Parihaka

This page details some of the key resources at your library about the peaceful resistance to the militia invasion of the Taranaki settlement of Parihaka on 5 November 1881 – and the Christchurch connection to this significant historical event.

Parihaka by Josiah Martin, [ca 1880]
Parihaka by Josiah Martin, [ca 1880], Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Accession No. 1997/34/7

The Taranaki settlement of Parihaka

Parihaka had grown in the wake of the land wars of the 1860s, and by the 1870s was the largest Māori village in the country. This self-sufficient community was made up of Māori who had become dispossessed during the land conflicts and was led by two prophets – Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi.

Militia action and passive resistance

On 5 November 1881 the Parihaka community in Taranaki was invaded by 1500 militia and armed constabulary. The invading forces were greeted by singing children and 2000 peaceful residents who did not resist either invasion or arrest. Over the course of two weeks, the army demolished the settlement and eventually all crops and livestock were destroyed.

Photo of NZ Armed Constabulary at Parihaka.
NZ Armed Constabulary at Parihaka. Cowan, James, 1870-1943 :Collection of photographs. Ref: 1/1-017952-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23057608

Civil disobedience and imprisonment without trial

Residents faced further Government confiscations of land around the Parihaka settlement. They tried to prevent this confiscation by using tactics of passive resistance – building fences across lands and roads, and removing pegs that had been placed by Government surveyors.

Often those who were caught engaging in these activities were arrested and imprisoned without trial in South Island prisons in Dunedin, Lyttelton (Ripapa Island) and Hokitika.

Here they were used as labourers on projects like the building of Dunedin’s harbour walls. In Dunedin, the harsh conditions under which they were jailed meant that many of these prisoners died, mainly from tuberculosis. The last prisoners were released in 1898.

The Christchurch connection

The leaders Tohu and Te Whiti were exiled for two years and interned in Christchurch at Addington gaol. During that time, they were shown the Kaiapoi Woollen Mills, Christchurch Railway workshops, ChristChurch Cathedral and Canterbury Museum in an attempt by officials to demonstrate the advanced technology and power of the pakeha.

Both prisoners were treated as oddities and objects of curiosity by Cantabrians. In numerous newspaper reports of the day local people are described as gathering in crowds to gawk at them at every occasion - from their first appearance off the ship at Lyttelton, to a visit to the 1882 New Zealand International Exhibition, to their arrival off the train at Ashburton.

Christchurch man Harry Ell, who was most notable for his involvement in creating the Summit Road, was part of the armed constabulary that invaded Parihaka in 1881. He was later critical of the race policies of those years saying, [their] ‘actions had … brought about the bitterness and estrangement between the two races….’

The legacy of Parihaka

The invasion of Parihaka eventually came to be seen as a black day in New Zealand history, and a symbol of injustice. It has been an inspiration for works by New Zealand artists, writers and musicians, like Witi Ihimaera's historical novel, The Parihaka woman, and Tim Finn’s song Parihaka. Several international peace festivals have been held at Parihaka.

He Puanga Haeata / Parihaka reconciliation

The Crown and the Parihaka community signed a Deed of Reconciliation on 9 June 2017 at a ceremony held at Parihaka.

More information on Parihaka

Cover of Ask that Mountain  Cover of Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance Cover of Te Whiti o Rongomai and the resistance of Parihaka

Information is also available in New Zealand history books, including:

Or view online resources: 

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