Parihaka – A Europhobic Guilt-Trip

K R Bolton

Of the many Europhobic distortions of New Zealand colonial history the one that is most notable is the government occupation of Parihaka, a village in Taranaki region, on 5 November 1881. It seems likely that before long Guy Fawkes Day will be replaced by Parihaka Day, which is often mooted, and this will be not a day of festivities but a ‘National Day of Shame’, in which Euro-NZers, especially children, are taught the ongoing evils of colonialism and their collective guilt, for which Atonement must be sought.

Parihaka represents New Zealand’s very own Sharpeville Massacre and Wounded Knee, albeit those two days of White Shame also having been subjected to questionable interpretations.

In 2012 I wrote in the introduction of The Parihaka Cult:

Parihaka is a Maori community in the Taranaki district of the North Island of New Zealand. Its name has been made synonymous, along with that of its ‘prophet’ Te Whiti, with ‘passive resistance’ to European land settlement and governance during the latter part of the 19th Century. It is described in utopian terms as having been a prosperous model community that the Colonial Government tried to brutally destroy.

The Government occupation of Parihaka in 1881 has assumed the New Zealand equivalent of South Africa’s Sharpeville Massacre and the USA’s Wounded Knee. The cult of Parihaka, based on the personalities of Te Whiti and his eventual rival Tohu, are analogous to the cults of the Muslim Mahdi and of the Ghost Dance manifestation among the Lakota American Indians, at around the same time. Te Whiti is upheld as New Zealand’s equivalent to Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi, and is said to be the precursor of these as a great apostle of passive resistance.

This book re-examines the nature of the Parihaka cult by going to the sources of the time, comparing these with the present-day versions, and concludes that the events at Parihaka have been distorted in the interests of contemporary political agendas. Parihaka is already enshrined by national and local government bureaucracies and the education system as an essential part of New Zealand’s historical narrative. It is the New Zealand aspect of a worldwide postcolonial political agenda that denigrates the history and identity of Western Civilisation.

It seems that such was the ‘popularity’ (?) of my book that a reporter for Franklin E-Local mentioned to me a few years later, when seeking a copy from Auckland libraries, that all copies throughout the region seem to have been appropriated.

My primary method was to examine the iconic Te Whiti as a psychotic cult leader of the Jim Jones variety. John McLean of Tross Publications, a source of excellent books re-examining the colonial heritage, in his own recent book on the subject Parihaka – The Facts, is altogether more charitable than myself : Although he accepts most of the same contention that I document in The Parihaka Cult in regard to the sham portrayal as an event akin to The Holocaust, or the Ottoman invasion of Europe, he concedes that Te Whiti was true to his proto-Ghandian pacifism and therefore kept peace where their might have been bloodshed. He even dedicates his book, in the name of modern-day reconciliation, and the concept of ‘one people-one nation’ that is a premise of Mr McLean’s thinking, to both Te Whiti, fellow ‘prophet’ Tohu, Native Minister Hon. John Bryce, who personally led the occupation of Parihaka, and Premier Sir John Hall.

Both McLean and myself utilise for the most part contemporary newspaper accounts.
The newspaper accounts back then were objective, but with some newspapers, seemingly the further away from Taranaki the more likely they were to be in sympathy with Te Whiti.
This, despite Te Whiti’s followers having spent years sabotaging long-suffering, while the government fiddled with endless pleas for Te Whiti to negotiate. The question of land settlement in Taranaki, as elsewhere, was not straightforward: multiple claimants to ownership sold the same land multiple times as part of a great con, which continues to the present in the farcically named ‘Treaty Settlements’, that have been ‘settled’ a dozen times over generation after generation.

What is evident about Te Whiti, and what I believe disqualifies him from any respect, is the shameful way in which he increasingly exploited his followers. His demands for food and money to supply his lavish and increasingly frequent feasts, were unrelenting. To these feasts European guests were invited, and at which he would wax lyrical as a prophet, Old Testament style, using metaphors that indicated an intention of driving Pakeha out, while insisting craftily that such metaphors cannot be taken literally. For example, in June 1879 Te Whiti had spoken of a vision in which he saw Christ who told him that bullets fired at Maori would return and kill the Pakeha, and that in the event of war Christ would descend and drive the Whites into the sea. He stated that those Maori who did not come to Parihaka would be killed by supernatural means. (Bolton, 86).

Meanwhile traditional chiefs were undermined, their pa denuded of both food and people, and widespread disruption was caused to Maori society, as Te Whiti drew multitudes of Maori to Parihaka, while the Government did nothing. Criminals such as the cannibal chief Titokowaru, and his followers, found safe haven in Parihaka. While Te Whiti caused havoc among Maori settlements, among the European settlers his followers pulled up surveyance markers, stole from farms, vandalised barns and fences, ploughed up crops.

Within Parihaka, conditions became so filth ridden, with knee-deep excrement and outbreaks of disease that government medical intervention was required.

By early 1881 Parihaka was reportedly in a poor state with scarcity of food, compelling the digging up of half-ripened potatoes, and many were returning to their own settlements.
The Taranaki Herald reported that Parihaka was infected by vermin for lack of cleanliness and by overcrowding, that it was ‘absolutely filthy through lack of sanitary precautions’, and an outbreak of pestilence was feared that summer. The Maori of surrounding communities had neglected their own affairs, and spent much of the time in Parihaka due to the frequency of the gatherings.
In 1884 an outbreak of cellular erysipelas occurred. The Government sent a doctor, and medical supplies, an action for which Te Whiti and Tohu thanked the Native Minister. Dr O’Carroll reported a ‘terrible state of filth’ there. Further reports stated that the form of erysipelas was known as ‘hospital gangrene’ and was particularly virulent and contagious… (Bolton, 65).

When Bryce intervened in November 1881, Te Whiti had ignored a government ultimatum for two weeks. Not a single life was lost. Hence a myth arose that there was looting and even rape, spreading syphilis, by government troops. The stories are unlikely. Several journalists had sequestered themselves within the village while the occupation ensued. A large number of civilians observed proceedings from a nearby hill. Even Communist writer Dick Scott, author of The Parihaka Story (1954)and Ask that Mountain (1975), later concluded that ‘Parihaka reports go too far’. He also repudiated allegations that those taken as prisoners were used to build half the roads in the South Island and that hundreds died.

A prime aim for Bryce was to return those who had been drawn to Parihaka to their home villages, which had been denuded of people and crops. One thousand of those sent back to their original villages were women and children, who had been shamelessly used by Te Whiti in his ‘passive resistance’.

There was a respite when Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested, and in their absence Parihaka was made fit for human habitation, while the two prisoners were given tweed suits, and treated like honoured guests of HMS, as they toured New Zealand, Te Whiti commenting that he had been ‘very hospitably entertained’. On their return to Parihaka in 1883 conditions reverted.

Authorities closed two ‘sly grog’ shops in 1898. The prophet himself could hardly have disapproved of the sales: In 1887 Te Whiti had been fined £10 for ‘sly grog selling’.178 When a force under Inspector Pardy came to arrest Te Whiti’s confidante, Te Whetu, for ‘sly grog selling’ ‘a general rush was made [at the constables], constable Twomey being thrown to the ground and constable Roche also got a severe handling’. The affray lasted around 15 to 20 minutes, and was brought under control by the order to fix bayonets. Apparently this is an acceptable part of ‘passive resistance’ because it did not involve the use of guns by Maori. Te Whetu was known as ‘Te Whiti’s fighting man’ and was considered a ‘notorious character’. In 1895 Wehi was also convicted on two charges of ‘sly grog selling’ at Parihaka.

According to Jean Jackson, a botanist who has studied the use of plants by Maori, Parihaka women were put to work making corn liquor, and she suspects that Te Whiti kept his followers drugged… (Bolton, 74).

The harassment of settlers became worse, and the attitude of the Government was again deferential, much to the chagrin of traditional Maori chiefs.

By the time Te Whiti and Tohu both died in 1907 they had become bitter rivals, with their own followings within Parihaka. The Young Maori Party regarded Te Whiti as a fraud, and saw the deaths of the two as a new chance for Maori. Of the 1200 at Te Whiti’s funeral about half were Europeans, indicative of the way Te Whiti’s mana had quickly fallen. At Te Whiti’s funeral Homi, son-in-law of Tohu, who had died shortly before, eulogised:

It serves you right, you tribes, to have believed these two men. Talk about words. Wind! What is the use of their predictions; they have all come wrong. You have been duped! … These men were past masters in word-painting; that is all! You have been deceived. You should have awakened to that fact. (Bolton, 108).

Let Homi’s be the lasting eulogy.


K R Bolton, The Parihaka Cult Black, House Publishing, London, 2012,

John McLean, Parihaka – The Facts, Tross Publishing, Wellington, 2020,

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