Hekia is right to want us to learn about Parihaka – we could learn plenty from Moriori, too

A peaceful response could be inappropriate…

It’s not often events enable Alf to mention the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands, but his colleague Hekia Parata has given him an opening.

She has been banging on about the need for students to learn New Zealand history, which is astonishing, because Alf thought they already were learning New Zealand history.

But maybe they aren’t learning some stuff about pacifism, and especially Maori pacifism, which is all very interesting at a time when Maori seem to be increasingly belligerent about this, that and the other, including the ownership of water.

Maybe Hekia is trying to get ’em back to behaving peacefully.

Or maybe she is trying to persuade we Pakeha that rolling over is a daft thing to do.

Anyway, an account of what she said can be found here.

Ms Parata made the suggestion on Wednesday during the Post Primary Teachers’ Association conference in Wellington.

She says education should reflect the students who are learning a subject, such as history, rather than them being immersed in learning history from overseas.

Ms Parata says she thinks it is a duty that at Year 13 history is Aotearoa history.

She questions why the education system does not teach history about people such as Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, who led the Parihaka peace movement in the 1800s at a time when the colonial government was trying to confiscate their land in Taranaki.

Dunno if she gave other examples of things our kids should be learning.

But she obviously hit a nerve – easy to do with the PPTA, a bunch of teachers who bridle at anything she tells them, apparently for doctrinal reasons.

Sure enough, the PPTA hit back (here) by accusing Hekia of not knowing what actually goes on in classrooms in the country.

Association chairperson Robin Duff said her comments were met with surprise because New Zealand history is a part of the curriculum.

He said it was strange to hear her comments because important events such as Parihaka are taught in schools.

Mr Duff said he learnt about the peace movement when he was at school 35 years ago, and it’s still being taught in schools.

It’s at this point that Alf was minded to bring Moriori into the picture.

They have a code of non-violence and passive resistance.

A potted history can be found here.

Just 600 people live on this remote island and the smaller Pitt Island, located 90-minute flight to southeast of Wellington, New Zealand.

Known as Rekohu in Moriori and Wharekauri in Māori, the islands were first inhabited more than 500 years ago by Polynesian settlers related to Maori who became known as Moriori.

Subsisting on sea food (kai moana), the Moriori lived in harmony with the environment and in accordance with a culture based on peace until 1835 when Rekohu was invaded by two Māori tribes (iwi) from the Taranaki region in Aotearoa New Zealand (Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama).

This account goes on to remind us that in March 1836, 1000 Moriori men met at the entrance to the island’s huge saltmarsh lagoon Te Whanga to deliberate whether to break the peace covenant that had governed their existence for hundreds of years.

Symbolized white albatross feathers, the Moriori peace tradition is a philosophy of nonviolence named Nunuku’s law after the ancient chief who issued the edict.

After deliberating for three days the Moriori reaffirmed their intent to abide with the code outlawing warfare.

What happened next was not pretty.

In his 2004 book Cloud Atlas, author David Mitchell describes the resulting massacre by the invading Maori tribes and the inaction by Europeans witnesses, also documented by Michael King in his landmark work Moriori: A People Rediscovered (1989).

Moriori who were not killed were sent to the remote Auckland Islands and New Zealand as slaves to the Maori, while those who survived were forbidden to marry or have children with other Moriori.

When Tommy Solomon (Tame Horomona Rehe), the last Moriori of unmixed ancestry, died in 1933 media articles perpetuated the myth still widely believed in New Zealand today that the Moriori race was “extinct.”

Another account (here) says centuries of independence came to a brutal end for the Moriori people in December 1835.

On November 19 of that year, a ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs, and axes arrived, followed on December 5 by a shipload of 400 more Maori.

Groups of Maori began to walk through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing those who objected.

An organized resistance by the Moriori could still then have defeated the Maori, who were outnumbered two to one. However, the Moriori had a tradition of resolving disputes peacefully.

They decided in a council meeting not to fight back but to offer peace, friendship, and a division of resources.

Before the Moriori could deliver that offer, the Maori attacked en masse. Over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of the bodies, and enslaved all the others, killing most of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim.

A Maori conqueror explained –

“We took possession…in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped. Some ran away from us, these we killed, and others we killed — but what of that? It was in accordance with our custom.”

So when Maori are making their pitch about their entitlement to customary rights…

Well, we may suppose something like this is what they are talking about.

Several thousand Moriori descendants are alive and well today, despite the best efforts of the invaders to wipe them out.

For the past two decades they have been reviving their culture and rediscovering their identify.

At Te Papa in June 2008, the Crown gifted $6 million to the establishment of Te Keke Tura Moriori Identity Trust to ensure that Moriori, as a separate and distinct indigenous culture, is not lost.

And just the other day, Radio NZ (here) reported a call for the Chatham Islands Moriori trust to hold fresh board elections.

But the important thing about the Parihaka and Moriori stories is to remind us why fighting back in many circumstances is the smart thing to do.

3 Responses to Hekia is right to want us to learn about Parihaka – we could learn plenty from Moriori, too

  1. peepsweave says:

    The interesting thing about Parihaka and Moriori, is that two of the main tribes that were responsible for the near genocide of the Moriori then went to adopt the practices of peaceful resistance, even the ‘white feather’ in relation to Parihaka. That’s a story of more interest to me – there is stories today of ongoing genocide by western culture, and not so western culture, it’s not a thing of the past. What I would be interested in – is what makes a people change. It’s a very touchy subject, obviously because there’s shame attached, which there should be. But it would be more important to investigate – what happens when people decide to drastically change their behaviour. Parihaka used the principle of ‘fighting peace’, the Taranaki tribes influenced the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, so you have a people who’s ancestors participated in a near genocide of the Moriorio. Who were in fact the first people attacked in Britain’s attempt to officially genocide the Maori race and they adopted a key concept of the Moriori.

    That I think is a human topic, screw the ongoing rants on both Pakeha and Maori sides of pointing fingers. Both sides are human and genocide is still practiced today – what I’d like to explore is how those two incidents are related.

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