Te Whiti and Tohu
Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi were notable prophets, who were Taranaki kinsmen and married to sisters. In 1862 Te Whiti had helped passengers and crew escape from the wreck of the Lord Worsley; four years later, endorsed by Te Ua, the two men established the pacifist community of Parihaka (formerly Repanga). The new name recalled the lamentations of the people.
The community held monthly public meetings on the 17th (later 18th), discussing the scriptural promises and the confiscated lands of Taranaki. Te Whiti, who was the greater orator, repudiated the authority of the settlers’ laws over Māori. At first the two men shared the leadership on a six-monthly rotation; later, they quarrelled over money and divided the settlement into two segments, each leader presiding over his own marae. During the 1870s Parihaka grew into the largest Māori settlement in the country.
Surveying and ploughing
In 1878 government surveying of the confiscated southern Taranaki lands for European settlement began. In response, from May 1879, under the initial direction of Tohu, the Parihaka men went out to reclaim this land by ploughing. As they were arrested and imprisoned, others took their places, people coming particularly from Pātea, Whanganui and Waikato. Te Whiti said, ‘The settlement to be by Europeans and Maories, the Maories on their reserves and the Europeans on the remainder but the Maories being owners of the soil to receive “takoha” [tribute] from the Europeans.’1 He wanted to make Parihaka ‘Israel’, the new kingdom for Māori, and sought to reclaim their rangatiratanga (chieftainship) guaranteed by the Treaty of Waitangi.
Government sacks Parihaka
Responding to the growing level of Māori support for Parihaka, on 5 November 1881 the government sent troops to break up the community. All outsiders were expelled (about 1,600 people), and their homes destroyed. Te Whiti, Tohu and a third Taranaki prophet, Tītokowaru, were arrested and spent six months imprisoned awaiting trial. But the Supreme Court judge threw out the charge of obstruction laid against Tītokowaru.
Faced with the probability of the collapse of the remaining trials, the government urgently passed special legislation allowing the indefinite imprisonment of Te Whiti and Tohu. Sent to the South Island, they were released after two years. They returned to reconstruct Parihaka as a model (and modern) community.
Te Whiti was again arrested in 1886. He returned in 1887, but in 1891 was declared bankrupt. Despite this, and the tensions between the two leaders, Parihaka continued as a centre of non-violent resistance to settler laws until the deaths of both men in 1907. The raukura, the single albatross feather worn by the people, symbolises peace; it is understood as a sign of sanction by the Holy Ghost, left at the foundation of Parihaka.