Te Whiti: The Forgotten Forerunner of Non-violent Resistance by Dave Andrews

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The following is a chapter from the book “People of Compassion” written by Dave Andrews, a speaker at the 2009 Nationals Student Leadership Forum. The book is a wonderful compilation of the life stories of real people, gathered from across the ages and continents, who have embodied compassion and whose faith inspired them to use their particular gifts and energies to serve the world. The book can be borrowed from the NSLF library or to order the entire book yourself, contact TEAR Australia.

Te Whiti was born in Parihaka, Aotearoa (New Zealand) about 1815. His Maori parents, Hone Kakahi and Raumahora, made sure Te Whiti was brought up well-schooled in the values of traditional Maori culture. A Maori preacher, Minarapa Te Rangihatuake, taught the young Te Whiti to read and write and study the scriptures, and a Lutheran missionary, Johannes Riemenschneider, baptised him. Throughout his life, Te Whiti constantly struggled to relate a personal Christian faith to traditional Maori culture.

On 30 April 1864, many Maori warriors died in the Battle of Sentry Hill, trying to defend their land from further European incursions. Te Whiti didn’t take up arms, but supported his people’s defence of their land. The New Zealand Settlements Act authorised the confiscation of any land where the government deemed the natives to be in rebellion. Although the judiciary warned that confiscation was illegal, the government systematically took over 4 million hectares of land. Much of that was in Taranaki.

In the 1870s, more immigrants arrived from Europe. The government was pressured to provide more land for the Pakeha (white people). As a result, surveyors began slicing up the Waimate Plains. To start with, Te Whiti and his people allowed this to happen, but in the late 1870s, when the settlers began to move in, the people of Parihaka chose to act. Te Whiti said: ‘My name is taken from the hill Puke Te Whiti (which stands as a sentinel guarding the past, the present and the future). Like Puke Te Whiti, I stand as a sentinel – not one bit of land will be given over to strangers with my consent.’

Te Whiti chose to fight, but unlike his forbears, he chose to fight the invasion non-violently. Publicly, he declared, ‘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…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!

Stout-hearted patience‘ became the spiritual dynamic of Te Whiti’s campaign of non-violent resistance. Te Whiti said to his people: ‘This is my word to you to the tribe…There are two roads, one to life and one to death. God said, in the days of Noah, the earth will be destroyed; build an ark, or all will perish. Noah did as he was commanded and this was an example for us to follow. God said to Lot, depart from the city; leave your houses and goods, for he who turns back shall die, and the city shall be burnt. God said to Moses, do not strive against me, or you will die; by faith only can this tribe be saved. This is an example to us. Our salvation today is stout-heartedness and patience.

Having found the dynamic he needed, Te Whiti searched the scriptures for a tactic he could use for his campaign. He came across the verse in Isaiah 2:4 that spoke about ‘beating swords into plough-shares‘. As soon as he read it, Te Whiti knew he had the tactic he needed to devise a strategy of effective resistance. Te Whiti exhorted his warriors to fight against the Europeans who were invading their land without weapons – by simply taking their ploughs and ploughing their own lands – patiently, persistently, and relentlessly ploughing over any and all of the crops that had been planted by the Europeans on the lands they had stolen.

Te Whiti said to his ploughmen: ‘Go, put your hands to the plough. Look not back. If any come with guns and swords, be not afraid. If they smite you, smite not in return. If they rend you, do not be discouraged. Another will take up the good work. If evil thoughts fill the minds of the settlers, and they flee from their farms to the town as in the war of the old, enter not you into their houses, touch not their goods nor their cattle. My eye is over all.

During the campaign, hundreds of Te Whiti’s ploughmen were arrested and imprisoned without trial. But still the ploughmen kept on ploughing – demanding the government recognise their ownership of the land.

On 5 November 1881, 1500 volunteers and members of the Armed Constabulary invaded Parihaka. Some 2000 of the people from Parihaka allowed themselves to be arrested by the troops without retaliation. Te Whiti was one of the first to be led away to imprisonment without trial. However, he continued to demand that his people be treated justly, and that the Europeans return their tribal lands to them. After he returned to Taranaki in 1883, Te Whiti continued his campaign of non-violent resistance in one way or another until the day he died in 1907.

Parihaka historian, Te Miringa, claims Te Whiti was the forerunner of the modern movement for nonviolent resistance. He says Mahatma Gandhi learnt about Te Whiti from an Irish delegation that visited Parihaka. The rest is history.

Title: Te Whiti: The Forgotten Forerunner of Non-violent Resistance
Author: Dave Andrews
Format: Extract from Book, Book
Published: 2011
Publisher: Mosaic Press
Access: Extract on NSLF Online Library. Full book available to borrow in hard copy from the NSLF Library. Contact the librarian to arrange collection.

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