The Waitangi Tribunal’s 1996 interim Taranaki report, which stated, “The invasion and sacking of Parihaka must rank with the most heinous actions of any government in the last century” (referring to the 1800s). The Tribunal called it “the holocaust of Taranaki history.”

This ignorant and gross distortion of the truth has been repeated by several Treatyists, including M.P. Tariana Turia, and a language teacher in New Plymouth, who is described as a “Maori academic” (as they all are), Keri Opai.  Mr Opai backed this ridiculous claim of “holocaust” by citing “the pillaging of Parihaka”.

The name of this place is starting to enter the lexicon of the grievance industry in a big way, with the Human Rights Commission making the statement, “The events that took place in and around Parihaka….have affected the political, cultural and spiritual dynamics of the entire country.” There have even been calls to have a special national day celebrated as “Parihaka Day”. So, it is time to look at the facts.

Fact No. 1 By the time of the Treaty of Waitangi there were only about a hundred and fifty Maori left in the whole of Taranaki. Roughly a third of the population had been massacred by invading tribes from Waikato, around another third had been taken back to the Waikato as slaves, while the remaining third had fled to the Wellington Area

Nine hundred members of this last third then invaded the Chatham Islands in 1835 where they killed, ate and all but exterminated the peaceful Moriori who lived there. A hundred or more Moriori women were laid out on the beach and stakes were driven through their bodies, the men being treated similarly. They were then eaten by Taranaki Maori. The Moriori population of about 1,600 was reduced to 101 survivors.

These were the Taranaki “holocausts” – Waikato Maori slaughtering Taranaki Maori, and Taranaki tribes butchering the peaceful Moriori.

Fact No. 2 In 1840 the authorities began purchasing land in Taranaki from very willing sellers.

Fact No. 3 With the arrival of settlers at New Plymouth in1841, coupled with the general peace and ending of slavery that flowed from the Treaty of Waitangi, many of those who had fled Taranaki during the intertribal wars took the opportunity of returning so as to reclaim the lands which, under Maori custom, they had forfeited when conquered by the stronger Waikato tribes.

Fact No. 4 These returning tribesman quarrelled among themselves over who owned the land and who had the right to sell it. This created great confusion with the result that, in some cases, the British paid for the same piece of land up to four times to satisfy conflicting Maori claims.

Fact No. 5 Wiremu Kingi and some of his fellow Taranaki tribesmen violated the Treaty of Waitangi when they made armed rebellion against the Crown. In the ensuing mayhem numerous settler families were murdered and their houses and barns burned to the ground. In one twelve month period (1860 – 61) 177 settler farms were destroyed. The mass slaughter and burning of the settlers’ livestock was indeed a “holocaust” of farm animals.

Fact No. 6 When hostilities ended some Maori had their lands confiscated by the Crown for having rebelled against the State as they had been warned would be the case. This was in accordance with their own practice in the Chatham Islands and elsewhere. Confiscations did not cause the rebellion; they were the punishments for it. According to the great Maori scholar, Sir Apirana Ngata, these confiscations were not a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi and they were understood as being fair enough under the old Maori law of utu (revenge). Under pre-1840 maori custom there would have been a far worse fate for the losing side than mere confiscation of some land.

Fact No. 7 In 1864 the self-appointed “prophet” Te Whiti – more accurately a “cult leader” – adopted what he said was a policy of “pacifism”, taking as his symbol the white feather. The white feather was, in fact, a symbol of the genuinely pacifist Moriori of the Chatham  Islands before they were all but exterminated by Te Whiti’s fellow Taranaki tribesmen. In 1867 Te Whiti squatted on some Crown land at Parihaka that had been confiscated as punishment for the rebellion. On this land he proceeded to build a settlement which housed his followers as well as being a haven for fugitives from the law – people like Hiroki, who on 19th September, 1878, murdered John McLean, a cook to the survey party at Moumahaki. In defiance of the law Te Whiti refused all requests to hand him over to the authorities.

In September, 1881, Titokawaru, and about two hundred of his fellow Hauhaus left their settlement at Ngawhitiwhiti with their chattels and moved in to Parihaka. Such was the company that Te Whiti was keeping.

Fact No. 8 During the next fourteen years the authorities repeatedly warned him that he would pay dearly if he did not give up his illegal occupation. The Premier, Sir John Hall, made several attempts to talk with Te Whiti but, like so many “prophets”, he proved not only evasive but downright obstructive, sending out parties of natives to plough up the lands of European settlers at several places between Hawera and White Cliffs.

These Parihaka people also harassed shopkeepers. “Yesterday a party of twelve Maori, when returning from Parihaka, entered Loveridge’s store at Oakura, commenced pulling things about, and were very bounceable. The Constabulary had to be called in to eject them, ” wrote the Auckland Star on 24th June, 1879.

They also stole horses from settlers’ farms, pulled down a newly built stockyard at Ngakumikumi and extracted a one pound toll from passing travellers. “Such incidences indicate the belligerent nature behind the facade of passive resistance that settlers had to long endure,” wrote Dr Kerry Bolton in his recent work The Parihaka Cult. Far from being a genuine pacifist, Te Whiti’s ploy was to provoke conflict with the government.

Fact No. 9 In this “republic of peace” more than a thousand Maori were huddled together in most unhygienic conditions. “In Parihaka there are nearly two hundred cases (of measles) and there have been about twelve deaths,” wrote the Auckland Star on 22nd September, 1875.

By early 1881 Parihaka was in a bad way with a scarcity of food that compelled the digging up of half-ripened potatoes. People were deserting the place. On 12th September, 1881, the Taranaki Herald reported that Parihaka was infected by vermin and “was absolutely filthy through lack of sanitary precautions”.

Fact No. 10 After all diplomatic efforts to resolve the stand-off had failed the government decided that, to dissuade others from taking the law into their own hands, the time had come to end the illegal occupation of this attention seeker who was so publicly thumbing his nose at the government. On 5th November, 1881, fourteen years after the occupation had begun, 959 members of the Volunteers and 630 of the Armed Constabulary rode in to reclaim Parihaka – which they did without firing a shot. The death toll was zero and the only injury was to a boy’s foot which was accidentally trodden on by a trooper’s horse. Some Treatyists have claimed that the soldiers “violated” the women but there is not a shred of evidence for this allegation.

During the ensuing occupation there might have been some consensual sex between members of the government forces and the Maori women – as had been going on since the earliest contact with Europeans – but dates, places and names have always been absent from these  vague “rape” allegations. In the words of Dr Bolton, “The Constabulary and Volunteers were under close scrutiny, with the presence of several reporters” while James  Cowan, the leading authority on the land wars, wrote that the Armed Constabulary was “officered by a splendid set of frontier soldiers”.

Among the things discovered in this “republic of peace” was a stockpile of around 250 weapons, including breechloaders, Enfields, revolvers and a variety of ammunition. It has been said that the only reason they were not used was the overwhelming numbers (about 1,600 men) in the government’s force.

Conclusions

There was indeed a “holocaust” in Taranaki during the intertribal fighting in the years before 1840, when local Maori were either killed or enslaved by Waikato tribes or fled to Wellington.

Taranaki tribesman then invaded the Chatham Islands and all but wiped out the peaceful Moriori in what could conceivably be called a “holocaust”.

There was also a “holocaust” of settlers’ farm animals, instigated by Wiremu Kingi.

There was no holocaust at Parihaka. Nobody was injured except the poor boy whose foot was accidentally stepped on by a horse.

References:

Moriori, Micheal King

The War in Taranaki, W.I. Grayson

Poverty Bay Herald, 28 September 1881

Waikato Times, 14 September, 1880

Grey River Argus, 14 September, 1881

The New Zealand Wars, Vol II, James Cowan, p494

Manawatu Times, 12 November, 1881

Tuapeka Times, 9 November, 1881