For­get Guy Fawkes: We’ve a date with our past

Weekend Herald - - Lizzie Marvelly -

Last week­end, we cel­e­brated the thwart­ing of a plot to blow up the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment in 1605 by let­ting off cheaply made mini-ex­plo­sives in our back­yards, much to the ter­ror of any poor an­i­mal who hap­pened to be in the vicin­ity. How this is rel­e­vant to New Zealan­ders, I have no idea. Why we per­sist with such a ridicu­lous and dan­ger­ous ( just ask the Fire Ser­vice) cel­e­bra­tion of an event that hap­pened in a for­eign coun­try more than 400 years ago is be­yond me, es­pe­cially when the an­niver­sary of one of our own mo­men­tous his­tor­i­cal events also falls on Novem­ber 5.

That event too rep­re­sented a vic­tory for a gov­ern­ment, but si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­liv­ered a dev­as­tat­ing blow to New Zealand — one that has echoed down the gen­er­a­tions. On Novem­ber 5, 1881, we com­mit­ted an act of na­tional shame; one that ren­ders the sparkling flashes of fire­works around the coun­try on Guy Fawkes evening es­pe­cially in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

This week, 136 years ago, a vil­lage of 2000 peace­ful New Zealan­ders was in­vaded by mil­i­tary forces, its lead­ers im­pris­oned and ex­iled with­out trial, and its in­hab­i­tants cast out of their homes. Build­ings, crops and live­stock in the self-suf­fi­cient town­ship were de­stroyed and fam­ily trea­sures were stolen as the lives of in­no­cent civil­ians were turned up­side down. Many of

On Novem­ber 5, 1881, we com­mit­ted an act of na­tional shame; one that ren­ders the sparkling flashes of fire­works around the coun­try on Guy Fawkes evening es­pe­cially in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

the women left be­hind were raped by the troops.

Who was re­spon­si­ble for this atroc­ity? The New Zealand Gov­ern­ment.

That vil­lage was Par­i­haka, and the events that oc­curred there should in­spire shame in the hearts of ev­ery New Zealan­der. That many of us have very lit­tle idea of what hap­pened in Novem­ber 1881, or the events lead­ing up to it, should make us an­gry.

To put the date into con­text, the in­va­sion of Par­i­haka hap­pened only 33 years be­fore World War I be­gan; an event that we still re­mem­ber ev­ery year on An­zac Day. It is just one of the many ag­gres­sions com­mit­ted against Maori that New Zealand tries wil­fully to for­get.

To give a very brief overview of the events lead­ing up to Novem­ber 1881, for the many of us whose New Zealand his­tory ed­u­ca­tion was woe­fully in­ad­e­quate, the vil­lage of Par­i­haka was es­tab­lished in the 1860s on land con­fis­cated by the Crown. It was led by prophets Tohu Kakahi and Te Whiti-o-Ron­go­mai III, who ad­vo­cated non-vi­o­lent re­sis­tance against the Crown, and at­tracted around 2000 Maori from around the coun­try. It was un­sur­pris­ingly seen by the colo­nial gov­ern­ment of the time as a threat, and Na­tive Min­is­ter John Bryce led an armed con­stab­u­lary of about 1600 troops and vol­un­teers to march on Par­i­haka, which con­ve­niently (and ob­vi­ously in­ten­tion­ally) took place while the gov­er­nor was out of the coun­try.

Its place in our his­tory, nearly a decade af­ter the con­clu­sion of the New Zealand Wars (an­other vi­tal part of our na­tional story that we know dis­turbingly lit­tle about), is sig­nif­i­cant, as it demon­strated that the Crown was not above re­spond­ing to any threat — real or imag­ined — to its ques­tion­able sovereignty with out­ra­geous force. That 1600 troops went to a non-vi­o­lent set­tle­ment armed with lethal weapons is a macabre il­lus­tra­tion of how ut­terly with­out scru­ples our colo­nial gov­ern­ment was.

When I was taught at pri­mary school about the brave Pakeha set­tlers, the ab­ject lack of mo­ral com­pass of the Pakeha lead­ers of the time was not part of the cur­ricu­lum. Sur­prise, sur­prise.

Ear­lier this year, for­mer Treaty Ne­go­ti­a­tions and Maori De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ters Chris Fin­layson and Te Ururoa Flavell de­liv­ered an un­re­served apol­ogy to the peo­ple of Par­i­haka. It took 135 years for the Crown to ad­mit that it was wrong, but it got there in the end. The next step is for all of us as New Zealan­ders to un­der­stand not only the events that oc­curred at Par­i­haka but the en­tirety of our un­com­fort­able his­tory; a his­tory that of­fers im­por­tant in­sights into many of the prob­lems we face to­day.

The 150th an­niver­sary of the bru­tal raid of Par­i­haka is only 14 years away. We should set a na­tional goal to en­sure that ev­ery Kiwi, young and old, un­der­stands what hap­pened there by 2031.

Why? Be­cause un­der­stand­ing events at Par­i­haka gives us a win­dow into our na­tional iden­tity. It re­minds us of how far we’ve come and en­cour­ages us to en­sure that we never make the same mis­takes again. In a time when the abo­li­tion of Maori seats has re­cently been a topic of con­ver­sa­tion, for ex­am­ple, re­minders about the lengths Maori had to go to just to survive, and how des­per­ately they suf­fered to even be able to voice opin­ions are in­creas­ingly im­por­tant.

But the lessons of Par­i­haka go much fur­ther than em­pha­sis­ing why it’s im­por­tant to not treat indige­nous peo­ples ap­pallingly. The peace­ful set­tle­ment it­self should in­spire us. It grew de­spite great ad­ver­sity and pros­pered peace­fully in a time when many Maori were be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­pov­er­ished. The peo­ple of Par­i­haka fought pun­ish­ing colo­nial en­croach­ment not with mus­kets and war­fare, but by plough­ing land, build­ing fences, pulling out sur­vey pegs and sim­ply get­ting on with their lives.

Novem­ber 5 should be re­mem­bered by all of us, and not be­cause of some weird Bri­tish guy who died 400 years ago.

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