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Monday, March 30, 2020

Mike Butler: Busting the Parihaka myth


The story of the so-called Parihaka “invasion” on November 5, 1881, on the coastal side of Mount Egmont-Taranaki, is all about colonial power and injustice was imposed on Maori peacefully resisting the confiscation of their land, right? Actually, wrong.

A new book by publisher John McLean goes beyond the self-serving oral histories that the Waitangi Tribunal relies on to tell the story as written by people who saw what happened in Taranaki in the late 19th century.


McLean begins his account in 1822, when an attack by Ngati Toa thinned out locals, followed by a further attack in 1831 by Waikato, which left Taranaki deserted except for a few stragglers.

Taranaki had been settled by British from 1841, had endured years of tribal feuding over land, as well as government flip-flops over what land settlers could own. The area had been the location of armed conflict between the government and anti-government Maori (in 1860 and 1868), was where the murderous Pai Marire cult started, and was where 462,000 acres of land had been confiscated.

Te Whiti Rongomai had been a priest of Pai Marire, a cult that combined stories from the Old Testament with ritual murder while promising to regain confiscated land by driving white settlers into the sea.

Te Whiti was a powerful orator who knew the Book of Revelations in the Bible by heart, and promised to evict white settlers by peaceful means. His brother-in-law Tohu Kakahi was his enforcer. Both set up camp at Parihaka in 1867.

Te Whiti’s message, plus claimed supernatural powers, plus monthly evangelical money and food gathering meetings, attracted thousands of gullible Maoris. Many relocated to Parihaka which soon ran with the excrement of dogs, of pigs, and of the throngs of true believers.

Te Whiti and Tohu were squatting on land confiscated under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863, and this set them on a collision course with the New Zealand Government.

While Te Whiti ostensibly conducted a “peaceful” campaign of ploughing up and illegally fencing other people’s land, Parihaka existed with an implied threat of violence.

This was partly because of the character of the people there. Te Whiti harboured Titokowaru, who had waged a costly war against the government in south Taranaki from 1868-1869. Te Whiti also protected a person named Wiremu Hiroki, who was wanted for murder.

This was also because people there were armed. When the village was eventually raided, 217 guns and rifles were seized, along with one revolver, two pistols, one cutlass, 100 powder flasks, 55 cap boxes, and loose ammunition. A further 160 guns were seized from five pas nearby.

Successive Ministers tried to negotiate with Te Whiti who proved impossible to negotiate with since he did not recognise that the Government had any right to do anything.

An overwhelming force of 1600 raided Parihaka on November 5, 1881. Te Whiti, Tohu, and Hiroki were arrested. Te Whiti was taken on a “silken captivity” tour of the South Island to be shown what colonisation was like without the war and disruption of the North Island.

The raid was not an “invasion”. The word “invasion” is when an army or country uses force to enter and take control of another country. The Government was asserting its sovereignty ceded at Waitangi in 1840 by taking control over government land at Parihaka.

Te Whiti lost power in the eyes of his gullible followers because none of his “prophecies” came to pass. After the raid, the land was drained and well-built houses replaced the squalid whares creating a cleaner Parihaka.

Claims that Parihaka was a progressive paradise with street lights and electricity in every home are pure fiction. Reefton was the first to provide electricity to the public, on August 4, 1888, and Gore was the first to provide electric lighting for public use by way of a private coal fired station in 1894.

Both Te Whiti and Tohu died in 1907. Tohu died first. Te Whiti and his followers did not attend his funeral. They had become rival prophets and Tohu had a bigger following.

Tohu’s son-in-law Homi told attendees at Te Whiti’s funeral that: “It serves you right, you tribes, you have believed these two men . . talk about words. Wind! What is the use of their predictions; they have all come wrong. You have been duped. These men were past masters in word-painting, that is all. You have been deceived. You should have awakened to the fact."

Author John McLean has the last word: "To twist Parihaka into a myth and use it as part of a programme to indoctrinate into the minds of schoolchildren an ideology that, contrary to the facts, is designed to instil in those of Maori descent a sense of eternal grievance and into European students a sense of shame is both mischievous and dishonest. Telling lies about the past is no way to build an honest future."

Parihaka – the facts, John McLean, Tross Publishing, 119 pages, illustrated, $30 (including postage) from www.trosspublishing.co.nz.

2 comments:

Ray S said...

"To twist Parihaka into a myth and use it as part of a programme to indoctrinate into the minds of schoolchildren an ideology that, contrary to the facts, is designed to instil in those of Maori descent a sense of eternal grievance and into European students a sense of shame is both mischievous and dishonest. Telling lies about the past is no way to build an honest future."

This paragraph says it all, Unfortunately, teaching has been going on for quite some time and several generations of children are probably beyond hearing a true account of our history. Its not going to change any time soon. Maori activists must be laughing in their caffe lattes.

Unknown said...

This is all about historiology.