Parihaka is a small community located between Mount Taranaki and the Tasman Sea. In the 1870s and 1880s the settlement, then largest Māori community in New Zealand, became the centre of a major campaign of non-violent resistance to the European occupation of confiscated land in the area.
The village was founded in 1867 by the Māori leaders Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi on land that had in theory been seized by the government. Recognising the destructive effects of war, Te Whiti and Tohu declared that they would use spiritual powers rather than weapons to claim their right to live on land their people had occupied for centuries. The population of the village grew to more than 2000. Parihaka impressed European visitors with its cleanliness and industry. Its extensive cultivations produced cash crops as well as the food needed to feed its inhabitants.
When an influx of European settlers in Taranaki in the late 1870s created a demand for farmland that outstripped availability, the Grey government stepped up efforts to secure title to land that had been confiscated but not occupied. When the Māori at Parihaka and across the Waimate Plains rejected payments, the government drew up plans to take the land by force. In late 1878 the government began surveying the land and offering it for sale. Te Whiti and Tohu responded with a series of non-violent campaigns in which they first ploughed settlers' farmland and later erected fences across roadways. The campaigns sparked a series of arrests. More than 400 Māori were jailed in the South Island, where they remained without trial for up to 16 months.
As fears grew among white settlers that the resistance campaign was a prelude to renewed armed conflict, the government began planning an armed invasion of Parihaka to close the community down. 1600 troops stormed the village at dawn on November 5, 1881. Instead of violence, the soldiers were greeted by hundreds of skipping and singing children offering them food. Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and held for 16 months. 1600 Parihaka inhabitants were expelled and dispersed throughout Taranaki without food or shelter, and the remaining 600 residents were issued with government passes to control their movement. Soldiers looted and destroyed most of the buildings at Parihaka. Reserves that had been promised by a commission of inquiry into land confiscations were later seized and sold to cover the cost of crushing the Māori resistance, while others were leased to European settlers, excluding Māori from having a say in decisions over land use.
The Parihaka International Peace Festival has been held annually since 2006.
Image: Parihaka Pa site Nov 2005 by Benjamin Ochse.