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