Parihaka Grieving

Not theirs, but ours, the mountain —

 Maunga Taranaki, not Egmont, named

  for some stranger in a foreign land.

Tapu the mountain, dwelling of spirits,

 tapu the village that lay in peace

  beneath its shadow, invaded,

burnt to the ground, our people robbed,

 raped, driven out, our crops

  and every living thing destroyed,

our dead insulted by the Pakeha,

 armed with the sword, the musket,

  and lying words. Peace was all

we wanted, peace for our tribe to

 increase, our children to grow tall,

  our land to smile with plenty

from the mountain to the sea.

 But the Pakeha would not listen,

  they were greedy for our land,

and when we would not sell,

 they charged us with sedition,

  with arming to make war. They seized

our land as punishment, and gave it

 to the settlers. To prove that it was

  ours, we ploughed that land —

ploughing the government’s belly,

 was how we put it — and when we

  were arrested we went willingly

to jail. Others took our place,

 until four hundred men were jailed

  without being charged or tried.

Thirty-eight breathed their last

 in foul South Island jails. For days

  Taranaki hid his head in cloud

and wept at Parihaka grieving.

 More trouble followed when the armed

  constabulary set about provoking us

by tearing down the fences we had built

 as protection for our crops,

  and we put them up again

as often as they pulled them down.

 Two hundred more crowded the jails

  to overflowing, and still

we would not yield. The more we were

 humiliated and abused, the greater

  was our pride in the snow-white

feather of resistance that adorned

 our hair. Two hundred more of our

  young men, like the others,

grinned and went to prison willingly.

 I was there at the pa when the

  arresting force arrived, led by Bryce,

the hated Native Minister. Hundreds

 of boys spun tops in the gateway

  and chanted songs of welcome,

while, further in, a crowd of girls played

 their skipping games. It was a scene

  meant to disarm, and when that failed,

they took off their mats and waved

 them at the horses, causing them

  to shy. The troopers cursed them,

and rode on, the silence broken only

 by the slow clipclop of hooves.

  They stopped some distance from

Te Whiti and Tohu, waiting patiently

 since midnight to receive them,

  surrounded by two thousand followers,

wet and cold, and wrapped up to the chin

 in blankets. Two thousand held

  their breath when Te Whiti spoke,

begging the Minister to dismount

 and not ride through the crowd lest

  he injure a little one. He obeyed

with such bad grace his men winked

 at each other. They raised their muskets

  menacingly, as he read the Riot Act,

expecting trouble to break out.

 When nothing happened, steam rose

  from two thousand heads, letting go

their breath. The Minister took courage

 from the unexpected silence, commanding

  Te Whiti and Tohu to leave the pa

or face the full wrath of the law.

 Te Whiti smiled, and brushed aside

  his words, as one might brush

aside a fly, then calmly spoke:

 ‘Friend, my place is with my people,

  but I will go with you, and not

make trouble by resisting you.

 When we heard that you were coming,

  our womenfolk baked bread

to feed you. I ask you now to sit

 with us and eat, and we will talk

  about our land, and why we cannot

sell it. Put aside your weapons.

 You see us as we are, a peaceful

  people whose only wish is to live

in friendship with our neighbours.

 We cannot sell our lands

  any more than we can sell the air

we breathe. Land is a sacred trust

 for which we answer to our ancestors.

  I have said enough. Come,

sit with us and eat.’ Even as he spoke,

 the Minister was giving orders

  that Te Whiti and Tohu be seized

and taken away, and in that huge assembly

 not a voice was raised in protest,

  not a move was made to prevent

the outrage … My poem ends here,

 and I leave to other tongues

  to tell of the sacking and

destruction of a dream, of the years

 of government abuse when our rights

  under the Treaty were suspended,

and we were stripped of everything

 that we held dear; the years

  when the lands reserved for us

were leased to settlers for a pittance,

 leaving us with wounds that will

  never heal. Let others tell

of Te Whiti’s wrongful jailings,

 of the shame we turned to pride

  by following his teachings,

wearing always in our hearts

 the snow-white feather of a staunch

  and undefeated people …

The spilt blood of generations

 cries out from the soil it once

  made fertile. Tears blind

the wind, run down the cheeks of

 Taranaki for Parihaka, sick

  at heart, for Parihaka grieving.


By Alistair Te Ariki Campbell