Luke 6:27-36

Wilful disobedience at Parihaka

Reflection by Martin Stewart

‘If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.’

These are powerful words aren’t they?  Easy to roll off the tongue but hard to actually live out when you are on the receiving end of the poor behaviour of others, and especially so when you are trying to lead a large community of people as the prophets Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi were doing in the community of Parihaka.  During the 1870’s the Parihaka community was the largest Maori settlement in New Zealand, numbering over 2,000 people.  The community grew as dispossessed and disaffected Maori looked for solace after the land confiscations associated with the New Zealand wars. Paul Morris, from Victoria University, described Parihaka as ‘a leading centre for Maori policy and Maori cultural life, and according to a newspaper report, the site of regular cricket matches(!).’ [Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance (2001) p113] Morris also observes that the leadership Te Whiti and Tohu offered was not so much passive resistance as spiritual resistance.  They took the teachings of Jesus seriously and they identified with the Old Testament prophets who were unafraid to speak truth to power.

‘If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.’

As fears grew among white settlers that the resistance at Parihaka could have been a prelude to renewed armed conflict, 1600 militia were sent to subdue the community.  They were met without resistance.  In the outer circle were children bearing baskets of food.  Then there were the women sitting and refusing to get up.  Nevertheless, despite the complete lack of aggression, the militia arrested the men, bore them away, and ‘the powers that be’ had them deported, mostly to Dunedin, where they were treated as slaves and denied any form of trial. There were also reports in the days that followed of widespread looting and the raping of women. [Dick Scott, (1975). Ask That Mountain: The Story of Parihaka. pp. 120–121, 127.] When this behaviour is tolerated by the powers that be, then you know that the forces at work are other than the gospel way.  How hard it must have been to have held these people in the trust of God’s goodness!

The ripples of the shocking and unjust behaviour of the colonial powers are still felt today.  The treaty settlements of the last 25 or so years go some way to attend to these injustices, and the modest but unique Parihaka settlement of 2017 where the Treaty Negotiations minister Chris Finlayson delivered a formal apology has helped enormously.  In his well-received speech Finlayson said that the past events at Parihaka were ‘among the most shameful in the history of our land.’ He also said the Crown regretted its actions, which had left it with a legacy of shame. [Source: Wikipedia quote of a Stuff article “Crown apologises to Parihaka for past horrors”Stuff. 22 July 2018.]

The greatest part of the tragedy in my opinion was the irony in the assumption about who Maori were and how they functioned.  This was based on a colonial mindset that Maori were uncivilised.  What was the foundation of the British civilisation?  It was the gospel values allegedly held up by Queen Victoria and her servants.  The fact of the matter was that the gospel was finding a more sophisticated foothold in the teachings of Te Whiti and Tohu than in the so-called Christian-shaped British colonial culture.

A feature of the resistance at Parihaka was to not recognise the confiscation of the nearby land.  When survey pegs were put in place, Te Whiti’s instructions were to remove them.  When confiscated land was set aside for farms, Te Whiti’s men would plough them as if the land was still their own. At least two hundred men were arrested and removed.  Here’s a telling Te Whiti quote from 1879, 16 months before the raid:

“When I speak of the land, the survey, the ploughmen, and such small matters, the pencils of the reporters fly with the speed of the wind, but when I speak of the words of the Spirit, they say this is the dream of a madman.” [Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance (2001) p105]

Of course, the accusation from the civil authorities was that the Maori were involved in acts of wilful disobedience.  The more the Maori protested the confiscation of their lands, the more the civil authorities revamped the laws to justify their actions and make it harder for the Maori.  I wonder about the other more significant forms of wilful disobedience involved in these unrighteous acts of the powers that be, who came teaching the love and peace of Jesus, but behaved in an altogether different way.

All these years later the State has had to attend to the injustices of the past.  It is too little too late, but at least there is an apology and a small degree of compensation.  Just remember, the pay-out in the Ngai Tahu treaty settlement was equivalent to under 3% of what Ngai Tahu were legally entitled to.  Less that 3%! Here’s the rub though… the wilful disobedience continues.  That it has taken until this year until the government of the land has insisted that New Zealand history, including the story of the New Zealand wars, is a compulsory part of the NCEA history curriculum indicates that at heart many, or even most of us, are still wilfully disrespectful.  Just imagine if this was your history that has been wilfully omitted.  Just imagine if your past was dismissed and your identity diminished because others simply turned up and claimed what was yours as their own, and, if you protested, even peacefully, they came in force and removed you, pillaged your crops, and raped your women.  Just imagine, it took over 100 years before the government of your country, the government of all of its citizens, began to attend to your grievances.  And then, even after the apologies and settlements, a large percentage of the population wilfully remain ignorant of your story and a significant number remain resentful of the place you and your people have in this, your own land.  Imagine!  And, to add salt into the wound, on the 5th of November, instead of noting the quite marvellous legacy of two Maori prophets who embraced the very best of the way of Jesus Christ, many in the populace commemorate the failed plot of a minor figure in an ancient civil war by blowing up firecrackers.  Blimey!

Anyway… here’s a recent story to finish with told by Andrew Callander, a Presbyterian minister in New Plymouth.  It will be helpful for you to keep in the back of your minds the story of how the children of Parihaka met the militia with offerings of baskets of food.  Here are Andrew’s words:

“My Great-grandfather Michael Callander was born in Falkirk Scotland in 1846 – the 11th child of Adam Callander and Elizabeth Brown.  A Museum in Falkirk describes it in the 1850s as the ‘dirtiest most impoverished town in all of Scotland.’  The family migrated to Australia in 1854.

Of all the children, Michael (after 23 years in Australia), was the only one to move on to settle in New Zealand.  My suspicion is that because his wife, Ellen Copeman, was a Romani Gypsy this may not have sat well with the rest of the family. Michael’s obituary in the Waitara newspaper on 9th August 1929 says (among other things) that he arrived in New Zealand in 1877, joined the armed constabulary, and was ‘present at the arrest of Te Whiti at Parihaka in 1881.’  He would have been 35 at the time and the father of one child.  My Grandfather Leslie, Michael and Ellen’s fifth and youngest child, was born eight years later in 1889 in Opunake.  For services rendered Michael received 12 acres of confiscated land near Opunake.  I don’t know how long this remained in the family.  However, his four youngest children were all born in Opunake and he and Ellen are buried there.

I was vaguely aware of this history, but after Marie and I moved from Dunedin to New Plymouth in 2010 we became much more aware.  From what seemed a rather theoretical thing while we lived in Dunedin, in Taranaki, Māori pain and Māori aspiration became much more real to us.  We asked ourselves, ‘What should we do?’  A while later a brochure advertising a Māori language course at the wananga came through the letter box and we said, ‘Yes, that’s what we should do!’  Through this we have been invited to begin a journey in to Te Ao Māori – the Māori world.  As part of this we have attended several events at Parihaka.  It was there we learned that there was to be a Crown apology to the people of Parihaka, but that the people of Parihaka wanted this to also include the descendants of the Colonial Militia.  They believe that these men had been required to act under bad orders.

This reconciliation ceremony – He Puanga Haeata – took place on 9th June 2017.  The descendants of the militia were given a place of honour.  When the apology was being read we stood to indicate our feelings of remorse concerning what had happened and our desire for a better future for all.

Following this we were given symbolic gifts by a group of children and parents of the descendants of Parihaka – a kono (a food basket reflecting the hospitality that was shown to the troops in 1881); a raupō poi (representing the narratives from the past that need to be told and understood); an albatross feather (a traditional Parihaka symbol of non-violence and commitment to lasting reconciliation); and a taewa potato (one of the varieties grown in the times of Tohu and Te Whiti that Marie and I now grow in our garden from this single tuber).

Following this we shared a meal provided by the NZ Armed Forces.  Those who were descendants of the militia were rather conspicuous given that we were holding these gifts.  Yvonne Tahana from TV1 News saw me and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed and that evening I had about a 5 second slot in a 2½ minute segment on the evening news concerning this event.

Marie and I have been amazed at the grace we have been shown from so many Taranaki Māori.  The first time I shared my story was at Puniho Marae just up the road from Parihaka.  A woman I shared it with paused for a while and then said, ‘I can only suppose that he thought he was doing the right thing.’  Another, ‘They were victims too – enticed here with false promises of cheap land.’

It feels for us that we are extraordinarily privileged to be involved in some things that are helping to work for a better future in this part of Aotearoa New Zealand.”

‘If anyone strikes you on the cheek,’ says Jesus, ‘offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.’

That takes some doing doesn’t it?  The call of the gospel bumping against the often hard reality of the road.  It is good that we have people in the past who have held to the gospel way even in adversity!