Te Whiti o Rongomai was educated by missionaries and had a wide-ranging, deep knowledge and intense love of the Bible. He could quote large sections by heart. It was his constant companion, and the most important influence on his life.
In 1862, Te Whiti's diplomacy helped passengers and crew shipwrecked off the coast from the 'Lord Worsley'. The book, 'New Zealand Shipwrecks: 195 years of disaster at sea', sums up the outcome of the Lord Worsley incident. "Considering all the circumstances of the case, wrecked as they were upon what may be properly termed an enemy's coast, the Maori behaved very well to the unfortunate shipwrecked people."
Te Whiti went on to become one of the most remarkable of the Maori prophetic figures of the 19th century. Te Whiti and co-leader Tohu Kakahi provided leadership in establishing a unique, model community at Parihaka. Instead of the usual fortified village, Te Whiti created an open village on the banks of the Waitotoroa. Its layout was carefully planned, the economy and agriculture were efficiently managed, the education of the young was organised, sanitation and health measures were enforced, and alcohol was forbidden.
By 1872, the Maori Land Wars of the 1860's were over. But the war had devastated Maori life, and further war was not a viable option. Then, to add to Maori degradation, there was the government's confiscation of vast tracts of Maori land, which was eagerly sought after by the land-hungry European settlers. Part of the land designated for confiscation was on the western flanks of Mount Taranaki and included the village of Parihaka.
Te Whiti was an outstanding orator, and by the strength of his mana, he forged his people into a cohesive and unified community. The two leaders encouraged their people to resist peacefully the unjust occupation of confiscated land, using non-violent means to protest. This was 60 years before Mahatma Gandhi in India.
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 the land and removing the surveyor's pegs etc, as a form of non-violent resistance and protest. As they were arrested and imprisoned, others took their places. This led to conflict with the government. We read yesterday what happened at Parihaka on 5 Nov 1881.
Te Whiti and Tohu were charged with using seditious language, but never tried, despite frequent demands for a fair trial. They remained under arrest without trial for a year in the South Island, but in the end were released. Even so Te Whiti was by no means anti-pakeha. He himself stated:
"What I said and wished to convey was, that the two races should live side by side in peace, . . . the white man to live among us - not we to be subservient to his immoderate greed." - Te Whiti o Rongomai
Te Whiti and Tohu returned to Parihaka in 1883. The campaign of civil disobedience as a protest against the unjust confiscations continued, with the ploughing of disputed lands. Te Whiti was imprisoned again for six months in 1886, and in 1897, ninety-two Maori were arrested for similar actions. A Royal Commission in 1926 found the Maori land claims were just.
Te Whiti was buried at a vast tangi involving people from all over New Zealand. A marble column was erected above his grave, and on it were inscribed these words in Maori and English:
He tangata ia i mahi i nga mahi Nunui, hei peehi i te kino kia tu ko te rangimarie Hei oranga mo nga iwi Katoa i te ao ko tana tohu I waiho ake te tona iwi ki Te Ati-awa he Raukura Tona tikanga Hei kororia ki te Atua i runga Hei maunga-ronga ki runga Ki te whenua Hei whakaaro pai ki te tangata
He was a man who did great deeds in suppressing evil, so that peace might reign as a means of salvation to all people on earth. His emblem, the white feather, which signifies glory to God on high peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind, he bequeathed to his people Te Ati-Awa.
BORN: 1831, Ngamotu, New Plymouth - A member of the Ngati Awa tribe.
DIED: 18 November 1907, Parihaka, Taranaki, New Zealand.