ReadingRoom

Dick Scott, RIP: the Pakeha of Parihaka, part 1

All this week we acknowledge Dick Scott, who died on New Year's Day, and was the author of one of the most seminal books ever published in New Zealand. Today: an excerpt from Ask That Mountain.

No bugles called up the Parihaka expeditionary force on the morning on November 5, 1881. They silently mustered for the assault. It was to be a surprise attack and bugles were not sounded for fear of raising the alarm.

Shortly after 5am the volunteer force moved out from Rahotu in a long column and the armed constabulary marched down the road from Pungarehu to join them. At the Parihaka turn-off an advance guard of 109 men moved in skirmishing order up the road to the village. Each man carried two days rations and 40 extra rounds. Pack-horses supplied reserve ammunition, there was artillery support and an ambulance wagon trundled behind.

With rifles at the ready the troops ran from cover to cover, cautiously surrounding their objective. They were described as “straining on the leash” as they closed in on the silent village, “eager to settle once and forever the Maori question of supremacy”.

Colonel Trimble, a Taranaki  MP, had warned parliament that there were many who “would knock a Maori in the head just as they would a mad dog if war broke out”. And now every hill and valley was alive with enthusiastic amateurs waiting for the first shot to signal the attack. In camp there had been drunken boasting as to who would shoot the first Maori.

About seven o’clock a forward unit advanced on the village. And there they met the first wave of Te Whiti’s shock troops – two hundred half-naked little tararahiki drawn up in lines to completely block the way. In the face of the troops they calmly chanted songs and spun tops. Behind them groups of older girls, skipping in unison, made the second line of defence.

The constabulary marched straight at the children wheeling sharply around only at the last moment when it was clear that they would hold their ground. The cavalry was brought in to clear  a path. But as the troops reached the front ranks their horses shied away. The older children had taken off shoulder mats and shaken them to put the horses to fright. “After that”, Te Whiti’s son Nohomairangi recollected years later, ”the soldiers rushed the women and called them ‘bloody black niggers’. They swung their swords, threatening to cut the women’s heads off.”

When the advance party finally reached the centre of the village it found the people packed in one dense mass on the marae. Some 2500 Maoris had been sitting there since midnight awaiting the attack – their only surprise at the appearance of the army was at the lateness of its arrival. The people sat in complete silence while at intervals Tohu or Te Whiti briefly addressed them with a word of encouragement.

Just after ten o’clock, a constabulary officer came to the edge of the marae and read the Riot Act - the act commanding “persons unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled” to disperse upon pain of receiving a possible jail sentence of hard labour for life. No one stirred. The officer gave the people one hour to leave Parihaka. With him were a hundred men handpicked for their size and strength and carrying revolvers and tomahawks for actions at close quarters. Not one person paid them the slightest attention.

The order was given that Te Whiti and Tohu were to be arrested and the constables were to clinch their handcuffs tight and shoot down instantly any Maori who raised a tomahawk. If one rifle had gone off by accident, it was boasted, “a general fusillade would soon have reduced the village to a shamble”.

Te Whiti was told to come forward. But if [expeditionary leaders] Bryce and Rolleston wanted to see him, let them come to him, Te Whiti answered.

“I will remain with my people,” said Te Whiti. “I have nothing to do with the trouble this day, it is my not my trouble but the pakehas.”

Bryce insisted that Te Whiti had no choice in the matter. Te Whiti told the interpreter, “I have nothing for but good words in my mouth for him (Bryce) or anyone.”

Bryce said, “Make a good road for the passage of my horse through your people and I will come to you.”

Te Whiti: “But some of my children might get hurt.”

Bryce: “No; this is a quiet horse.”

Te Whiti: “I do not think it good that you should come on horseback among my children. If Mr Bryce wants to talk to me, let him come on foot.”

Bryce: “The days for talking are over.”

Te Whiti: “When did you find that out?”

Bryce: ”Since this morning.”

Te Whiti: “I have nothing more to say.”

Bryce then ordered the constables to go through the crowd and arrest both chiefs. The moment they laid hands on Te Whiti  he rose and Colonel Roberts shouted: “Let him walk if he will.” With great dignity, Te Whiti and Tohu drew finely-woven korowai cloaks about their shoulders and moved through their people. Their wives followed them. As the two leaders walked to captivity they gave cheer to their followers. “This day’s work is not my doing. It comes from the pakeha,” said Te Whiti. “On my fall the pakeha builds his work; but be you steadfast in all that is peaceful.”

…On November 22 when the last batch of 150 prisoners was marched away over 2200 people had passed through Bryce’s hands. Only 20 had left voluntarily, some 1600 were scattered across hundreds of miles of pakeha-dominated territory and 600 were allowed to remain. The land was ready for delivery to private owners. Bryce’s work was done.

The largest, most prosperous town in Maori history had been reduced to ruins in little under three weeks.

Reproduced with the kind permission of Penguin RandomHouse, from Ask That Mountain: The Story of Parihaka by Dick Scott (first published 1975), dedicated to the memory of Whatarau Ariki Wharehoka, “man of Te Whiti & Tohu”, buried at Parihaka, March 17, 1973.

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