Parihaka Sunday – reflection and liturgy

Perched here on a hilltop, on 5 November we had a good view of fireworks bursting forth around the valley. I always find it strange, the visual sign that so many people all around the country are doing the same thing at the same time. It’s even weirder when you start to explain to visitors from overseas why so many people are united in this pyrotechnic display. Basically, the celebration is about a failed terrorist attack on the other side of the world. Whether it’s a celebration of the plot being foiled, or of Guy Fawkes as an anti-authoritarian hero, is debated.

At our church, in the words of our minister, “we believe that remembering Parihaka is a lot more illuminating for our lives and our society, than remembering Guy Fawkes.” Here is the reflection I gave in the service I led on Sunday. I’ve also included the liturgy at the end of this post.

The Challenge of Parihaka – Reflection for a service remembering the invasion of Parihaka.

[I began with a mihi which I have not included here, partly because I want to keep this blog semi-anonymous]

The bird is singing, morning has broken, behold, there is life! I have greeted our dead, those who have become stars, who have gone to the guardian of the night. And greetings to you, people from many mountains, people of the four winds, who have come here on many different waka. Warm greetings to all of you.

In my mihi I mentioned the clan I identify with, the M* clan. The first of my ancestors, Thomas M*, arrived in Petone in January 1840. I trace my family back to him because he was the first to come to Aotearoa, and because I feel a strong connection to the M* line. Even more so now that I have joined this church, the congregation that Thomas and his wife Margaret were part of from our first gathering on Petone beach.

A few days later more settlers arrived, including a boy of seven, John Bryce. He was another great-great-great grandfather of mine who would go on to become the minister of Native affairs. He played a central role in the events which unfolded in November 1881.

It had been a time of great tension in Taranaki, since an influx of settlers had arrived demanding land in the 1840s. The worst period of armed conflict in the region broke out in 1860 and continued for nine long years. 1869 marked the end of Māori armed aggression in Taranaki.

Many Māori in the region, including infamous warriors, became followers of the prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, who preached a message of peace.

 After the wars, the government promised that land would be returned to Māori, but in Taranaki, land continued to be confiscated, broken up and distributed among settlers. After 12 years of waiting for the promises of land to be fulfilled, Taranaki Māori began to protest again. This time, instead of taking up weapons they took up symbols of peace: ploughshares. The men went out and ploughed their own lands, the lands that settlers were occupying. In response, the government arrested the ploughmen.

Land confiscations continued. Even the land that Māori had planted with crops for their own sustenance were targeted, with fences which protected the crops from animals being broken down to make way for roads. Again, Māori protested, by rebuilding the fences and taking out survey pegs. Then the fencers were arrested, until there were hundreds of men being imprisoned indefinitely without trial. Some died in captivity, in cold conditions as far away from home as Dunedin.

The peaceful protests of Māori and their continued assertion that they had the right to land was intolerable to the majority of settlers. A newspaper article referred to “a great and constant evil… a constant menace and danger to the colony.” That was how some perceived the movement at Parihaka.

And so, the government, and settlers took action. The fact that a thousand men leapt at the opportunity to enlist as volunteers for an armed assault gives some indication of the support there was for breaking up Parihaka.

And so, on 5 November, 1600 soldiers and volunteers descended on Parihaka, led by Bryce on a white charger. They were met by lines of children skipping, singing and chanting. Hundreds of loaves of bread had been baked for Bryce’s men. The adults of the village sat quietly, taking the lead from their prophets.

Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and taken away that day. Over the days of occupation which followed, the people of Parihaka did not fight back while their homes were burned, crops were destroyed, women were raped, and treasures were looted.

The story of the non-violence resistance movement at Parihaka is inspirational. The vision of Te Whiti and Tohu and the courage of their followers holding strong to it while under attack is something the world should know of and honour, as Ghandi and King’s non-violent protests are known and honoured.

The story of how Pakeha responded is disturbing and unsettling… but it, too, must be told.

My connection to the story has at times made me feel deeply uncomfortable. The easiest way of dealing with this would be to view Bryce as an evil villain and distance myself from him. But by portraying Bryce as evil and as “other” I would be letting myself off the hook.

Instead I have attempted to recognise him as a person, as part of my whakapapa. As well as perpetrating racism and violence he was a father and was seen as honest and reliable to his settler friends.

By doing so I am forced to recognise that humans have the capacity to commit terrible acts and to do great harm. I believe Bryce’s actions were fuelled by ignorance, prejudice and a refusal to see things from the perspective of those who were “other” to him. By relating to him I feel compelled to examine my own heart and mind for signs of ignorance and prejudice and closed-mindedness.

At first, I had a lot of ignorance. Ignorance of te reo Māori, of Māori culture, of the history of this country. I was startled to find out the extent of the injustice in our history. I was surprised to learn that the version of Te Tiriti o Waitangi that the vast majority of chiefs signed was very different from the treaty I had learned about in school.

I also found signs of prejudice in my own thinking. I realised that there were stereotypes that I come to believe. I realised that at times part of me felt threatened by Māori cries for justice. I seem to have inherited at least a little of the anxiety my settler ancestors felt. This has not been a journey to towards feeling guilty, but towards actively seeking to respond differently.

Today we may not have anyone who is charging in on a white horse with his armed men, but Māori are still marginalised in our society. Some people talk about poverty and inequality as forms of violence, and Māori are suffering these forms of injustice more than non-Māori.

Ruakere Hond, from Parihaka, says ‘The war hasn’t finished. People aren’t falling from muskets. They are falling from youth suicide, alcohol, drug abuse, chronic poverty, intergenerational poverty. There is still a long way to go.’

Taranaki Māori are still alienated from their land. When reserves were finally created they were given over to administrators and then leased to settlers with perpetually renewing leases. The Waitangi Tribunal concluded that “If war is the absence of peace, the war has never ended in Taranaki, because that essential prerequisite for peace among peoples, that each should be able to live with dignity on their own lands, is still absent and the protest over land rights continues to be made.”

A few weeks ago the government commenced a consultation on next year’s release of blocks of land and sea for petroleum exploration. The people of Parihaka, descendants, morehu and followers of Te Whiti and Tohu, are strongly opposed to oil exploration in their tribal area.

They have said that “While there may be short term benefits from petroleum for some, the long-term effects are detrimental to local communities and the world as a whole.” In the past decade petroleum extraction has caused oil spills in Taranaki which have meant that Māori are not able to gather kaimoana in their rohe. Not only has exploration gone ahead previously despite clear opposition, outrageously, Todd Energy named two of the blocks Parihaka and Tohu. They have now changed the names after complaints, but they have changed them to other te reo names.

If you’d like to support the people of Parihaka, one way to do so would be to write to Simon Bridges urging him not to go ahead with plans for exploration in their rohe.

I want to look beyond Aotearoa for a moment, to acknowledge that there are still places where land is being taken at gunpoint and independence is being suppressed by force. In our Pacific neighbourhood the indigenous people of West Papua face circumstances which would be familiar to Taranaki Māori.

West Papuans have had their land rights disregarded, are dealing with the impact of a huge influx of migrants and have been under attack from the police and military, both of which have been involved in human rights abuses and torture. As was the case in Parihaka in November 1881, the media are banned from West Papua. Human rights organisations are also banned.

The Asian Human Rights Commission recently released a harrowing report into the killing of thousands of West Papuans 1977-78, including children and elderly. The Commission argues that according to the UN’s definition this amounts to genocide and many of the perpetrators are walking free. 

Not only are West Papuans in our neighbourhood, we have other connections with them. We have military and policing ties and until last year the NZ Super fund invested in the notorious Freeport McMoran mine in West Papua. Fortunately the super fund has divested in this due to evidence of human rights abuses.

The Green party have recently criticised the government for recommencing a community policing programme in West Papua, after a review of the previous programme found that there was no evidence that human rights and respect for the rule of law were enhanced, and West Papuans have reported that the police have been involved in shootings, torture, attacks on communities and have made arrests for peaceful protests and even for praying for peace.

A West Papua solidarity gathering in Tamaki Makaurau called on the United Nations Secretary General to appoint a Special Representative to investigate the situation in West Papua; and on The New Zealand government to play a role in mediating peaceful dialogue between West Papuan representatives and the Indonesian government, as well as ceasing military ties with Indonesia until the human rights of West Papuans are respected. This statement has been supported by Christian World Service, Caritas, Peace Movement Aotearoa and many other New Zealand and Australian NGOs.

A few weeks ago the Prime Minister of Vanuatu spoke up for West Papua, calling for a UN investigation, but the New Zealand government continues to stand by in silence while the people of West Papua suffer.

It is hard to be faced with the reality of oppression, whether in it’s extreme violent form in West Papua, or it’s more insidious form here. The issues can sometimes be overwhelming and we can feel helpless.

This is when paying attention to the signs of hope can be helpful. For me, the super fund pulling out of the mine in West Papua, the courage of Vanuatu’s PM speaking out on the world stage are hopeful signs.

The growing awareness of the story of Parihaka also gives me hope. I think by being part of telling the story, and passing it on to our children, we help ensure it won’t be repeated here. Learning about my great-great-great grandfather Bryce’s actions has motivated me to educate myself and to seek to understand different perspectives on contemporary issues.

The story of the invasion of Parihaka also helps us to understand what is happening now in other lands. 

If we choose to be part of challenging oppression, we need stories to give us strength and inspiration.

As Christians, we can draw on stories from the bible. The scriptures remind us that our God is a God of liberation, and our prophets called out for freedom for the oppressed.

As people of Aotearoa, we can also learn from the story of non-violent resistance at Parihaka.

It is the story of a community united in their hope for peace. A community that showed incredible strength and courage even in the face of an armed invasion. A community that stayed true to their values under immense pressure and continued to cry for justice, even in their darkest hour.

Te Whiti said “Though the lions rage still I am for peace . . . Though I be killed I yet shall live; though dead, I shall live in peace which will be the accomplishment of my aim. The future is mine, and little children, when asked hereafter as to the author of peace, shall say ‘Te Whiti’, and I will bless them.”

We are blessed to have the story of Te Whiti and Tohu and their legacy as a light of hope for us as we seek to live out a way of peace and justice.

E te Ariki, ko koe to matou nohoanga i nga whakatupuranga katoa. Ka ara nei o matou wairua ki a koe e Ihowa hei runga i a matou tau mahi tohu, kia rite hoki ta matou tumanako ki a koe. Amene.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.


The Hon John Bryce (New Zealand Herald, 12 November 1881) 

Taranaki Report (Waitangi Tribunal)

Response from Parihaka to Oil and Gas Industry 

The Invasion of Parihaka, 5 November 1881: An Eyewitness Account (The Meeting Place)

Remembering Parihaka resource (Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand) 

Indonesia: ‘The Neglected Genocide’ – a report detailing series of abuses in 1977–1978 (Asian Human Rights Commission) 

West Papua Solidarity Gathering Statement, Tamaki Makaurau, 2011


A Liturgy for Parihaka Sunday


“Those who are bent by the wind shall rise again when the wind softens.” – Te Whiti o Rongomai

This is a time to honour those who walked before us,
To hear the voice of God in the story of those who resisted oppression,
To understand our place in the continuing story.
Let us celebrate God’s passion for justice.
Let us keep alive the vision of peace. 

PROCESSIONAL HYMN  AA 155 Where mountains rise to open skies

OPENING RESPONSES    (Caritas Aotearoa)

E te Atua o te rangimārie,
Kia whakapaingia ngā uri o Parihaka.
We look to the past to provide lessons for our future.
The present is a place to check our past.
Parihaka speaks to us of peace,
A new way of seeking justice,
It opens up the horizon of hope.
Peace on earth and goodwill to all people.
How can we be instruments of peace? What do we need to do?
Come together, talk together, walk together, work together.
When our peace is challenged, the message keeps us true.
Keep ploughing the land, keep honouring mana whenua.
E ngā manu e rua, Te Whiti o Rongomai kōrua ko Tohu Kākahi,
Nga mihi, tēnā kōrua.
Korōia ki te Atua ki runga rawa, maungārongo ki te whenua,
Whakaaro pai ki ngā tangata katoa.            
Mō āke āke, Āmene.









 Hebrew Scripture: Isaiah 11: 6-7,9  

 Gospel: Luke 6: 20-31

 Words of Te Whiti o Rongomai

“Though some, in darkness of heart, seeing their land ravished, might wish to take arms and kill the aggressors, I say it must not be. Let not the Pakehas think to succeed by reason of their guns. I want not war, but they do. The flashes of their guns have singed our eyelashes, and yet they say they do not want war. The government come not hither to reason, but go to out-of-the-way places. They work secretly, but I speak in public so that all may hear.”

Contemporary reading: Parihaka (Apirana Taylor)


HYMN           AA 31 E Te Atua



“The challenge of Parihaka”


MUSIC           From “An Offering for Parihaka” – David Hamilton

HYMN           AA85 Let Justice Roll down




COMMUNION HYMN       Walls mark our boundaries


HYMN           AA 115 Purea nei e te hau



Go now with the stories of Parihaka echoing in your hearts.
May the God of liberation give you courage to challenge oppression,
May the spirit inspire you with hope for change,
May prophets guide you on the way of peace,
And may the strength of community support you on the journey.


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