Learning & Research - Akoranga me Rangahau
Print RSS Join us on Facebook today

Tohu Kākahi of Parihaka

by Virginia Winder  

Fighting men: The Armed Constabulary at Parihaka in Novemeber 1881. Image: Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library must be obtained before any re-use of this image.
Fighting men: The Armed Constabulary at Parihaka in Novemeber 1881. Image: Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Tags for this Story

Maori, Pacifism

An ancient prophecy received by Aotearoa's first Maori king foretold the appearance of two spiritual birds of knowledge on the peak of Mount Taranaki.

Immediately before his coronation at Ngaruawahia, Potatau Wherowhero had a dream.
His descendents remember it like this: ‘Towards the south there is a sacred mountain; below the shadow of the mountain there is a tree with a branch and on this branch are two birds of knowledge, Mumuhau and Kereto. These birds will receive the message from on high, and they will lead the people into everlasting life.’

It is believed these visions were of the pacifist leaders, Tohu Kakahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai.
They were the two rangatira of Parihaka, a peaceful village that sits between Mount Taranaki and the Tasman Sea. This settlement was also the heart of Maori opposition to the taking of their lands by European settlers and the government.

Place of rest

On 5 November 1881, Parihaka was invaded by about 1500 armed troops. Instead of facing a violent battle, the soldiers were welcomed into the village by women doing poi dances and were offered food.
In answer, the military men broke up the village, slaughtered livestock, destroyed gardens, arrested hundreds of people and scattered many more.
Parihaka still stands today, a few kilometres inland from Pungarehu. But it is just a shadow of the bustling place it was from the 1860s through to 1907, when the leaders both died.

If you visit Parihaka now - and you are welcome on the 18th and 19th of each month - a powerful spiritual residue will seep into your subconscious. You can stand before the monument built over Te Whiti's grave and feel humbled.

Then you may turn to ask: ‘Where is Tohu buried; where is his memorial?’

A descendent of the Parihaka people will shake his or her head.

Then they will tell you, that yes, Tohu does rest in this place of peace. He is buried in a cemetery nearby, but his grave is unmarked and only a few people know where it is.

Therein lies the major difference between Tohu and Te Whiti.

Tohu's background role

"Although Tohu was the senior of the two Parihaka leaders, he spent most of his life in the background," says Lincoln University lecturer Ailsa Smith.

"Te Whiti was the orator and hence more visible, he was the one who got the attention from the government and reporters," says the historian, who has written a thesis on the leader.

When Ailsa talks of Tohu being senior to Te Whiti, she is not referring to age. While Tohu is believed to be about 10 years younger than Te Whiti, he was actually a generation ahead of him. Te Whiti's father, Hone Kakahi, was Tohu's first cousin.

Tohu's father was Te Toamai and his mother was Ngamare.

Both Tohu and Te Whiti were of combined Taranaki and Te Atiawa descent. They also married sisters - Tohu's wife was Wairangi and Te Whiti's spouse was Hikurangi.

Tohu had five children - Te Toamai, Pukohu, Parekauri, Rangikotuku and Te Kakapi.

In the beginning ...

While little is known of Tohu's early life, his descendants say he was born at Puketapu on 22 January 1810. However, Waimate and Kaikaia (in the Normanby area) have also been suggested as possible birthplaces.

It's also not clear where he lived when he was young. At risk from Waikato musket raiders, he and his family either migrated to Waikanae or moved around southern Taranaki. 

A smidgen more is known about his life as a young man, when Tohu was known as Hone (John) and Hemi (James, his baptismal name). It's also likely he was introduced to Christianity the same way as Te Whiti - by freed Nga Puhi slave Minarapa Rangihatuake of Taranaki, who was also a preacher.

Both Tohu and Te Whiti attended Johannes Riemenschneider's mission school at Warea. Ailsa Smith says that during the mid-1860s, Tohu and Te Whiti followed Te Ua Haumene's Pai Marire or Hauhau doctrine, and played a part in the attack on Sentry Hill, North Taranaki, in 1864.

In December 1865, Te Ua consecrated Tohu and Te Whiti to carry on his religious work. When Te Ua died in October 1866, Pai Marire also began to fade.

The albatross lands

At the end of the second Taranaki War in 1866, Tohu and Te Whiti began living at Parihaka, which was built on land confiscated by the government on 2 September 1865.

"It is said that the biblical prince of peace, Melchisedec, came to Tohu in a vision, validating his position as leader within the Parihaka movement. Tohu's descendants tell how this movement was given divine sanction by the Holy Spirit, in the form of a great albatross," writes Ailsa Smith.

As part of her thesis, Ailsa interviewed Te Reweti (Joe) Ritai, who was a descendent of both Te Whiti and Tohu. He tells the story of the giant bird:

"As the people were beginning to stir early one morning, an albatross landed on Tohu's marae at Parihaka (called ever afterwards Toroanui, the marae of the 'great albatross' - the only marae at Parihaka at the time).

"And straightway that feather was 'stuck' (piri) to them, and consoled the Atiawa people, the fathers. To the old people of the day it wasn't an actual bird; it was a repetition of the Holy Spirit coming down to Jesus in the form of a dove. Ihowa, Jehovah God, sent that bird down to leave that feather there, as a symbol of peace, to tell them that it was time to begin their tikanga, their system.

"This kaupapa, or their constitution, for their marae to work toward; it became the spearhead of their lives," Joe Ritai said.

That's how the white feathers (the raukura) have become a symbol of Parihaka's passive resistance movement.

In the beginning, Tohu and Te Whiti mostly shared the same beliefs. Together, they formed a philosophy that combined traditional Maori teachings with some Christianity.

Their struggle was to maintain their own culture and their tribal lands, without using violence against the government or European settlers.

And so the ploughing campaign began.

Tohu and Te Whiti sent wave after wave of people to obstruct the government as it prepared confiscated land for European settlement. The supporters of Parihaka removed survey pegs, ploughed the land they still considered their own, and fenced across roads that cut through their many hectares of gardens.

In 1881, the settlers pushed the government to stop the interference. On 19 October that year, a proclamation was signed by then Native Minister William Rolleston. The document gave the people of Parihaka 14 days to disperse, or the Armed Constabulary and volunteers would break up the village.

Be patient ... have faith

On 1 November, four days before the invasion of Parihaka, Tohu talked to the people:

"We have two lands now - the one both people are living on and the new one. I will not scatter you now. Our place was foretold, which is Parihaka. We cannot be overcome if we remain here, but would perish if we fled. I would sacrifice myself to the gun to save you. I am rejoiced that the strong and their hosts are coming.

"Let the Government come and bring their quarrel with them to be settled here. I will not say to them stop, but allow them to do as they choose, and will not restrain them ... Now all the sea and the land is shaken, even the fish in the sea tremble. The south wind is bringing men from all parts and the big guns are being brought ... The quarrel will not touch you, I am the victim," Tohu said.

"We shall not be given to death, God will not permit it ... I shall place no weapons in your hands. You were imprisoned for ploughing and fencing, but there is no imprisonment for what we are now doing. I will not take you away from death or from the mouth of the guns; I will thrust you into the mouth of the guns and on the point of the sword.

"I will not save you or give you any means of escape. If any warlike man among you ask me what is to be done I will not answer him ... I have no place to hide you except in this marae, and we cannot be overcome ... Those who flee from the guns will fall by them. If you are overwhelmed in this day be patient ... have faith ..."

A sword in his hands

The people did have faith, and although women were raped, and many people arrested, nobody was killed at the plunder of Parihaka.

However, in a strange twist of fate, Tohu held a sword on the day Parihaka was plundered.

"In the midst of his concern for his people at the time of the raid, Tohu did not forget (Major Gustavus) von Tempsky's sword, which (Ngati Ruanui leader) Titokowaru had given him for safekeeping," writes Ailsa Smith.

"Anticipating that the village would be searched for arms when the troops arrived, Tohu handed the sword to a kuia, and instructed her to bury it in the village midden-heap."
Tohu recovered it after being released by the authorities in 1883.
After six months' jail in New Plymouth, Tohu and Te Whiti were taken on a tour of the South Island in an attempt to impress them with European developments.

They were unmoved, especially Tohu, who even rejected European ways of eating. Te Whiti did try to learn table etiquette. "Tohu, on the other hand, did not care for nonsensical Pakeha customs," Ailsa Smith says. "His 'unique tastes' led him to eat sugar and jam with his soup, eggs, meat and fish, and to put pepper on his pudding and his bread and butter."

Divided they stand

After their return from the South Island, the two leaders drew apart.

There are separate schools of thought on why this happened.

Parihaka historian Te Miringa Hohaia believes it was because Tohu became frustrated with the failure of the passive resistance movement and was unhappy with the way his people had been treated during and after the invasion of Parihaka.

Ailsa Smith has another view. She says Te Whiti began to modernise Parihaka and even employ European tradesmen to do some of the work and instruct young people.

"Tohu considered Te Whiti's move towards Pakeha ways to be 'against the tenets of Maori belief'," she says.

In the end, the separation between Te Whiti and Tohu was absolute.

Great canoe in the sky

Because of a hip injury, Tohu spent the last years restricted in his movements. This big-built man rested quietly, studying the Bible. He also welcomed friends with a wry sense of humour and was described as a kind, quiet and sensible family man.

Tohu died of heart failure and consumption at 9pm on Monday, 4 February 1907.

Te Whiti did not attend his funeral, but is believed to have grieved for his old friend.
Historian and writer Dick Scott says mourners recalled ‘a canoe-shaped cloud carrying the figure of a man formed over the marae that day and remained in the sky for the seven days that the body lay in state’

First published 27 May 2003


Search the Library Catalogue here

Caselberg, John, Maori is my Name: Historical Maori 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

Watercolour by G.C. Beale (1881), Parihaka November 1881. A65.651
Parihaka Flag A65.031
Drawings: Ink and wash drawings of Parihaka (1881) by WG Baker. A75.458
Steel engraving of ten images from Wanganui, South Taranaki and Parihaka, The Recent Native Troubles in New Zealand.
Watercolour painting The Battle of the Fences. A Parihaka Incident.
Huruhuru Kuri: Large cloak made from the skins of eight Maori 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 Maori, under the guidance of Te Whiti and Tohu, moved the survey parties from the area.


Puke Ariki is not responsible for the content of these external websites.
the Parihaka report (PDF format 236kb)



Te Ua Haumene – Story of a Religion 





Tohu Kakahi of Parihaka

The Plunder of Parihaka

« Choose another Taranaki Story category