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The Plunder of Parihaka

by Virginia Winder  

In Formation: The Armed Constabulary gathers outside Parihaka, 5 November 1881. Image: Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library must be obtained before any re-use of this image.
In Formation: The Armed Constabulary gathers outside Parihaka, 5 November 1881. Image: Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Tags for this Story

māori, Pacifism, Parihaka

In a Taranaki dawn as colourless as a black-and-white photograph, hundreds of fighting men scramble to dress in the gloom.

More than 1500 volunteers and members of the Armed Constabulary slide swords into sheaths, pistols into pouches and throw rifles over shoulders. Some harness horses. Each man has 40 extra rounds of ammunition and enough rations to last two days.

As the sun rises on 5 November 1881, the polished boots of these uniformed men march towards Parihaka, nestled among hills below Mount Taranaki.

Leading the way on his white horse is Native Affairs Minister John Bryce, a Scotsman hell-bent on breaking up Parihaka. Walking beside him is the man he's replaced, William Rolleston, whose last ministerial act on October 19 was to sign the proclamation to attack Parihaka.

For months, troops have been gathering around this peaceful village, where people from iwi all over New Zealand have found a safe haven under the charismatic leadership of Te Whiti o Rongomai III and Tohu Kākahi.

About 40 members of the Armed Constabulary even lived at the Cape Egmont Lighthouse while it was being erected - much to the dismay of the keeper.

Now, with nine-tenths of New Zealand settlers supporting their actions, the militant men are ready to crush one of the last strongholds of Māori resistance in the country.

Ready for blood

The Europeans are expecting a bloody battle. In the build-up to the invasion, some of the men have been sitting around the campfires boasting about who is going to shoot the first Māori.

On the other side, the 2000 people of Parihaka have been expecting the troops. In preparation, the women have baked 500 loaves of bread to share with their visitors.

All night the people have been gathered on the marae, waiting for the troops. At 2am, they share a meal.

As they sit, wrapped in blankets, Te Whiti talks to his people. He asks them not to fight back when the invaders come, to offer no resistance. Wisely, he knows that any hindrance will be met with violence.
These are his words: "If any man thinks of his gun or his horse, and goes to fetch it, he will die by it ... place your trust in forbearance and peace ... let the booted feet come when they like, the land shall remain firm forever ... I stand for peace. Though the lions rage still I am for peace ... I am here to be taken."
And so, when the Armed Constabulary and volunteers follow Bryce on his white horse, they are not met with obvious fear, or even anger. They are greeted in a traditional and formal manner by the people of Parihaka.
Wharehoka Wano, whose ancestors are from Parihaka, shares the korero (story) that has been passed down to him.

Day of Pāhua

"We call it the day of the Pāhua, which literally means 'the plundering'."

Wharehoka speaks as if he is there, watching the scene unfold before him.

"The Parihaka community are prepared. They've seen the build-up of troops over the days and weeks, the months leading up to the day of the Pāhua.

"Te Whiti and Tohu are keeping everybody up with the play in their way, so that by the time the day of Pāhua rolls on and the troops are starting to march towards Parihaka from Pungarehu, which is not a great distance, they are ready," Wharehoka says.

Many of the soldiers, dressed in their different military regalia, are amassed on a hillock called Purepo, which overlooks Parihaka. Wharehoka says ‘Purepo’ refers to the name of the cannon the troops set up there.

Parihaka historian Te Miringa Hohaia says a Māori elder had a dream about a dog urinating on the cannon.
"The old man who had the dream was a well-known seer. He was able to tell his story the next morning and it was able to be used by Te Whiti to give encouragement to the people," Te Miringa says.
Wharehoka continues. "So the troops are up there and Te Whiti and Tohu are in the middle of Toroanui (Tohu's marae), vantaged well so they can see what is happening with the troops."

Turn other cheek

Wharehoka says the two leaders continue to tell their people to offer no resistance to the troops.
"They say 'This is a place of peace and if there's any physical attack you are to turn the other cheek'," he says.
"That's the same sort of philosophy they had been carrying out as they had gone out to do their ploughing and fencing," he says referring to the acts of passive resistance carried out on land confiscated by the Crown.
"So, the first wave of troops come down and they are met first in a very traditional Taranaki way, with the poi girls, very much a Parihaka thing, because the poi became a symbol of the Parihaka movement. A lot of our chants, and the stories of Parihaka, are relayed through poi."
In an eyewitness account from that day, Armed Constabulary Captain William Messenger says the troops were confronted by ‘about 200 little boys’ who ‘danced splendidly’. The next line of defence was formed by ‘60 girls with skipping ropes’.
"There was a line of children across the entrance to the big village, a kind of singing class directed by an old man with a stick. The children sat there unmoving ... and even when a mounted officer galloped up and pulled his horse up so short that the dirt from its forefeet spattered the children, they still went on chanting perfectly oblivious, apparently, to the Pākehā, and the old man calmly continued his montonous drone," Messenger says in his account.
Te Miringa says the soldiers were offered food. "The children were sent out with loaves of bread and this was a cunning political ploy. It would have been done with a whole lot of serious concern for safety."
Wharehoka says one of those children grew up to be a famous Māori leader in his field. "You may have read the account of (Sir) Maui Pomare being one of those children, whose foot gets trod on by a horse."

Maui, then aged five, lost a toe from that encounter.

While the young Maui was hurt, the girls with skipping ropes were forcibly removed, to the amusement of the watching troops.
"Soldiers were never ever made to feel welcome in Parihaka, neither were any other mischievous officials," Te Miringa says.
One of those soldiers was Swiss-born Anton Fromm, a member of the Armed Constabulary. He wrote about the invasion of Parihaka in his diary: ‘We heard an almighty noise - like the roaring of wild animals. We couldn't make out what that was and many felt quite queer, until we saw Parihaka, and saw well over 500 Māoris congregated on a flat piece of land, doing their war-dance - a truly bone-chilling performance.’

Fromm's diary shows that the invading troops truly expected a bloody battle. They believed they would face a powerful force at Parihaka and were ready.

Silent scene stuns soldiers

They were never prepared for what they did face: ‘Undisturbed quiet reigned among them. Had they given up all battle? Our cavalry penetrated right up to them and gave them half an hour to hand over to us, Te Whiti, Tohu, and the 34 chiefs present...

‘The half hour went by in undisturbed silence - no Māori stirred.’

Wharehoka says his people did that for hours.

"The troops are starting to realise there's not going to be full-scale warfare. They are fully armed. Our people are told by Te Whiti and Tohu to just sit quietly.

"After a while, the colonial forces are sending out their callers and saying OK, we are asking you to disperse and each iwi to go back to their appropriate iwi Kāinga. They were looking to break the mauri (spirit) of Parihaka."

A deafening quiet

But the people of Parihaka remained still as the soldiers closed in, holding fast to their leaders' call for non-violence.

"Te Whiti and Tohu were in the centre and they were quite removed from the outsides. There was a big sea of people around Te Whiti and Tohu," Wharehoka says. "They were just sitting quietly in blankets. There was almost a deafening quiet for a long period of time, apart from the soldiers barking out orders about what they wanted them to do and Te Whiti and Tohu just encouraging their people to keep quiet."

Fromm was among the troops sent in to round up the key figures - the two leaders, a number of other chiefs and a fighting chief called Hiroki. ‘All surrendered without offering the slightest resistance. We tied their hands behind their backs and led them out of the village, with the Māoris looking on; we loaded them on to a cart, and sent them, under strong cavalry escort to the prison in New Plymouth. Strange! No Māori stirred when the chiefs were led away.’

Great figure of Te Whiti

Corporal William Parker of Marton describes the leaders as they are taken away:

"Te Whiti is a fine-looking man. Height about 5ft 7 and strong, active and good looking, rather like a half-caste. Tohu is also a strong-looking fellow, but he does not have the same effect on you as Te Whiti does. Tohu's height is about 5ft 10in, rather large features. Hiroki is a villainous looking little fellow. His height about 5ft 3in, slim, sallow complexion. He looks like a very ugly customer to me in the bush."

Rum and ransacking

Fromm's diary shows what happens next: ‘We settled down to our midday meal; today every soldier, for a treat, received a glass of rum.’

After lunch, the soldiers were sent to search the houses for weapons. ‘Over 1000 rifles and revolvers - a great many other weapons and ammunition came to light. To our biggest astonishment, the Māoris didn't put up any kind of resistance,’ Fromm writes.

However, it appears Fromm may have over-estimated the cache, because historians, including Dick Scott, found reports saying the collection was a miserable pile of about 200 guns.

Fromm says the next job was to set up guard posts around Parihaka. ‘After that the troops were free for the rest of the day, but were warned to have their revolvers with them and not touch any Māori property.

‘We found the latter order too difficult to obey,’ he writes.

Letting of animal blood

‘There were masses of pigs, geese, ducks and other fowl running around the village. We had set out this morning, full of the joy of battle, and had not the slightest opportunity to show how brave we might be. We, therefore, let our bloodthirstiness reign over the pigs and fowl,’ Fromm writes.

Te Miringa says the soldiers systematically demolished the village and ruined the surrounding land. "It took two weeks to destroy the gardens and two months to pull down the houses."
Soldier Gilbert Mair wrote about the plunder in his diary, saying there ‘was no end to taonga in the pa’.
Messenger explains what happened to those treasures: "A good deal of looting - in fact robbery. Many of our government men stole greenstone and other treasures from native houses, among them were some fine meres."

Accounts of rape

But there was no bloodbath, Wharehoka Wano says. "Nobody was killed during the Pāhua, there are certainly no accounts of it. There are oral accounts of the soldiers being really rough, particularly with our women."
A Waitangi Tribunal report backs this up: "...there is evidence that women were raped and otherwise molested."
In the end, Parihaka was ransacked. The houses were burnt down, the gardens destroyed, groups of iwi from other parts of Aotearoa were dispersed and hundreds of people were arrested and sent, without trials, to prisons in Wellington and the South Island, especially Dunedin.
"And so began five years of military occupation at Parihaka manned by five officers and 70 soldiers," Te Miringa says.

Survival and hope at Parihaka

Wharehoka says 5 November is remembered as a day of great sadness, but also a day of survival.

"There would have been, as far as Te Whiti and Tohu are concerned, no point in fighting because we would have been destroyed. So it was a survival tactic," he says.

"We always talk about going out to the Pāhua and it's the day we remember, we don't celebrate it of course, we commemorate it.

"So there is a sadness, but there is also the survival aspect that's sung about in a number of our waiata."

For Wharehoka, this is the big message: "The Pāhua was a sad day in our history, but it was a survival tactic, and we did survive. Why did Te Whiti and Tohu want us to survive? - so that we could redress those injustices at the appropriate time."

He wonders if that time is now.

Wharehoka isn't certain, but he does know: "Te Whiti and Tohu were about giving us hope and I believe they did."
First published 27 May 2003


Search the Library Catalogue here

Caselberg, John, Māori is my Name: Historical Māori writings in Translation, (1975), Dunedin: J. McIndoe.

Hohaia, Te Miringa, Gregory O'Brien and Lara Strongman, Parihaka: The art of passive resistance, (2001), Wellington: City gallery Wellington; Victoria University Press; Parihaka Pa Trustees.

Riseborough, Hazel, Days of Darkness: Taranaki 1878-1884, (2002 revised edition), Auckland: Penguin.

Scott, Dick, Ask That Mountain: The story of Parihaka, (1991 reprint, first published 1975), Auckland: Reed/ Southern Cross.

Seffern, William H.J., Parihaka: Its past and present aspect, (1897), Auckland: New Zealand Graphic.

Waikato Museum, Te Whiti o Rongomai as seen by his Contemporaries, (1973), Hamilton: Waikato Museum.


Search the Heritage Collections here

Steel Engraving of ten images entitled: "The Recent Native Troubles in New Zealand."  The seventh image shows Te Whiti and Tohu.
Parihaka Flag - Commissioned for exhibition held at the Waikato Art Museum, 1973. Design was taken from black and white photographs on which scientific tests and knowledge of the film used at the time determined the colours of the original. A65.031

Single-furrow plough used at during Parihaka passive resistance. A95.932
Watercolour by G.C. Beale (1881), Parihaka November 1881. A65.651
Drawings: Ink and wash drawings of Parihaka (1881) by WG Baker. A75.458
Watercolour painting The Battle of the Fences. A Parihaka Incident.
Huruhuru Kuri: Large cloak made from the skins of eight Māori dogs. Four brown and four white. W.H. Skinner bought it at Parihaka on Monday 17 June 1889 for £4. According to Te Whiti it was the oldest mat/cloak in Parihaka (80 years old) and the only one of its kind.


Search the Heritage Collections here

Anton Fromm's diary: he was in the Armed Constabulary and present at the sacking of Parihaka 1881. He was a resident at Parihaka for some months and describes Christmas festivities and his friendship with Te Whiti's daughter.
A love letter from Lieutenant George Gapes to Elizabeth May McDonald describing the mood of the troops in 1881.
Telegrams sent by C.W. Hursthouse referring to the building of a lighthouse near Pungarehu, road construction and Te Whiti.
Letters related to the survey of the Waimate Plains and how Māori, under the guidance of Te Whiti and Tohu, moved the survey parties from the area.


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The Plunder of Parihaka

Tohu Kākahi of Parihaka

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