Parihaka is a small Taranaki coastal town, of unassuming buildings and homes. It was founded by 2 strong Christian Māori elders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi in 1866, becoming a model Māori village, impressing European visitors with its cleanliness and industry. It produced cash crops and food sufficient to feed its inhabitants, all built on christian values. on 5 Nov 1881 it became the site of the greatest abuse of Human Rights in New Zealand's History.
Committed to non-violent action, while resisting the theft of their land and protecting Māori independence, it's leaders drew on ancestral and Christian teachings to offer both spiritual and political leadership. Colonial interests portrayed them as fanatics. By 1870, due to the illegal mass confiscation of Māori land, Māori refugee's who wanted peace flocked there, growing Parihaka into the largest Maori village in the country. Those who wanted to fight joined the King movement holding the King Country boundary, allowing no pakeha entry until negotiations opened the area in 1883.
Parihaka condemning violence and greed, began a passive resistance campaign in May 1879. Parliament passed legislation enabling protesters to be held indefinitely without trial by September 1880, hundreds arrested and exiled to South Island prisons were working as slave labour building the infrastructure of cities, such as Dunedin. Many never returned, on average 1 died every 2 weeks. Remaining non-violent due to their faith, enduring imprisonment and death, they are martyrs. Bloody clashes between armed soldiers and unarmed Māori farming their own land, plus the deaths in custody in the freezing South Island jails, was attracting attention from the British House of Commons and newspapers in Europe.
Then on 5 November 1881, Parihaka was invaded. Dawn that morning the invasion force led by 2 Members of Parliament, (Cabinet Ministers), entered Parihaka. 1600 troops and cavalry were met by children singing and offering them food while the adults of Parihaka sat quietly praying together.
The Riot Act was read, and Te Whiti and Tohu were led away to jail in the South Island. The destruction of Parihaka began. Every Women and girl, from 12 years old and up, were raped in a deliberate policy to try to breed Māori out of existance, causing truama and an outbreak of syphilis. It took the army 2 weeks to pull down the houses, leaving hundreds homeless and 2 months to destroy the crops, leaving Māori to starve. Fort Rolleston was built on a tall hill in the village; 4 officers and 70 soldiers garrisoned it for the next 5 years.
But Parihaka did not give up protesting or their stand against evil. Te Whiti and Tohu returned in 1883, their spiritual legacy one of living in harmony with the land and humanity. A legacy of nonviolent resistance action and belief in the peaceful and respectful co-existence of Māori and other races.
In 2003 Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter, Sr., dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College, posthumously honored Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, who led their people in nonviolent protest, by conferring upon them the Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award. Dr. Carter praised the spirit of Te Whiti and Tohu as exemplifying "the victory of the human spirit over barbarism, of justice over evil, and of compassion over greed."