Parihaka 2

In November 1881 the undefended village of Parihaka in Taranaki was invaded and then ransacked by government troops and militia. Its celebrated spiritual and political leaders Tohu Kakahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai were forcibly removed to nearby New Plymouth and then to Wellington. Meanwhile a date on which they would be tried was repeatedly postponed. Having removed the two chiefs from their peaceful stronghold, the Government found it had insufficient evidence to support the sedition charges it had brought against them.

Six months after their arrests and still expecting to be tried, Te Whiti and Tohu were brought to Christchurch where they were held for several weeks in the modern jail at Addington. With a newly completed Anglican Cathedral, large Museum and an Industrial Exhibition underway in Hagley Park, Christchurch was seen as an ideal place for the Government to try and drive home to its two prisoners the folly of resisting the advance of British civilization. Despite tours of the district by rail and tram Tohu remained indifferent; and though Te Whiti clearly enjoyed much of what he saw, his greatest affection was reserved for the Avon River.

While Christchurch did reveal some novel items, Parihaka was already embracing the new technology on its own terms – later becoming one of the country’s most advanced municipalities. Rather than rejecting European technology however, Parihaka’s leaders rejected the spiritual vacuum within which it was being operated and out of which the Government had advanced into their land.

Parihaka was already the largest and most prosperous of any Maori community in the country. Unlike settler towns however, Parihaka’s modernization was from firm spiritual foundations which according closely with the New Testament. With its industriousness and famed generosity to visitors, it stood out as a rebuke to the government’s advance.

For those colonists wearing the cloak of settler-styled Christianity the rebuke was deeper still, especially to those now occupying Maori land converted to their individual title.

Settlers on North Island’s West Coast resented this peaceable Maori community in their midst, as did their seriously indebted Government which finding no other means to acquire the chiefs’ land, was swayed towards invasion. Aggressive feelings towards Parihaka were magnified throughout the young colony by newspaper editors and politicians accusing its leaders of being war-mongering hypocrites and madmen.

Acute political and spiritual discord about land is evident in a travel-diary written by John P. Ward called: “Wanderings with the Maori Prophets”. Employed as Te Whiti and Tohu’s interpreter and traveling jailer, Ward begins his diary as they arrive in Christchurch. It covers an extensive tour of the South Island by rail and ship, finishing in Nelson from where Tohu and Te Whiti were shipped home in March 1883. The diary ends as the two chiefs greet Maunga Taranaki from the sea, and step ashore at Opunake to begin a glorious return to Parihaka.

Now reprinted for use in Treaty of Waitangi education, Ward’s diary is a testimony to
19th Century Pakeha beliefs about their entitlement to individualize and exploit Maori land. 

As a unique account of twelve months spent with two most creative and resolute peace-activists it is certainly a precious record; but it is Ward as unintended apologist for the colonial economy which may be the diary’s most important and revealing aspect.

Ward declares he has set out to write an honest record, yet reveals himself to be deeply biased. For example he applauds visiting Government officials bringing inducements of privately owned land and government incomes to his captives. These benefits will be granted, the chiefs are told, on condition they: “…agree to give up assembling the people”. Though these offers are renewed at intervals on the journey, the chiefs are unmoved. Eventually Te Whiti tells Ward: “I want none of their love”, at which Ward’s commentary swings furiously between admiration for their resolve and horror at such foolish indifference.     

Ward often confesses to being fond of his captives, and while discussions with them range widely there is much disagreement [declared only to the diary] about economics and also evolution. Yet when Ward enthuses about the profits