Another Guy Fawkes Day has come and gone with the usual instructions from the long suffering Fire Service to be sensible with incendiary devices, and threats from authority that if we don’t behave we won’t be allowed fireworks next year. I am left wondering about the relevance of a celebration of the safe deliverance from a terrorist plot four hundred years ago to the increasing number of New Zealanders who, unlike me, do not have England in their ancestry. The lure of fireworks is hard to resist.
This year I witnessed a commemoration much closer to home. Parihaka Day marks an event in our history that as a Pakeha I cannot be proud of. Yet as a sometimes struggling pacifist those same events resonate very strongly with me.
In 1881 on November 5th a government invasion force laid waste to the peaceful settlement of Parihaka in Taranaki. More than 2000 Parihaka residents sat quietly on the marae while children at play greeted the army. This was a community that held to non-violent action long before Ghandi or modern peace protests and civil disobedience.
The Riot Act was read and the community’s spiritual leaders (prophets Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi) were arrested and, with many of their followers, later imprisoned under conditions of great hardship in the South Island.
Women and young girls were raped leading to an outbreak of syphilis. Homes and crops were destroyed, and livestock slaughtered or confiscated.
This year I heard a Pakeha friend who has strong family links to that part of the country, together with a Maori colleague speak about the history of that place and their connections of blood ties, of sadness and loss and enduring hope. While the invasion and destruction at Parihaka and related events were shameful, yet from them came a sense of our connectedness, of the interweaving of the destiny of Maori and Pakeha, the power of forgiveness and of the resilience and generosity of the human spirit.
In times of real and perceived terrorist threats we can follow the example of Te Whiti and Tohu and their followers along paths of peace and reconciliation. We can uncover our shared history and celebrate their model of human rights through peace and justice.They join leaders and teachers of all nations and all times who have worked to make the world a better place.