Looking back, looking forward: Parihaka

And tips on how to teach it, by Wendy Fowler

Go, put your hands to the plough. Look not back. If any come with guns, be not afraid. If they smite you, smite not in return. If they rend you, be not discouraged. Another will take up the good work.’ Te Whiti o Rongomai, Parihaka

November 5, 2021 marks 140 years since Parihaka was invaded and destroyed. As we anticipate the commemoration of events that occurred at Parihaka on that day, let us stand alongside tāngata whenua as they remember this historic event.

On November 5 in 1881, 1,600 volunteers and soldiers of the Armed Constabulary invaded the peaceful and thriving settlement of Parihaka, established by Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai. The attack was spearheaded by Native Minister John Bryce, who had long touted the settlement as a hive of fanaticism.

Parihaka is nestled close to Mt Taranaki on the west coast of Aotearoa, an area of rich soil and abundant rain. As a result of illegal Crown confiscation of land since the early 1860s, many Māori had been left landless. Parihaka, at the foot of Mt Taranaki, became a place for disenfranchised and landless Māori. Its foundation was the biblical tenet ‘Glory to God, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Peoples’. These ideals were enacted through peaceful resistance campaigns against land confiscations along the west coast of the North Island during the 1870s and early 1880s. Government workers would survey confiscated land for selling to settlers. At night Parihaka residents would build fences and plough the surveyed land, preparing it for cultivation. This was their firm and pacifist stance against land-grabbing by the Crown. The ploughmen were arrested and held indefinitely without trial. Other ploughmen took their place with identical results. When prisons in New Plymouth, and later Wellington, became overcrowded, ploughmen were sent down to the much colder city of Otago. Many died.

By 1881, Native Minister Bryce, with the help of settler media, engineered the destruction of Parihaka. As the soldiers entered Parihaka, they were met with baskets of bread, waiata, and poi performed by daughters, mothers and grandmothers of those who were imprisoned. These same women were brutalised during the invasion. A five-year military occupation began, destroying homes, crops and livestock. Leaders Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai were arrested, as were many Māori men.

Further suffering occurred when non-Taranaki Māori were expelled from Parihaka and Parihaka was confiscated, creating utter loss for the 3,000 residents who had sought peace and safety in violent times. These actions by government clearly contravened Article 2 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, where the Queen agreed that Māori keep their independence and keep control over their lands and everything that is important to them. More than a century later, in 2017, the National government acknowledged the violence and destruction of Parihaka.Kaumatua Ruakere Hond, a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, was key in brokering reconciliation between the people of Parihaka and the Crown in 2017. Five years earlier he said: ‘’The war hasn’t finished. People aren’t falling from muskets. They are falling from youth suicide, alcohol, drug abuse, chronic poverty, intergenerational poverty. There is still a long way to go.’’(Caritas, n.d., p. 3) The Crown’s Deed of Reconciliation (2017) included an apology for the rape of many women, and the resulting outbreak of syphilis amongst Parihaka women

How have we moved forward since then? What can we learn and how can we work together for healing and reconciliation in Aotearoa New Zealand?

In 2019 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand history would be taught throughout all schools from 2022. This was a welcome step. With this in mind how could educators ensure that they are well-informed? Perhaps some pondering over the story of Parihaka is a start. It should be apparent that primary and intermediate teachers cannot teach the violent details without strong objection, yet much of the story can be told and told well.

What could be taught in the junior primary, senior primary and intermediate sectors? Below are some brief suggestions:

Year 1 and 2 - Kia kaha: Be strong and stand up for fairness.

Year 3 and 4 - Manaakitanga: Baked bread and waiata for the troops. Kindness as a way of life.

Year 5 and 6 - Whanaungatanga: How Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai created a peaceful base for landless Māori. OR Mana: Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai – Who they were and what they stood for. Tree planting as a way to commemorate Parihaka’s heroes.

Year 7 and 8 - Peaceful protest: Changing the face of Aotearoa and the world.

How will we commemorate Parihaka in 2022, I wonder? As Aotearoa becomes acquainted with our shared history we may realise that commemorating Parihaka on November 5 may be preferable to celebrating a British holiday about Guy Fawkes. In the words of Dame Tariana Turia (2018): "I think that it's totally relevant for us to choose to commemorate Parihaka as a very significant place and its significance in peaceful protest against the Crown." (Te Ao Māori, 2018, para. 3.)

I am hopeful that Parihaka will become the preferred commemoration, especially as Aotearoa New Zealand prepares to roll out the teaching of history in all schools in 2022. I know that learning about our history can be confronting, for both Māori and non-Māori. I am convinced that these shared stories will also be life-giving as we look at each other with a different sense of knowing.


Alistair Reese. (n.d.). Parihaka Day 5 November.  

Caritas, Remembering Parihaka

Lambert, Ron, Taranaki region-Māori–Pākehā conflict’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Ruakere Hond, (September 2012). Parihaka, Caritas.  

Te Ao Māori News (2018), Remembering Parihaka, not Guy Fawkes.

Popular posts from this blog

New Support for School Boards Around Te Tiriti o Waitangi Application


Notes on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care