parihaka. Several thousand Māori sat quietly on the marae as singing children greeted the force led by Native Minister John Bryce. The Whanganui farmer viewed Parihaka as a ‘headquarters of fanaticism and disaffection’. Bryce ordered the arrest of the Parihaka leaders, the destruction of much of the village and the dispersal of most of its inhabitants.
Hundreds of the Parihaka men, including Te Whiti and Tohu, were arrested and imprisoned without trial. It was several years before they returned and many died as a result of their incarceration. A five-year military occupation of the Pā included the destruction of houses and crops and the violent abuse of many women. The non-Taranaki Māori were ordered to return to their home districts. The confiscation of Parihaka land left the community without an economic base.
The Parihaka invasion is the first known case of nonviolent resistance in the world. It is reported that Mahatma Gandi heard about Parihaka while in South Africa and it inspired him to non-violent resistance action in India, which effectively led to the independence of India in 1947.