The Maori's Peaceful Resistance


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Rachel Buchanan's book, The Parihaka Album, can be purchased from the Huia Publishers website.

Matt Smith:

Welcome to the La Trobe University podcast. I will be your host, Matt Smith, and my guest today is Dr. Rachel Buchanan from the Media Studies Department. Let's give her a big fake round of applause from the studio audience. Thank you for joining me, Rachel.

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:

That's great, Matt.

Matt Smith:

You're an academic at La Trobe, but you previously were a reporter for The Age, for different newspapers in New Zealand. But I remember reading that in your new book which has come out called The Parihaki Album. Did I pronounce that right?

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:

No, good attempt.

Matt Smith:

Good attempt?

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:

It's the Parihaka Album, lest we forget.

Matt Smith:

OK. Watch me butcher the New Zealand Maori language during the course of this podcast, people. So if you could expand the background of your book for people, because we have quite a large US audience who are listening to this podcast who maybe, well, hopefully have heard of New Zealand, but probably haven't heard of the Maoris, let alone in the Parihaka Album, which is in 1881 when the Maoris did a peaceful resistance to English settlers. Can you tell us a bit about that situation for those who don't know about it?

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:

Sure. When white settlers started arriving in large numbers in New Zealand in 1839 - they came on New Zealand company ships mainly from England. And at first, everything was reasonably sort of peaceful. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, and New Zealand's quite unique. Australia doesn't have a treaty with its first peoples, whereas New Zealand does.

So this treaty was signed and it was meant to be a partnership. But then as more and more white settlers came, Maori soon started to see that the treaty wasn't going to be honored. And as their land was getting taken over by settlers, wars erupted all around the north island.

And one of the places where there is a lot of fighting was a province called Taranaki and there was a war that started there in 1860. In fact, Australia's first engagement in overseas battle was in that war. A warship left from Williamstown in Melbourne and went there and bombed the coast of Taranaki. Parihaka, the place that I've written about, was set up as a result of that war because after that war ended in 1863, the government confiscated all the land that belonged to so-called "rebel natives." And so these people were made homeless.

And these two leaders kind of grew up, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, and they developed a strategy of non-violent resistance. So it was partly political. They could see that basically fighting was not going to work any more because they were so massively outnumbered.

So they were very strategic men and I think they had all been schooled in missions as young people through the Wesleyan missions. And they used a whole lot of Old Testament kind of ideas to kind of feed into their community which was a prophetic community. And the idea was it would be non-violent resistance.

And the two things they did, they started to plow up land that had been occupied by white settlers. So they just went out with plows, started planting their own crops on these farmers' lands.

It was so provocative. They arrested 220 people in about three months. And special laws were introduced, Matt, that meant that those men were imprisoned without trial. So they suspended the normal operation of democracy and said they could be imprisoned without trial. And they were sent to the South Island of New Zealand and made to do hard labor. And many of them died down there from tuberculosis.

So that was the background to what happened in 1881. Eventually, Parihaka became too powerful. It was described as a Maori parliament, so it was an alternative to the parliament at Wellington. They would often be up to 4,000-5,000 people at monthly meetings at this place to talk about what the community's aims were and to figure out how they could pressure to the government to get their land back.

And so in November 1881, 1,500 government troops and volunteers invaded this settlement. What was, I guess, is significant about it is there were about 2,000 people living there and instead of meeting this invasion with guns or with violence, they were all basically sitting down, 200 children were dancing and skipping and singing hymns and behind the children were a whole lot of women who baked bread and other food as a gift for the soldiers.

So that moment, that encounter is really symbolic, I think. The soldiers just rode their horses over the top of the children. They arrested the two leaders of the settlement and then they destroyed most of the buildings and evicted most of the residents. Many of those people subsequently faced starvation. Their crops were also pulled up.

The final thing probably to say about that is that invasion in 1881 is often described as the final event in the land wars. That was the last big military campaign, and after that, supposedly, Maori were defeated and settlers just continued to take land and basically override the treaty that they had signed.

Matt Smith:

There are few things that I have gathered that were rather significant. One is: is such a settlement like that would build up when amongst the Maori culture, there were lots of separate villages and indigenous people? This is almost like a refugee settlement that became a bit more organized.

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:

Yeah, sort of that by the 1860s, there wasn't too much inter-tribal warfare anymore. Basically, everyone was sort of just desperately trying to survive against the onslaught of colonization.

It wasn't so much a hold-off of in fighting but it was true what you said. Parihaka really was, and in many ways still is, a refugee camp. That's a very good description. It was a place where people could find shelter and I guess, draw strength from leaders who promised them something better.

The leaders of this place made many prophecies, I mean it was very biblical. They were plagues of locusts and talk of the sea rising up, all white settlers drowning. So there was an element of it that was quite spiritual that's sort of beyond the political, I guess.

But I think it was also a sustaining place. I mean Maori from around New Zealand donated food to the community there. So it was really an amazing example of this kind of pan-tribal movement aiming at retaining autonomy and supporting people.

And New Zealand is kind of interesting because there were lots of different things going on at that time. The Maori king was established at that time. The Waikato people had a different response to colonization. They established their own monarchy so that's was another way of claiming independence.

I mean, they were just desperate times, I guess, Matt.

And what drew me to this story was that, I think, it's easy to see all of these events as things in the distant past. And many Pakeha, which means non-Maori New Zealanders, think that it's just such a long time ago that we all moved on from that.

But the fact is that the ramification of that invasion is still felt today. And for many Maori living at Parihaka, it's not in the distant past. It's a very real event that is still sort of present.

The land that was confiscated in the 19th century, that's still confiscated. And much of that land has built up dairy farming dynasties in Pakeha families. And as you may know, American listeners might know, New Zealand Butter & Milk is a very prized commodity because of its clean, green image. And a lot of that New Zealand butter comes from Maori land that was confiscated way back in the 19th century and then leased to farmers for these peppercorn rents of $1 a year. Those implications still exist in the present.

Matt Smith:

So what is it about this story that drew you to it?

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:

A lot of things, I say at the start of the book, because it's sort of a personal book as well as academic. I grew up near Parihaka, in a place called New Plymouth. And when I was a school kid of 12, outcasts went there and stayed two or three nights on the Marai.

So we all slept in one room together and all the Parihaka aunties, some old women, some of whom whose parents would have been there when the place was invaded taught us lots of songs and games.

And I had those kinds of experience there as a child and I knew that my family had what dad would call some Maori blood in us. We know we had some sort of connection. And so I was always proud of that or interested in that. 08:07 Then in 2000, I went and saw this amazing art exhibition the city gallery in Wellington. It was called "Parihaka: The art of passive resistance." And it was basically 120 years of art, poetry and song inspired by this peaceful, non-violent community.

And I guess it just really blew me away. And what's been wonderful to me in researching this place is I've really rediscovered my own family history. The Maori word for that is Fakapapa, so genealogy and how we were connected to Parihaka. So some of my fore bears were farmer protesters who were arrested and exiled to the South Island.

So it was almost, as I started doing my research and it was kind of an academic project, really quickly it became something much more personal. As I kept seeing the names of people that I recognize sort of jumped off the pages of documents like the appendices to the House of Representatives, which are normally can be quite dry, boring sort of documents.

It was quite uncanny how my eye would be drawn and I started piecing together this different story, a much more personal story. What's been amazing, the book was launched last week and I've now discovered hundreds of new relatives.

And I've been getting emails in the last week from an 82-year old man who said, "I was the brother of your great-grandmother's husband. And this is how we're connected." It's really incredible.

It's like I've unearthed this whole hidden or forgotten side of my own family. So this is meaningful for me personally as well as being an academic project that I care about. In fact, at the moment, in Taranaki which is the province where Parihaka is, local Maori are working towards a treaty settlement. So it's really a live issue.

Yes. It's really exciting to think that my book, in a small way, can contribute to this push to sort of actually face up to some of these things that happened, for New Zealand to deal with the consequences of it.

Matt Smith:

What was the sort of experience of writing this book? Did you find that the topic is well-remembered in New Zealand? How is this sort of thing significant to New Zealand now?

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:

One of the main points in my book is to say that although the story is well-known on one level, so it's been the subject of this very big art show in 2000 that was accompanied by a very lavish catalogue, a song that was in the Top Ten inspired by Parihaka, very famous paintings, a lot of amazing poetry.

So although it's sort of well-known in one level, my argument is that the story still remains hidden because I think it's not actually integrated to New Zealand's understanding of itself.

And a good example of that is the National War Memorial in Wellington which focuses on the wars of the 20th century where New Zealanders, both Maori and Pakeha, fought overseas. But there was no mention of the wars that occurred in the 19th century that allowed New Zealand to be founded.

So I think the problem in New Zealand, I think there needs to be a change in the way New Zealanders think about themselves. And a much greater acknowledgement of the wars that happened in the 19th century and how they have allowed the country to be what it is now.

So it's a complicated thing that the story, you could argue it's almost have been over-exposed but I'm sort of saying in the book that it still is not well-understood and it's always at risk of being forgotten.

So another example of that is outside Wellington Railway Station, there's a statue of Gandhi. And Gandhi is obviously a global superstar of non-violent protest and inspiring leader. But there aren't any statues commemorating the two leaders of Parihaka and what they did, even though their non-violent protest preceded Gandhi by 40 or 50 years.

Matt Smith:

That's actually the first thing that I associated with this. It's the earliest examples you could come up of non-violent protest. It's rather significant because of that.

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:

Yes. And it's well-documented. Mark Kolansky who is an American historian mentions Parihaka in his book Non-violent. Everyone knows about Gandhi or Martin Luther King, rightly so. Why aren't Maori non-violent resisters held up in the same way and taught about in schools as an example.

I mean when I was a schoolgirl in New Zealand and the film "Gandhi" showed. The whole school went. We all got the day and afternoon off and went to see this film. Well my dream is that why can't be a film about Parihaka and why can't New Zealand children be made to go and see that film?

And I think that those things are really important. The popular culture representations, whether it be statues or movies or bestselling books. There needs to be some changes in what stories get to be so well-known. I want there to be some indigenous heroes who are recognized for what they have done.

There's a story that's circulating -- I've never been able to find archival evidence to back it up, that Gandhi in fact sort of was inspired by what had happened at Parihaka. He heard about it through a visiting Irish lawyer who came to New Zealand and then met Gandhi.

So to me, that doesn't matter whether that is true or not. The fact is that this community was really pioneering and they were as brave as Gandhi's followers were. It seems sad that Gandhi is commemorated in New Zealand's capital. There's no statues or commemorations of home-grown heroes.

Matt Smith:

In writing this book, you interviewed a lot of people and you pulled out a lot of research. What's a great story that you uncovered? What's something that really stood out in your mind?

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:

That's a really good question. Well, there were quite a few things. On that is more connected with the actual invasion. So what is said what happened in 1881 and why the government confiscated land. They confiscated land to punish people who had been in rebellion, so people who fought against the government.

But many Maori decided to either not participate in the wars or to fight on the side of the government, so they were loyal Maori. Obviously, that was a controversial decision, but many Maori decided to do that, thinking that that would be a strategy to protect their land, if they worked with the government then maybe they would be treated with more justice.

And so the government promised those people all sorts of gifts in return, money, more land, recognition. But what I found was that after Parihaka was invited, government soldiers in fact ransacked the homes of many loyal Maori in Taranaki as well.

And one man in particular, had a Union Jack flag that have been given as a gift to him for his services on the side of the crown. And he tore it up in front of the soldiers and said, "Look, this is what I think about your crown and your Queen. This is what you've done to me."

So the injustice was very deep. So that was one thing that was sort of connected with 1888.

And perhaps the final thing is throughout the book, I mentioned this lighthouse at Cape Egmont. So that was very close to the settlement of Parihaka. It was built by soldiers in 1881 so it was under armed guard because Maori had resisted. They did not want the lighthouse. They didn't think it was necessary. But the government was determined to build it.

And I went to see the light just a few years ago. I've never visited the site. It just blew mind because when I got there, I looked at the sign that Maritime New Zealand had put up. And it just said, "This lighthouse was constructed in 1880, built in London and it was shipped over here and it was put up then and has latched on to this state."

But I just sort of stood there and thought, "Well, this is a perfect example of what's not said," because the sign doesn't say that soldiers built this lighthouse and that it was part of a military campaign on Parihaka. I think the sign should say that and I think hat New Zealanders need to know that's what happened.

And that many of the places that the roads that New Zealanders drive on, the train tracks that trains go on, all of those places often were built on Maori land, and there was a lot of trouble, there was a lot of violence really involved in the construction of those things.

So I suppose writing the book kind of opened my eyes to all of that, Matt, the sense of this everyday world that's easy to take for granted, well, it didn't just happened to get there.

I do want to say my brother did the artwork on the cover, and so that's really been great, too, working closely with my brother. It's an amazing artwork. Someone said it kind of looked like Rorschach drawing or one of those drawings where you look at it and you might see a picture of something crazy. But in fact it's a very small artwork. It's self-adhesive tape on paper, cut up very finely with Stanley knife.

Matt Smith:

That's good. It's another personal touch though. It's good.

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:


Matt Smith:

So Dr. Rachel Buhanan's book The Parihaka Album has been printed by Huia Publishers and purchasable from their website?

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:


Matt Smith: and from all very good bookstores.

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:


Matt Smith:

So thank you for your time today, Rachel.

Dr. Rachel Buchanan:

Thanks, Matt.