What happened that morning in Parihaka on November 5, 1881? Te Whiti O Rongomai by Danny Keenan (Ngāti Te Whiti, Te Ātiawa) sets the scene for the armed invasion.
The morning was cold for late spring, with moist air clinging to the sleeping villagers gathered together. Some were stirring, huddled under sodden blankets, listening for the sound of the troops. Others shook their mats, casting off the night, catching the early sun. Beyond the marae ātea, people were slowly moving about, collecting firewood, preparing food, tending stock. Wood smoke clung to the village, tingeing the air of calm that lay over the valley that morning. The village was closely packed with dense rows of huts built against each other, spreading in all directions, home to a thousand people waking to the new day.
For some nights previous, villagers had been gathering at midnight for prayers and comfort, before settling onto the marae ātea for the night, lest the troops come after dark. The evening before, Parihaka leaders had once again called the people to assemble, preparing for a night incursion, should one come. Tohu Kakahi had urged patience and restraint, fearful that the younger men, if provoked, might leap into the fray. Even with a weapon pointed at their chests, Te Whiti O Rongomai had said, the villagers were not to be provoked. Weapons were forbidden and could never be seen – kakuhuna te patu, e kore, e kore rawa e kitea!
No one knew when the troops would come. 1,500 Armed Constabulary Regulars, recruited from all over New Zealand, had assembled at Pungarehu and Rāhotu, small villages situated near Parihaka. Other Regulars quartered at Ōpunake and Cape Egmont would be kept in reserve. Several days earlier, Native Minister John Bryce and mounted Regulars had been seen outside the pā gates, reconnoitring the village. The villagers had invited them to share a meal, but Bryce had declined. He had long wanted to invade Parihaka, offended that protests emanating from the pā had continued despite his escalating threats of punitive action.
Weeks earlier, Bryce’s predecessor, William Rolleston, had issued a memorandum, intended as a severe warning to the villagers – cease your continuing acts of wilful obstruction. Rolleston had earlier met with Te Whiti O Rongomai, seeking a compromise. He had hoped that protest action by Māori against surveyors and road builders might cease on the promise of guaranteed reserves. But Te Whiti had refused, insisting that Pākehā workers desist from their unlawful activities and remove themselves from the coastal plains altogether. Rolleston, bristling at this response, had issued his memorandum. Days later, he was replaced as Native Minister by Bryce, whose first action was to issue a final proclamation, an emphatic warning to Te Whiti O Rongomai that he must call a halt to his resistance, or face the dire consequences.
When delivered to Parihaka by government officials, the proclamation had been read to the assembled villagers. Te Whiti O Rongomai had interrupted; nothing was new, he said. The proclamation had been four decades in the writing. For that long, Māori in Taranaki had struggled to retain their lands. War at Waitara had resulted in confiscations. Courts established to offer Māori compensation had failed. Surveyors had been ordered onto the Waimate Plains, south of Parihaka, effectively enforcing the confiscations. Land sales would boost the country’s economy, said the government. But coastal Māori were innocent of offence under the confiscation legislation. Parihaka protests had intensified when surveyors and road builders forced their way onto the coastal Parihaka papakāinga, destroying fences and cultivations. Rolleston had offered land, should peace prevail on the plains. Te Whiti O Rongomai had rejected the offer; four decades of wrongdoing could not be so readily settled.
As Te Whiti and Tohu were now aware, the stakes were high – the fate of lands now left to Māori. Officials like Robert Parris thought Te Whiti and Tohu to be strained and in low spirits. But they were firm and unyielding as they gathered the people to their cause, assembling on the village marae ātea, awaiting the Armed Constabulary.
As the sun rose, more villagers joined those seated in front of the houses, facing the pā entrance. Food had been placed outside the gates, a customary gesture to those approaching should they feel in need of rest. Newspaper correspondents who witnessed the invasion later described a seated assembly numbering about 2,500 people, many of whom had travelled great distances in recent weeks. Reporters had crept onto the pā, under cover of darkness, in order to observe the invasion. Secrecy had been necessary because Bryce had closed the village to the press, threatening reporters with incarceration if they were found near the pā.
Undeterred, reporters had been concealed by bemused Māori among handily located huts affording the best views. The irony, one correspondent later wrote, of their hiding ‘amongst the enemy’ while awaiting the approach of ‘their own side’ did not go unnoticed.
Tohu Kakahi was observed moving among those who were seated, speaking in a low voice that reporters found difficult to understand. Te Whiti O Rongomai also spoke to the assembled adherents that morning in strong and unequivocal tones.
The two men had worked together for decades. Both were raised in Ngā Motu, before being taken as refugees to Waikanae in 1832 in the wake of devastating tribal fighting. Tohu had spent the greater part of his later childhood in South Taranaki, among Ngāti Ruanui. Both eventually settled among family at Warea, coming under the influence of Lutheran pastor Johannes Riemenschneider who operated a mission station there near the coast. Māori tōhunga like Minarapa Rangihatuake, Te Ua Haumene and Tamati Te Ito would also significantly influence their spiritual growth.
Following the shelling of Warea by the British Navy in 1860, and the defeat of Pai Marire adherents at Te Morere (Sentry Hill) in 1864, both men had moved to Parihaka with their families, establishing the village as a place of refuge in the wake of war and the land confiscations which followed.
By nature meditative and reserved, Tohu is remembered by descendants as having breathed life into Parihaka and as one profoundly attuned to the spiritual dimensions of resistance in the wake of continuing temporal dispossessions. But Tohu did not relish speaking in public, say descendants, preferring a relative seclusion. His charismatic and politically astute nephew, Te Whiti O Rongomai, appeared to adherents and visitors alike as the primary speaker and commanding intellect underpinning the resistance. But the men were equals, say descendants; complementary leaders of Māori sharing the burden of freeing their people from loss, dispossession and colonial servitude.
When word was received that the Armed Constabulary were on their way, fear and apprehension gripped the village. People rushed from their homes to join the seated assembly, carrying blankets, mats and garments. Children wearing mats were marshalled towards the pā entrance under the watchful eye of protective women seated nearby. Dogs were released and sent forward, to forage along the road. Their barking would alert the village of approaching horses.
Having delivered their final exhortations, Te Whiti and Tohu joined the people seated before the pā gates, blankets around their shoulders, warding off the chill of the day. Young men and women, barely adults, sat to their side and rear. As they settled to await the troops, Tohu and Te Whiti each wore a striking korowai, resplendent with the finest feathers, cloth and tāniko, symbolising their identity, their people and their cause.
Just before 7.15 am, they heard the dogs furiously barking.
Excerpt from Te Whiti O Rongomai (Huia Publishers) by Danny Keenan.