Gerry Te Kapa Coates
Ko Taranaki te Maunga by Rachel Buchanan (BWB Texts, 2018) 152 pp., $14.99
In keeping with the concept of Bridget Williams Books (BWB) Texts as ‘short books on big subjects’, this book does not intend to be a comprehensive revisiting of the shameful – for Pākehā – Parihaka saga. Instead, Rachel Buchanan tells her deeply personal story of the effects on her family – and in particular her father – of the events leading up to the colonial government’s actions and subsequent denial of justice that was the Parihaka story. The book is both memoir and personal history – highlighting that the saying ‘the personal is political’ applies to decolonisation as well as feminism – sitting alongside factual information and analysis of the events and fallout from the Parihaka invasions, eventual Crown Treaty settlements and the many apologies to Taranaki iwi. I was reminded of Moana Jackson’s brilliant essay titled ‘Globalisation and the Colonising State of Mind’, in which he says, ‘Destroying the world-view and culture of indigenous peoples has always been as important as taking their lives, because the actual process of disempowerment, the key purpose of any colonisation, has to function at the spiritual and psychic level, as well as the physical and political.’1
In 2012 Buchanan wrote an essay called ‘Beating Shame: Parihaka and the very long sorry’, which she says ‘was an engine’ that made things happen for her.2 She was living in Melbourne, a framed photograph of te maunga Taranaki on her desk, and doing research – in fact curating Australian pioneer feminist Germaine Greer’s massive archive. Her father Leo (Te Ātiawa – Taranaki), the family archivist – only a couple of years younger than Greer – was dying back in Wellington. As she says, ‘she bobbed back and forward across the ditch’ keeping in contact. According to Buchanan, ‘the Māori world was where he and I could connect’. This began when she was a teenager, when she and her father both unknowingly enrolled in the same immersion te reo course in Wellington. In her father’s filing cabinet she finds ‘eighty years of non-violent protest against colonisation’ – the family’s passive resistance maintained by documenting their own dispossession – just as ‘Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi established Parihaka as a final refuge for Māori who had been dispossessed by wars of colonisation and the confiscations that were part of those wars’.
Before the wars, she says, ‘Taranaki was hollowed out by the cycle of fighting and retribution that began with the 1821 arrival of a large tāua (war party)’ from up north. This tāua comprised up to 800 warriors and the conflict left a trail of utu debt, ripe for later revenge with muskets. ‘Even without guns we Taranaki people did our share of killing and mocking.’ Her closest relatives fled south from Ōpunake to escape the carnage, eventually arriving at Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) just before the arrival of the first New Zealand Company ships, when the ‘land was cut up like a cake’. Her great-grandmother’s father, Charles Wallace, was born at Te Aro Pā in 1848 and became a ‘licensed native interpreter’, trusted by both Māori and Pākehā. In 1879 Koro Charles accompanied Lyttelton Times journalist Samuel Croumbie-Brown to Parihaka, where he then translated an epic six-hour conversation between the journalist and Te Whiti.
As the Pākehā settlement of Wellington progressed Taranaki Māori began to return to their ancestral homes, spurred on by the earthquakes in 1848 and 1855. Not surprisingly, they found the Taranaki they returned to ‘greatly changed’. The province of Taranaki had been created in 1853 to provide for a wave of 2500 settlers. The pressure on Māori land was acute, and despite Taranaki leaders forming a league that ‘swore no more land would be sold’, some Māori went ahead and sold anyway. In March 1860 surveyors entered land that had been ‘sold’ at Waitara but were turned away by the tangata whenua, resulting in war between the British and the Te Atiawa people. The naval ship Niger bombarded the pā next to the Wārea mission and 500 troops moved in to finish the job, tearing up and burning crops and sacking the pā.
Around this time Taranaki prophet Te Ua Haumēne developed the Paimārire (good and peaceful) faith, which spread quickly up the Whanganui River into the Waikato and Bay of Plenty. There was still conflict with settlers, resulting in retribution from imperial troops who, for example, ‘destroyed every cultivation within 20 miles south of New Plymouth’. Out of this conflict the infamous perpetual leases of Māori land to settlers have remained. ‘The enraged colonial government wanted to be emphatic. How dare these people keep fighting back?’ At the peak of the wars some 12,000 British soldiers were sent to fight against Māori in Waikato, Tauranga and Taranaki. The New Zealand Settlements Act was used to confiscate all of what was called ‘middle Taranaki’ – 560,000 acres (226,623ha) and a further 854,000 acres (345,601ha) to the north and south-east. ‘Even the mountain (Taranaki) was taken.’
By 1865 Te Ua Haumēne was unwell and so consecrated two new leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi who, assisted by Ngāti Ruanui rangatira Titokowaru, led the development of their non-violent resistance. The kaupapa of non-violence was a pragmatic stance as well as a spiritual one, since by 1866 the Māori were ‘radically outnumbered by well-armed soldiers and settlers’. The Crown used another ploy, ignoring the understanding that no land in the Taranaki rohe would be made available to settlers until reserves were provided for local Māori, including the hundreds of people living at Parihaka. No land was set aside. In May 1879 Te Whiti began ploughing land that had been occupied by settlers, with the inevitable retaliation.
In its settlements with iwi the Crown has included an apology for the wrong that was perpetrated, and between 1991 and 2018 nine apologies were made to Taranaki iwi. According to Buchanan there is a common misunderstanding of wrongdoing and its aftermath, especially the sort of sustained wrongdoing that was committed in the nineteenth century as an already weakened Taranaki was forcibly occupied and settled. She also notes a disconnect between what the Crown says about the past and what non-Māori people say about it inside their homes, calling it ‘a gap between national history and domestic history’ that needs closing if Parihaka is not to remain on the margin.
Buchanan discusses the concept of shame, saying she now believes that it is Māori, not Pākehā, who have been overwhelmingly burdened by shame as a result of invasion, plunder and confiscation. In this scenario, what relevance do apologies have in any redress? According to the Office of Treaty Settlements, the apology makes ‘very significant steps towards recognising the mana of the claimant group; restoring the honour of the Crown and rebuilding the relationship between the Crown and the claimant group’. However, it is also true that the apology is only symbolic. Australian philosopher Janna Thompson is quoted as suggesting it is a poor response to the enormity of the injustices that were committed: ‘We took your lands; we stole your children. Sorry about that.’ An apology should open up discussion rather than shut it down: ‘A genuine political apology … should be endorsed by the victims and their representatives and by the people who live in the nation responsible for the wrong.’
Recent overt racism in the New Plymouth District Council indicates there is still a long way to go, but there is some hope that offering an apology and redress for the confiscation of te maunga Taranaki will be made in consultation with all Taranaki iwi. Attorney-General Chris Finlayson reminded an audience at Parihaka: ‘these things did occur. That is why they must be recorded and remembered … Ultimately there can be no reconciliation where one party remembers and the other forgets.’ Buchanan suggests forgetting may be one way of avoiding suffering, but it comes at great cost. A less destructive response to humiliating events, suggested by Professor Pou Temara, is ‘to remember them in a different way, to actively seek to change your relationship to the shameful-painful events’. Such ‘coming to know the past’ is also a crucial part of decolonisation, according to Linda Tuhiwai Smith. ‘What is a nation, really, apart from a collection of families?’ asks Buchanan.
Buchanan acknowledges that there are ‘good examples of how Māori have beaten shame, victimhood and disadvantage’ by turning around understandings of historical events. This can ease the ‘realm of pain’ inflicted by confiscation and marginalisation, and offer a model that all New Zealanders might follow. She poses the question: ‘Will people step up now and take the time to learn, know and feel the history of the places they call home?’
This is a thoughtful and intimate book that may send readers to other sources dealing with the full history and long-term effects of colonisation that are still with us today, and evident in the reluctance of some non-Māori to accept that there are good historical reasons why Māori continue to suffer under the fallout from history.
- Moana Jackson, ‘Globalisation and the Colonising State of Mind’, in Resistance: An indigenous response to neoliberalism, ed. Maria Bargh, Huia Publishers, 2007.
- Rachel Buchanan, ‘Beating Shame: Parihaka and the very long sorry’, Te Pouhere Kōrero, no. 6, 2012.
GERRY TE KAPA COATES (Ngāi Tahu, Waihao) was born in Oamaru, and is an author of non-fiction, poetry and fiction (see his collection of poems and short stories, The View From Up There, 2011). He is a consultant and works as a hearings commissioner, notably as a dissenting decision-maker on the South Taranaki Bight Trans-Tasman Resources Ltd seabed mining application, and he does other Māori advisory work.