Parihaka and the Literature

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. These seminars provided us with opportunities to review the Parihaka literature, as it existed in 1993. This rather long essay provides a summary of some of that writing. If you’d like to read or down load a hard-copy version of this paper, with full references provided, please click below. 

The seminars

Organised by kuia like Mahinekura Rheinfeld and Parekaitu Tito with kaumātua Te Ru Koriri Wharehoka, the Parihaka seminar series in 1993 was 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.

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

The hearings, said the Parihaka sponsors, 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’. 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. Riseborough was also assisting North Taranaki iwi with historical research, thereafter presenting a series of prodigious historical reports to the Tribunal as an expert witness.

Dr. Riseborough’s presentation was entitled ‘Parihaka and the Historians’. 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 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’.

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’. But the value of Vaggioli’s source for this positive comment, the historian G.W. Rusden, had been called into question, with Rusden’s writings coming under attack. In 1883, Rusden had published a book entitled History of New Zealand (used by Vaggioli) in which Rusden had made allegations about John Bryce’s conduct while serving as a volunteer cavalryman in the late 1860s, pursuing Māori around the hills of South Taranaki.

Much later, in 1881, Bryce as Native Minister had led the raid against Parihaka, an event which had incensed Rusden, leading to his allegations in his History of New Zealand. In 1883, Bryce had refuted Rusden’s allegations which he called defamatory. A Court in London had agreed. Rusden’s book was withdrawn from sale with a substantial fine attached. As a consequence of the defamation action, said Riseborough, positive histories about Māori and Parihaka, like that written by Vaggioli, were easily dismissed. John Bryce also emerged from the affair seemingly ‘cleared’ of any responsibility for the invasion on Parihaka.

Dr Hazel Riseborough

Histories More Sympathetic Over time, however, opinions changed. Later historians like W.P. Reeves, Alfred Saunders, R.M. Burdon, James Cowan and William Baucke were generally positive towards Te Whiti and Tohu, instead focusing on 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.

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

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.

Reassessing Te Whiti O Rongomai 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 was virtually ‘without criticism (of Te Whiti) in its 205 pages’, his criticisms being reserved for an egregious, unreasonable and aggressive (and possibly overdrawn) government. 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 to be left alone with his peoples’ 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’. Historians of the 1990s 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. Given the length of his career and the quality of his research in works like The Origins of the Māori Wars, still a classic of historical analysis much in the mould of Alan Ward’s A Show of Justice (1975), Sinclair’s criticisms of Riseborough, just freshly out of her PhD, were surprising (Alan Ward had marked her thesis). The issue was one of sources, with Sinclair defending his use of Pākehā interpreters in order to understand what Te Whiti O Rongomai had said during his many speeches delivered at Parihaka. The issue of Pākehā interpretations, or their serious inadequacies, had come to a head after 17 September 1881 when, on the basis of Pākehā understandings of what had been said, Te Whiti O Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi were accused of making seditious statements which, to a large extent, provided the excuse for the 1881 invasion. But the Pākehā interpretations, Riseborough argued, had missed subtlety, nuance, metaphor and shades of meaning; and, as it turned out, they had been wrong. Such sources, she said, could not be trusted. Instead, Riseborough 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’. Riseborough 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. But Sinclair and other historians had described this preference for the oral records as a ‘romantic assertion’. Judith Binney had also taken issue with Riseborough over the same issue, criticising her arguments whilst reviewing her book. In turn, Riseborough had also rejected Binney’s criticism, pointing to major flaws in Binney’s earlier work on Taranaki. In the end, said Dr. Riseborough, these oral sources were the taonga of Parihaka’s people. The fact remained that Te Whiti O Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi had behaved in as ‘calm, restrained and responsible way as was possible in the face of what Ministers themselves said was deliberate goading’. Their actions were those of astute political and spiritual leaders. Now, a hundred or more years on, said Riseborough, with the Tribunal investigations underway, it was to be seen whether the descendants were ready to free Te Whiti O Rongomai from the bonds with which past histories and historians, as well government political actions, had bound him. The seminar series constituted a courageous beginning; the presentation of Taranaki and Parihaka histories would undoubtedly continue. Framing Māori History To some extent, this book arises from those days when ‘Māori history’ needed reframing and rewriting, with Māori counter narratives worked back into the ‘grand narrative of New Zealand history’. This grand narrative, said Ranginui Walker, was entirely founded on stories of colonial origins and Pākehā hegemony. It was time for Māori historians, he said, to redress the balance. Māori historians like Te Ahukaramu Charles Royal, Te Maire Tau, Aroha Harris, Brad Haami, Buddy Mikaere, Manuka Henare, Rawiri Taonui and Monty Soutar were certainly up for Professor Walker’s challenge and an important Māori historiography developed, also influenced by the work of senior colleagues like Sir Tipene O’Regan, Miria Simpson, Tairongo Amoamo, Joe Pere and Tom Roa. Much has changed in Māori historiography since those days with younger Māori historians coming through with fresh approaches and new ideas. However, a Māori historical framework developed in the early 1990s, structured upon whakapapa, is still appropriate and, generally speaking, frames this book which adheres to whakapapa phases of Mana Ātua (early deities), Mana Tūpuna (early ancestors), Mana Whenua (the land), Mana Tangata (more recent ancestors) and Mana Tangata, Matauranga Onomata (their thoughts and motivations). The framework is founded on the essential Māori ethos that the organising device of all Māori knowledge, including knowledge of the past, is whakapapa; and the organising theme is mana. This applies particularly to the histories of Te Whiti O Rongomai, Tohu Kakahi and Parihaka, as increasing numbers of Taranaki Māori writers are demonstrating. Working with Kaumātua As mentioned in the Acknowledgements, writing this book would not have been possible without the support and assistance of kaumātua Rangikotuku and Ngaraiti Rukuwai, who live in New Plymouth. Both grew up at Parihaka; and Rangikotuku is the great grandson of Te Whiti O Rongomai, though he was raised by the families of Tohu Kakahi. Over many cups of tea and coffee, Rangikotuku and Ngaraiti talked to me about their early lives at Parihaka, pausing often to share observations and reflections. Their interesting testimony forms the tahuhu (the backbone) of this book – all other material, though important, has been provided as political back story. Weaving the two threads together was always a challenge, especially ensuring that their thoughts were not lost in a mass of historical detail which is provided here to extend their korero, not to qualify it. Framing this book in this way assigns primary narrative value to their testimony, for which I am hugely grateful. Taranaki Māori Writers As with Rangikotuku and Ngaraiti, other descendants of Parihaka from Taranaki and further afield are continuing to remember, reflect on and write down the histories of Parihaka and the 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 who were all, amongst numerous others, faithful chroniclers of the lived realities of Parihaka, past and present. In 1992, Ailsa Smith contributed an engaging 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 fascinating 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. 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, Dr. Riseborough’s presentation at Parihaka was well received. During breakfast the next morning, Riseborough 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