Parihaka and the historians

In 1993, a seminar series ‘open to the students and the teachers of the world’ was held at Parihaka, sponsored by Te Whānau O Te Niho O Te Ātiawa of Parihaka.   

the seminars

The Parihaka series was organised by kuia like Mahinekura Rheinfeld and Parekaitu Tito with kaumātua Te Ru Koriri Wharehoka assisting. They were aimed at ‘nurturing identity and bridging cultures’. Inspiration to do this came from Waitangi Tribunal hearings at Parihaka which had commenced a year earlier, in October 1992.

Te Niho o Te Ātiawa, originally the wharekai (dining house) of Te Whiti O Rongomai.

The hearings, said the Parihaka elders, had ‘stirred within us the spirit of our tūpuna’ to acknowledge and revisit the past with new eyes in order to ‘commemorate the example set us by our kuia and kaumātua’.

Speakers included Dr Kathie Irwin, Dr Paora Tapsell, Prof Mason Durie, Patricia Grace, Elizabeth Kerekere, Dr Ailsa Smith and Dr Manuka Henare.

  The first seminar in the series was presented by Dr. Hazel Riseborough, then Senior Lecturer in History at Massey University, Palmerston North, and author of ‘Days of Darkness. The Government and Parihaka 1878-1888’. Hazel was also assisting North Taranaki iwi with historical research, thereafter presenting a series of prodigious historical reports to the Waitangi Tribunal as an expert witness.

Dr Hazel Riseborough

Hazels’ presentation asessed some of the recent historical literature relating to Parihaka. In her paper, she argued that the history of Parihaka had not been dealt with adequately by early historians who had seemed influenced by nineteenth-century views of Te Whiti O Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi as ‘superstitious’, ‘far gone in sanity’ and ‘fanatics’.

Views such as these, she argued, were stated often by Ministers and officials like Harry Atkinson, John Bryce, John Sheehan, Robert Parris and Charles Brown, thereafter resonating through uncritical Pākehā communities and political circles. Te Whiti and Tohu were also referred to as ‘prophets’ but the term was ‘not meant to be complimentary; in fact, it had a very negative connotation’.

More positive views

Some positive views, though rare, were heard, however. One such view came from an Italian Benedictine priest, Domenico Vaggioli who had written of Te Whiti O Rongomai as being ‘without peer in the annals of Māori’.  Vaggioli’s source for this positive view was the embattled historian, G.W. Rusden. In 1883, Rusden had published a book entitled ‘History of New Zealand’ (used by Vaggioli) in which Rusden had made allegations about Native Minister John Bryce’s conduct whilst earlier serving in South Taranaki as a volunteer cavalryman in the late 1860s.  

The grave of Te Whiti O Rongomai at Parihaka.

Much later, in 1881, Native Minister Bryce had led the invasion of Parihaka, an event which had incensed Rusden, leading to the allegations made in his History of New Zealand. The allegations involved the killing of a number of Māori boys by persuing mounted troopers.

In 1883, Bryce refuted Rusden’s allegations which he called defamatory. A Court in London agreed. Rusden’s book was withdrawn from sale with a substantial fine imposed. As a consequence of the defamation action, said Riseborough, positive histories about Māori and Parihaka, like that written by Rusden (and Vaggioli) were easily discounted. After the defamation action, says Hazel, Bryce’s reputation was restored as the saviour of settlers through his otherwise egregious actions at Parihaka.  

Over time, however, opinions changed. Later historians like W.P. Reeves, Alfred Saunders, R.M. Burdon, James Cowan and William Baucke were positive towards Te Whiti and Tohu, instead focusing on iniquitious  government policies which had led to the Māori land dispossessions in Taranaki. Cowan and Baucke in particular, both of whom spoke fluent Māori, had spent time with Te Whiti O Rongomai at Parihaka. But other notable historians like J.C. Beaglehole, J.B. Condliffe, W.T.G Airey and W.P. Morrell had remained ambivalent at best and dismissive at worst.

The bridge over the Waiongoro River, just north of Hawera, on the coast road. Permission given to surveyors to cross this river in 1879 led to the Parihaka invasion of 1881.

After the Second World War, in the 1950s, historians continued to be generally sympathetic to Te Whiti O Rongomai and Parihaka, showing an increased willingness to criticise government policies of the 1870s and 1880s.

Dick Scott’s Parihaka Story, published in 1954, and his later expanded version Ask That Mountain, published in 1975, were fine examples of this. Scott had received assistance from Parihaka kaumātua like Whatarau Wharehoka and George Koea Snr, with Mohi Wharepouri, Rev. Paahi Moke, Mira Ngaia and Dr. E.P. Ellison also assisting. Scott’s two books were ground-breaking, not least because of this support received from such esteemed oral informants.

Later writings

Lauren standing beneath the old Stockade, Pungarehu, where Te Whiti O Rongomai, Tohu Kakahi and Titokowaru were held.

These generally positive treatments continued through to the 1990s, although in the 1970s some New Zealand historians sought to challenge these trends. Influenced by recent Pacific historiography which criticised depictions of Island peoples as ‘helpless savages’, swept along by the ‘fatal impacts’ of negative European contacts, some historians saw similar trends emerging in New Zealand.

In 1978, S.J. Bryant proposed a ‘reassessment’ of Te Whiti O Rongomai’s political activity. Bryant conceded that earlier historians, from the time of John Bryce, had been highly critical of Te Whiti, representing his dealings with the Crown as severely flawed. Later historians like Burdon, Cowan and Baucke had been more sympathetic.

But now, since the days of Dick Scott, historians ‘could find no wrong’. ‘The zeal to correct the older version had led to an over-exaggeration in the other direction’. Dick Scott’s ‘Ask That Mountain’, said Bryant, was virtually ‘without criticism (of Te Whiti) in its 205 pages’. Condemnation was instead reserved for an egregious, unreasonable and aggressive (and possibly overdrawn) government.

The Māori land confiscations. Enabled by legislation enacted in 1863, the confiscations egregiously affected Māori deemed to be 'rebels' from Taranaki, Waikato, Tauranga and Whakatohea.

 Bryant then set about ‘setting the record straight’, producing a detailed (Pākehā) ‘reassessment’. But he ran into trouble at the very beginning.

His ‘reassessment’ focused almost entirely on Te Whiti’s ‘failure’ to properly adapt to European culture. Te Whiti’s many ‘imperfect adaptations’ contained the seeds of their own inadequacy, argued Bryant, when dealing with Pākehā. Such ‘failures’ had also led to serious shortcomings in Te Whiti O Rongomai’s relationship with the European state.

But as Te Whiti had made clear many times, he did not desire a ‘relationship’ with Pākehā culture, adequate or otherwise. Nor did he desire a ‘relationship’ with the European state. Quite the reverse; he wished for customary autonomy with Taranaki Māori culture and lands intact – or, as Te Whiti said many times to Pākehā who would listen (like Native Minister William Rolleston in 1881), he would not accept ‘half of his blanket’.

As Rolleston later reported, Te Whiti had refused to be part of any settlement ‘using the old metaphor of the blanket which, he said, belonged to him and could not be divided’.

Rejecting Pākehā interpretations  

Dr. Riseborough concluded her presentation to the whānau at Te Niho O Te Ātiawa by assessing the work of historians writing in the 1990s like Keith Sinclair and Judith Binney, both of whom had published recent criticisms of her book, Days of Darkness.

In her book, Hazel rejected the use of Pākehā interpreters as a means of understanding what Te Whiti and Tohu had said during their many speeches delivered at Parihaka.  This issue had given rise to the invasion; a Pākehā interpreter had accused Te Whiti of making seditious comments on  17 September 1881.  But all Pākehā interpretations, said Hazel, were unreliable because they missed entirely the subtlety, nuance, metaphor and shades of meaning intended by Māori orators. Such Pākehā interpretations, she said, could not be trusted.

Instead, Hazel deferred to the immense value of traditional Parihaka oral sources like waiata, haka, tauparapara, whakatauaki, whaikorero and, not least, poi expressional performance which James Cowan once described as ‘no mere amusement but a kind of musical hansard’. Hazel doubted that Pākehā scholars could get to the truth of what Te Whiti O Rongomai had ever said, at any time, without accessing the Parihaka oral records.

Te Rangi Kapua, the home of Tohu Kakahi at Parihaka.

But Sinclair, Binney and other historians described Hazel’s view as a ‘romantic assertion’, defending the use of Pākehā sources.   

The fact remained, said Hazel, that Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi had behaved in as ‘calm, restrained and responsible way as was possible’ in the face of what Ministers themselves conceded was ‘deliberate goading’. 

Now, a hundred or more years on, with the Waitangi Tribunal investigations underway, concluded Hazel, it was to be seen whether the descendants were ready to free Te Whiti O Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi from the bonds with which past histories and historians, as well government political actions, had bound them.  

The writings of descendents  

The seminar series constituted a courageous beginning; the presentation of Parihaka and Taranaki ‘counter-narratives’ that might reframe New Zealand’s multiple histories.  

Today, descendants of Parihaka are continuing to reflect upon and write about the histories of Parihaka and the wider experiences of the Taranaki people. In so doing, they follow the inspiration of tūpuna like Te Kahui Kararehe, Te Whetu and, more recently Whatarau Wharehoka, Rangikotuku Rukuwai and Ngaraiti Rukuwai, who were all, amongst numerous others, faithful chroniclers of  the Parihaka story.

Rangikotuku Rukuwai, standing by the remaining foundations of Te Whiti's house, Parihaka.

In 1992, Ailsa Smith contributed an essay on the life of Tohu Kakahi to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and a year later published Songs and Stories of Taranaki from the Writings of Te Kahui Kararehe. In 2005, Tony Sole published his richly detailed tribal history Ngāti Ruanui.

Te Miringa Hohaia and Ruakere Hond have also published absorbing accounts of Parihaka histories sourced in traditional stories and tribal wananga. Others to have published Taranaki waiata, tauparapara, whakatauaki and karakia include Tonga Karena and Huirangi Waikerepuru.

In 2009, Rachel Buchanan published her PhD thesis which, presented as a personal journey, examined stories emanating from ‘Parihaka and memory’, as told through traditional cultural forms as well as conventional historical sources.

Hilary and John Mitchell have also written extensively of Taranaki from the perspective of whānau living in Te Tau Ihi, in the South Island.

Whānau of Parihaka march to Pungarehu Primary School on the occasion of its centenary in 1992.

Recent hikoi of Taranaki whānau to meet with Te Wai Pounamu whānau, and to visit the sites traversed by earlier Taranaki prisoners, have also been described in absorbing detail by Edward Ellison and Peter Moeahu.

Paora Joseph’s moving film, Tatarakihi; Children of Parihaka also depicted a hikoi of Parihaka children visiting the sites and prisons symbolising the travails of earlier generations, led by Mata Wharehoka, Ngapera Moeahu and Whero Bailey with Pauline and Len Robinson of the Parihaka whānau.

After the Shades of Evening

In the end, Hazel’s presentation at Parihaka was well received.

During breakfast the next morning, Hazel turned to Parihaka kaumātua Te Ru Koriri Wharehoka, who was sitting nearby, and asked if he would care to write a dedication for a monograph to be published, containing her lecture of the previous evening.

Te Ru agreed and asked for a pen and paper, being handed a pen and a tissue, as it turned out. After thinking for a minute, Te Ru commenced writing;

He Maru Ahiahi Kei Muri te Maru Awatea He Paki Arohirohi Kei Mua

After the shades of evening  comes the dusk of dawn, whilst before us lies the shimmering glory of a fair day.