In Honour of Parihaka

I traveled home to Taranaki today reflecting on the events that are about to unfold, events that mark a significant historical moment.

This trip is to join our whanaunga of Parihaka at the He Puanga Haeata, Parihaka-Crown Reconciliation Ceremony. Parihaka Pā was a thriving Taranaki community under the guidance and leadership of Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. It is a community that developed from a position of strength and conviction to hold the whenua and to resist colonial confiscations through a committed and active peaceful resistance movement. It is a story of mana motuhake and Taranaki resistance that has deeply influenced my own understanding and commitment to justice for our people. It is also a history that we were never told as I grew up just 45 minutes away from Parihaka. It was an untold story for many generations, not only in Taranaki but within Aotearoa more broadly.

We never went to Parihaka as children, we heard little of the history, but I felt a deep sense of pain every time I heard the name mentioned by adults. It was not until I was a young adult that I first went to Parihaka. I drove there with friends and we sat inside the Pā wondering why we had never heard about what happened on those lands. I remember thinking that I should feel angry about that denial of our own history, but instead I felt firsthand an excruciating sense of pouri, a deep, deep sadness that was not only mine but was a part of an ancestral memory that sat within every ira tangata, every cellular memory within my soul, my entire being.

Tommorrow is He Puanga Haeata, the Parihaka-Crown Reconciliation Ceremony. This ceremony is over 150 years in the making since the initial establishment of Parihaka in 1866 and the invasion of the pā in 1881 by 1500 militia under the direction of John Bryce, the Minister of Native Affairs and the forced removal and imprisonment of the men of Parihaka in Otakou, Te Waipounamu ( Otago, South Island). The military occupation of Parihaka by 1500 colonial militia meant an ongoing experience of abuse and oppression for those remaining, those being 600 children, women and kaumātua.

The Parihaka website notes:
“Over more than two weeks the constabulary arrested groups of people who were from other regions and forcibly returned them. Because no person responded the process was largely guess work. On the 22nd the last 150 men were removed leaving just 600 people (mainly kaumatua, women and children). A system of passes was put in place to stop people from outside entering Parihaka or providing it supplies. Buildings were burnt and demolished and newly planted crops were destroyed. Those who remained faced severe deprivation and ongoing abuse from an occupying force of constabulary based in a fort erected in the community to enforce riot act restrictions of movement.”

The ceremony, tomorrow, is a part of a broader reconciliation process for Parihaka. It is a part of a process to move Parihaka into a future that celebrates the power and resistance that is Parihaka. As it is noted within the Parihaka documentation it is a future where “together, we are focused on re-building a sustainable and healthy community” that is grounded upon the philosophies of Te Whiti and Tohu and that embrace a ‘Legacy of Hope’ that is described as:
“The tikanga that was established by Tohu and Te Whiti at Parihaka can be characterised by five key elements which helped give rise to the notion of the Parihaka Movement:
1. Equality: Previous status held by people of high birth or their positions of authority were put aside and all people were expected to actively participate in roles that would otherwise be previously considered menial or debasing their mana.
2. Collectivity: All the benefits of activities within the settlement were contributed toward the betterment of the collective. While individuals may own possessions and accumulate resources, they were shared freely to ensure the collective goals were achieved.
3. Identity: People in the community had a diverse range of whakapapa connections and points of identity. Parihaka did not dismiss their identity but subsumed individual identity within a collective identity of Parihaka. Iwi were able to build a marae for their people in the settlement but outward symbols of their identity such as carvings were actively discouraged. Iwi were also encouraged to form poi groups to perform waiata at events but most of the waiata were related directly to Parihaka, its principles and experiences. The waiata ‘E Rere Rā’ composed by Muaūpoko is an example.
4. Goodwill: Compassion and non-violence were core concepts repeatedly reinforced in statements, practices and waiata. Eg Pōwhiri with the hongi before speeches reflects the acceptance of people to the community regardless of their intentions or past indiscretions.
5. Self-sufficiency: Intentions in the past were for Māori in Taranaki to retain ownership and authority over their lands and resources. Parihaka held to this view and believed that over-reliance on resources from external sources placed communities at risk hence the innovation they put into place.” (Parihaka website: http://parihaka.maori.nz/)

He Puanga Haeata is a ceremony that marks another critical moment in Parihaka and Taranaki history. It is a moment in time that highlights the commitment of the current generation of Parihaka to seek a process of reconcilation that honours the tikanga that has been laid down by Te Whiti and Tohu. A part of that tikanga is also the openness through which the process has been undertaken by those involved in the negotiation process.

In a rare showing of transparency and collective accountability the Parihaka Papakainga Trust have placed all key documentation and letters between themselves and the Crown negotiators, including the Minister of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, online for all to read and reflect upon. They also gave numerous kanohi ki te kanohi presentations and produced online video for those unable to attend in person. This aligns with the tikanga of Parihaka where Te Whiti and Tohu engaged with government agents openly in front of all gathered. This is an act of collective accountability that is rarely seen in any negotiations with the Crown, who have an obsession with operating behind closed doors and in secret under the guise of ‘confidentiality’. Those working on behalf of Parihaka have created an open, accessible archive of information and documents that I have no doubt will be the basis for the future documenting of this contemporary, and yet historical, event.

A part of the process is a Crown apology. I have never been keen on apologies by those in power when they fail to meaningfully address and honour the fundamental intention of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Apologies by the Crown in one context often does not mean changes in the ways in which they deal with our people and issues in the wider context. We know that apologies have little meaning if governments continue to act in ways that maintain the oppressive systemic and institutional racism which is a part of the fundamental ways that the existing colonial structures that dominate on our lands are constituted.

However, tomorrow, the apology of the Crown is not only about the Crown purging its guilt. The apology is an historical record for Parihaka and for Taranaki. It is a record that the acts of war, ethnocide and genocide that occurred at Parihaka were illegal and immoral acts of violence against our tupuna. That record will stand as both an apology and an admission of the act of war by the Crown on the people of Parihaka.

The process of reconciliation undertaken by our whanaunga of Parihaka stands as a model for healing of relationships that is informed by the values, practices, protocols and ceremonies of our tupuna. It provides a pathway for determining the healing journey for past, present, and future generations of our people within Taranaki. It gives a foundation for moving to a space that deals directly with the historical trauma impacts that have been experienced inter-generationally since the 1860’s. It enables pathways that honour our ancestors and that enable the dreams and aspirations for future generations.

It will be a powerful day. It will also be a day of grieving for all that our people have suffered up to this point in time. It is also a day that marks the opening of the Parihaka Puanga Kai Rau festival, a festival that celebrates movement towards the Māori New Year, a time to farewell those that have passed on, a time to celebrate new beginnings, a time of new growth and of new hope for the well-being of current and future generations.

It will be a good day to be Māori, it will be a good day to be Taranaki.

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