Parihaka and Sacred Peace
Te Miringa Hohaia
Te Miringa did not leave us a copy of his presentation and so what follows is a distillation of his speech from the audio recording which was made of it. It is preceded by some background information from multiple sources which our overseas readers, especially, should find useful.
Parihaka is a small settlement near the western coast of the North Island, south-west of New Plymouth. In the 1870s and 1880s it was the site of New Zealand's most visible episodes of peaceful protest when the two leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai (of Taranaki and Te Atiawa descent) and Tohu Kakahi (of Taranaki and Ngati Ruanui descent) used passive resistance methods to occupy native land which the colonial government had confiscated. Such confiscations were in direct breach of the Treaty of Waitangi which had been signed in 1840.
Both men were committed to non-violence, drawing on ancestral Maori as well as Christian teachings. The leadership the two offered was both spiritual and political. While the colonial interests sought to portray them as fanatics, both men believed in the possibility of a bi-cultural New Zealand, so long as Maori ownership of their lands was respected.
Members of the community of Parihaka were noted for their extensive cultivations, their social cohesion and purpose, and the absence of drunkenness and demoralization that characterized neighbouring groups who were involved in land selling and in contact with European settlements.
On November 5 1881, a month after the railway from New Plymouth to Hawera was completed, Native Minister John Bryce rode on Parihaka at the head of 1,500 Armed Constabulary and volunteer militia. There was no resistance. Te Whiti and his lieutenant, Tohu Kakahi, were arrested and transported to the South Island where they were kept without trial for two years. The Parihaka residents were dispersed, and the surrounding Waimate plains opened for European settlement. It was a demonstration of military muscle, of the willingness of the Pakeha ["European as distinct from Maori" -- New Zealand Dictionary] to use force to facilitate the colonization of the North Island.
In practical terms, the non-violence at Parihaka achieved its purpose only for a short time. But it is important to note that it was achieved without loss of life. The ongoing spiritual legacy of Parihaka is one of living in harmony with the land and humanity. It is also a legacy of nonviolent resistance and a belief in the peaceful and respectful co-existence of Maori and Pakeha. Some people, noting Te Whiti's non-violent methods, have referred to him as "Gandhi before Gandhi".
As further background, overseas readers need to know that, since 1975 (and more especially since 1985) the Waitangi Tribunal has provided a forum in which Maori with land confiscation and misuse grievance can be heard. The process has been ongoing and has resulted in several large awards in compensation, most noticably with Ngai Tahu in respect of most of the South Island.
The Taranaki Iwi ("tribe") is a traditional kaitiaki (custodian) of the Parihaka meeting house which is called Te Pae Pae. Parihaka still stands today, a few kilometres inland from Pungarehu on the west side of Mount Taranaki, but it is just a shadow of the bustling place it was from the 1860s through to 1907, the year in which both leaders died.
If you visit Parihaka now — and you are welcome on the 18th and 19th of each month — a powerful spiritual residue will seep into your subconscious. You can stand before the monument built over Te Whiti's grave and feel humbled.
Te Miringa Hohaia is the custodian of that Meeting House and has been involved in Parihaka except for the few years when he joined the "Maori urban drift" to Auckland in his teens.
As a musician, activist and historian, Hohaia is a prominent figure in the political and cultural affairs of Taranaki, and in the revival of traditional Parihaka waiata and poi (song and action dancing). For decades he has been a passionate advocate for Maori land rights. He lives on the Taranaki coast, close to Parihaka Pa.
He jointly edited Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance (see below) and played a significant part in curating the exhibition of the same name in the City Gallery, Wellington 2000/2001 and which is currently showing in the new museum in New Plymouth (see below)
Te Miringa has also been involved in land rights issues by putting together submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal, most noticably the Motonui Claim brought by the Te Ati Awa tribe in 1981 which had the desired effect of preventing the building of sewage and other effluent discharge pipes into an area of sea from which local Maori collected their kaimoana (food of the sea).
In his speech, Te Miringa expressed disillusionment with the land claim process. His opinion is that claimant groups are coerced into settling quickly in the fear that they will lose their place in the queue. He also suggests that the Government should back away and leave room for dialogue.
The ethos of non-violence at Parihaka had many under-pinnings. Te Whiti had received Christian instruction from the Lutheran minister, Riemenschneider. In general traditional Maori religious motifs were also in use but with no liturgy or other systematisation. Backgrounding all this there was an oral history involving a vast body of esoteric knowledge including that of the legendary homeland Hawaiiki and the subnatural world.
Although the leaders functioned in a way that might lead observers to refer to them as "prophets", they themselves did not use the term until later as it had been ridiculed by those who disagreed with them. But it must be conceded that not all Taranaki Maori were peaceful. Some made attacks on neighboring districts and as far afield as the Chatham Islands.
In recent years a synergy has developed between the Parihaka "movement" and the Japanese Soka Gokkai Buddhists in a bid to have world leaders acknowledge and honour peacemakers of Parihaka. The cooperation with Soka Gokkai is ongoing and serves to align Parihaka with the attention given to the memory of both MK Gandhi and ML King. Parihaka will be featured in such an event in Atlanta in 2004. Those promoting Parihaka would like the New Zealand government to officially honour the memory of Parihaka and to condemn those who committed the atrocities.
Te Miringa Hohaia believes that although there is presently no appropriate infrastructure at Parihaka, it "should be functioning as a modern tertiary institution".
In his Vote of Thanks, Ian Harris identified three themes in the presentation:
As Te Whiti o Rongomai is credited with saying: "it difficult to find a battlefield on which a peacemaker may be defeated"
The new museum at New Plymouth is called Puke Ariki (which means "The Hill of Chiefs"). In addition hosting a major exhibition on Parihaka until January 25, 2004 they have an informative website at www.taranakimuseum.org.nz