Challenge 2000’s presence at Parihaka

Reflections from attending the Crown apology at Parihaka.

A small settlement of unassuming buildings and homes, Parihaka is one of New Zealand’s most important historic sites.  Located 7 kms inland from the coast near Pungarehu, Parihaka is a small Taranaki settlement with a big history. The events that took place in and around the area, particularly between 1860 and 1900, have affected the political, cultural and spiritual dynamics of the entire country.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Parihaka was the site of New Zealand’s most visible episodes of peaceful protest when two Maori leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi used passive resistance methods to occupy Maori land that the colonial government had confiscated. Such confiscations were in direct breach of the Treaty of Waitangi, which had been signed in 1840.

On November 5 1881, Native Minister John Bryce rode on Parihaka at the head of 1,500 armed constabulary and volunteer militia. There was no resistance. Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi were arrested and transported to the South Island, where they were kept without trial for two years.

The ongoing spiritual legacy of Parihaka is one of living in harmony with the land and humanity. Some people, noting Te Whiti’s non-violent methods, have referred to him as “Gandhi before Gandhi”.


I went to Parihaka to commemorate/ participate in a significant milestone on the journey to peace and reconciliation between the Crown and Parihaka and maybe tinged with a little self-interest to ascertain and understand how one can reconcile something so terrible with peace and acceptance.

As a senior public servant I was to have participated in the march on to Parihaka as a representative with the Crown official party made up of Governor Generals, Mayors, Ministers and crown officials. I felt extremely uncomfortable around doing this even knowing that I was part of an official party, it didn’t feel right wairua wise.

I was saved the experience where the night before my colleague who runs the Taranaki Office and is the Pou Maanaki at Parihaka asked if I could help in the back and open 40 bags of Kinas and shuck some Paua. I jumped at the chance and was still able to share in the kōrero and the participate from the back without having to deal with the cultural compromising encounter.

The minister for Treaty of Waitangi negotiations, Christopher Finlayson, delivered an apology on behalf of the Crown to the people of the Parihaka for the Crown’s acts of aggression. The Crown delegation was greeted by a united Parihaka at the gate, as their colonial forebears were 135 years ago, but with peace, not aggression, in their hearts. It was an extraordinary sight to witness.


The Apology

Attorney General Christopher Finlayson and Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell delivered the crown’s apology for the sacking of Parihaka in 1881.

In the apology, Mr Finlayson said Parihaka was established in 1866 as a final refuge for hapu whose homes and cultivations had been repeatedly destroyed by crown troops and whose land had been confiscated. It was established under principles of compassion, equality, unity and self-sufficiency.

Under the leadership of Tohu Kakahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai the community asserted its customary rights to land and political autonomy through symbolic acts of protest while promoting peaceful engagement between Maori and Pākehā.

“The crown responded to peace with tyranny, to unity with division and to autonomy with oppression. The Crown therefore offers its deepest apology to the people of Parihaka for all its failures,” Mr Finlayson said. The apology detailed those failures, including imprisoning Parihaka residents indefinitely without trial for the ploughing and fencing campaigns of 1879 and 1880, the invasion of Parihaka in November 1881, the rapes by crown troops in the aftermath of the invasion causing the immeasurable and enduring harm to the women of Parihaka, and other through crown actions and omissions.

“Appropriate”, “overdue”, “not enough” were some of the whānau’s comments regarding the apology.  My own thoughts were that “it offers hope for our future Ngai Māori/Ngai Pākehā”. The resolution package and financial redress will go a little way in the work to develop the papakaingā and in carving a new way forward for the community.

However, it’s not enough, a national peace day/ Remembrance Day is required to hold us to account that we never forget and pay homage to the intention and the wairua of peace and reconciliation.

The ceremony, He Puanga Haeata will close one chapter in the Parihaka story, and will be remembered as one of the most significant milestones on the long road of the ongoing work to achieve peace and justice in Aotearoa New Zealand.


It was appropriate also to see the Army and Police in the back doing the catering for the hui and feeding the people of Parihaka, the irony of it was not lost on many.


Shane Graham

Challenge 2000 Board Member