“He will wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples: these will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nations will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.” Isaiah 2:4

After the 1860 Waitara Land Purchase and the war it sparked between Maori and colonists, the New Zealand Settlement Act of 1863 made available four million acres of confiscated Maori land, now proclaimed Crown land, to European settlers. The prime reason for this action was “deterring the natives from resistance to the establishment of law”. Governor George Grey announced the confiscation and sale of large tracts of land between Whanganui and New Plymouth from those Maori hapu deemed to have rebelled in 1860. The rights of those who had not rebelled were to be respected and their land left secure. But there were also hapu who hadn’t rebelled who suffered confiscation; some of this land having been seen as being desirable, but in Maori hands. Earlier Government promises that reserves created from confiscated areas were to be put aside for Maori who had not rebelled, and for those who had laid aside their hostility, were not fulfilled.

Parihaka was a community founded in Taranaki around 1866 by Maori leader, Te Whiti o Rongomai with help from another, Tohu Kakahi. The community was intended to create a distance between Parihaka and Europeans and hostile Maori, thereby secluding itself from outside influences. There, Te Whiti led his people in peace, declining to take part in the hostilities of 1865 and those later of 1868. Parihaka grew into a large, self-sufficient community of more than 2,000 people living a peaceful existence amidst acres of cultivations, with its own police force, bakery and bank. Many Maori from other areas who had been dispossessed of their land were attracted to join them.

As more European settlers arrived in Taranaki, their arrival outstripped the land available for them. Forgetting the founding principle of the colony – namely the equality between Maori and European – Taranaki colonists, through provincial government, began demanding more land.

Because much of the previously confiscated land had not been settled, it had reverted again to Maori ownership. The government of the day then attempted to secure title to these lands. Some Maori accepted the payments on offer, but Maori at Parihaka and on the Waimate Plains turned all offers down.

The Government decided to take the land by force and sent a Commissioner to Taranaki to survey sections. This forcible confiscation of land was mooted by John Ballance, now Colonial Treasurer. His plan to survey and sell the Waimate Plains by force would increase Treasury funds. At a meeting in Whanganui called to discuss the land war, Ballance (an avid reader of Darwin) was reported to have risen and shouted, “The Maori must be taught they have a superior race to contend with!”1. In 1878 the Government began the survey of the Waimate Plains accompanied by a strong detachment of armed constabulary.

“ You shall not covet…..anything that is your neighbour’s…You shall not desire your neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” (Exodus 20:17)

By February 1879 surveyors were cutting lines through Maori cultivations and fences. Maori retaliated by pulling out the survey pegs. In March 1879 after it became apparent that the Government had no intention of providing reserves for his people or keeping the promises under the Act, Te Whiti ordered his men to remove the surveyors. Maori living on the Waimate Plains surrounded the surveyors, packed them, their equipment and belongings into carts and escorted them to the other side of the Waingongoro River. The message was clear: pacific, non-violent obstruction would be offered to any attempts to confiscate the land.

Two months later, Te Whiti, still following a line of peaceful resistance, sent his men out with horses and ploughs to farmlands throughout Taranaki where they calmly ploughed farmers’ paddocks into ploughed fields. Te Whiti’s words of explanation were: “I am cutting a furrow to the Governor’s heart”.

This peaceful, civil action disturbed many settlers who called for an armed response. Leading the demand was a group of intermarried settlers who assumed the name,“the Mob”. Like Ballance, they too, were admirers of Darwin’s theory of evolution, particularly his words about inferior and superior human races. Their perception was that they were superior and Maori were inferior. As settlers prepared for con ict, Harry Atkinson, farmer and local Member of Parliament was reported in the Taranaki Herald thus – “He hoped, if war did come, it would mean the extermination of the natives”.

Violence is never a proper response. In his address to the troubled people of Drogheda, Ireland on the 29th September, 1979, Pope John Paul II said this:

“that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man. It is a lie for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend, the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”

Te Whiti was labelled as a madman and the ploughmen were arrested under martial law. They were labelled as fanatics by the Government in order to deny them justice and were subsequently imprisoned. The enactment of The Maori Prisoners’ Trials Act meant that prisoners could be held for 30 days without trial. The George Grey Government was replaced by a new government formed in October 1879. The trial date moved several times from December 1879 to July 1880. However, in January 1880, all the prisoners were moved discreetly to the South Island, to jails in Dunedin, Hokitika, Lyttelton and Ripapa Island. On 14 July 1880, the new Native Minister John Bryce introduced the Maori Prisoners’ Bill. The new law declared that all those in jail were now deemed to have been lawfully arrested, to be in lawful custody and decreed: “no court, judge, justices of the peace or other person shall during the continuance of this Act discharge, bail or liberate the said Natives”.

The ploughing ceased to allow the Supreme Court to test the validity of the Act under which the land had been confiscated. But in April 1880, now with the support of 600 armed constabulary, road making commenced and began to rapidly approach Parihaka. Te Whiti counselled his people to remain peaceful and have faith, though he himself was in despair at the “vexatious work” of the Government. The road makers proceeded to cut fences, cross cultivations and loot Maori property and each day men from Parihaka would repair the fences to protect their crops. The Government’s answer was to introduce two new Acts, the Maori Prisoners’ Detention Act and the harsher West Coast Settlement (North Island) Act. The fencers were arrested and like the ploughmen were detained without trial and sent to South Island prisons. Many died there in freezing and cramped conditions.

John Bryce, who was notorious for his antipathy towards Maori, made his move when Governor Gordon was visiting Fiji. A Proclamation was drawn up giving Te Whiti fourteen days to agree to a Government ultimatum or face further confiscation of his people’s land. On 5 November 1881, Bryce with a contingent of 1500 armed constabulary and volunteer “soldiers” from around the colony advanced on Parihaka. They were met by singing children, and on the marae itself, a group of about 2,000 Maori who had been sitting quietly, waiting since midnight. Bryce’s demand for an answer to the Proclamation was met with silence. The Riot Act was read out, giving Maori an hour to disperse or face a jail sentence of hard labour for life. Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and taken away to New Plymouth. The destruction of the village, the crops and the banishment of people from areas outside Parihaka began. A local newspaper reported the removal of women; “The process is strangely like draughting sheep, today the Wanganui ewes were culled”2.

Te Whiti and Tohu appeared at the New Plymouth courtroom on November 12 and were committed to jail until further notice. Six months later they were transferred to Addington Gaol in Christchurch. While there, new legislation was introduced which decreed that Te Whiti and Tohu were not to be tried but would be jailed inde nitely. Transferred again, this time to Nelson, they were nally released in March 1893 when they were granted an amnesty and given permission to return to Parihaka. Meanwhile the Government decreed that 5000 acres of land set aside for Parihaka reserves would be withheld as “an indemnity for the loss sustained by the Government in suppressing the…Parihaka sedition”.

As time passed the village numbers increased and the old values were reinforced and the peaceful resistance maintained. Te Whiti and Tohu both died in 1907.The path to Parihaka was a long one. It began with a failure of the colonial Government to honour promises given to Maori and a determination to ignore the mana of the chiefs and the land. It ended in the destruction of the settlement and the alienation of the people from the land.

Today, in a more enlightened Aotearoa, the injustice dealt to Maori and their inalienable right to their land is better understood. Te Whiti o Rongomai was a man of peace, a man who embraced the Gospel of Christ but who was condemned by many who brought those Christian traditions with them to this land. Quoting Pope Paul VI who used these words in his message for the World Days of Peace in 1969 and 1972, we read; “Peace is the fruit of justice.” (Isaiah 32:17). “Peace is threatened when man is not given all that is due him as a human person, when his dignity is not respected and when civil life is not directed to the common good. The defence and promotion of human rights is essential for the building up of a peaceful society and the integral development of individuals, peoples and nations.”

In conclusion, let us also consider these words from Pope John Paul II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church;

“The contemporary world too needs the witness of unarmed prophets, who are often the objects of ridicule. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risk of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death”.

Pope John Paul II Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 12th November 1983. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2306

  1. The Fox Boy, page 74, Peter Walker
  2. The Fox Boy, page 288, Peter Walker

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