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Frontier Of Dreams

Sundays 6.40am | TV ONE


From the mid-1860s a group of Maori in Taranaki took a new approach to resisting land confiscation - they became pacifists. Two religious leaders, Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, led a highly effective protest that would inspire future generations of Maori.

Even after most of the fighting was over, Maori were still being displaced from their lands. Te Whiti and Tohu had experienced violence in the past and realised the only thing they could continue to protect was a sacred peace.

They established Parihaka, a Maori settlement where protecting sacred peace became as important as holding onto land. According to Te Whiti and Tohu's followers, the Holy Spirit descended on Parihaka in the form of an albatross, leaving a feather approving the path of peaceful resistance.

The site on which Parihaka stood was technically confiscated land. The government wanted it and ordered surveys. Te Whiti and Tohu's followers politely escorted the surveyors off the land. Te Whiti wanted justice, so he came up with a series of non-violent actions to prove his point. He ordered his men to plough up the land; settlers were outraged and flooded the government with telegrams demanding action.

The police began arresting ploughmen and around 200 were shipped to Dunedin where they worked on constructing a causeway. Working mostly in water, the bad conditions killed an average of one person per fortnight. Such imprisonments continued until 1898.

The government passed more harsh laws. New acts meant that Maori could be arrested for damaging a survey area, erecting a fence or just digging in the ground. No warrants were needed and prisoners could be detained indefinitely.

As the non-violent protests continued, Minister of Native Affairs John Bryce decided to move on Parihaka. Bryce assembled a force of 1600 armed men and gave Te Whiti 14 days to submit.

On 5 November, 1881 the massive force advanced on the peaceful village. The troops were met by a crowd of singing and dancing children. Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested, charged with intending to disturb the peace and led away.

Despite no Maori resistance, troops sacked and looted the village, destroyed most houses and crops and raped several women. The people were marched off the site and the two leaders were exiled to the South Island.

The events of 1881 have left painful memories for Te Whiti and Tohu's followers. Today, they continue to keep alive their leaders' memories and non-violent philosophies on their marae at Parihaka.