parihaka memorial

The Parihaka Memorial outside the Dominion Museum.
Credit: Photograph by Andy Palmer, Manatū Taonga

On the north-west corner of the old Dominion Museum building is a memorial to the prisoners from Parihaka, in Taranaki, who were held at Mount Cook Barracks in 1879. Their story of passive resistance has continued to inspire many today.

The memorial

The main stone of the memorial is symbolic of a prisoner wrapped in a blanket, with a bowed head. Stones gathered from streams in Taranaki form the base and represent the prisoners held in Wellington and later sent to South Island gaols. The white pebble stones inset into the paving refer to the lost genealogy of the men taken who died in the prisons. The spiral also symbolises the journey the prisoners took from Taranaki to the South Island.

The story of Parihaka

War in Taranaki

By 1865, 809,000 hectares of Māori land in Taranaki, from Pukearuhe (near the White Cliffs) in the north to the Waitōtara River in the south, had been seized by the government under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 – at least on paper.

In 1868 Ngā Ruahine leader Riwha Tītokowaru fought a campaign against colonial forces in response to the continued Pākehā occupation of their land. Tītokowaru’s forces gave the colonial troops several humiliating defeats, and the government only gained the upper hand after Māori support for Tītokowaru declined.

By mid-1869, although fighting had ceased, colonial forces carried out several expeditions to round up one-time allies of Tītokowaru. In June 1869, 123 men, women and children of Ngāti Ruanui hapū (subtribe) Pakakohi surrendered. Another 110 were captured over the following weeks.

At the end of the year 94 men were sent to Wellington and held at Mount Cook prison for three months before being tried. After they were found guilty, 74 men were sentenced to hard labour and sent to Dunedin to carry it out. The prisoners built, amongst other things, the Andersons Bay causeway. They were freed in March 1872.

The community at Parihaka

Taranaki prophets Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi established the inter-tribal pacifist community of Parihaka on the lower slopes of Mount Taranaki near Cape Egmont in the mid-1860s, at a time when Māori were being violently removed from their lands. Te Whiti and Tohu’s aims were to resist the invasion of their land and to protect Māori independence. They drew on both Māori and Christian teachings, and advocated good relationships between all races as long as Māori ownership and independence was respected. The movement soon attracted Māori from around the country, and by the 1870s Parihaka was the largest and most prosperous Māori community in the country.

Parihaka lands were amongst those confiscated by the government in the 1860s, though this confiscation was not immediately enforced. In 1878 the government began to survey the Waimate plain, north-west of Hāwera, for sale to European settlers. Te Whiti initially allowed the surveying, but the surveyors largely ignored any fences, crops and villages, and the promised Māori reserves were not accounted for in their plans.

overlooking parihaka pa about 1880

This photograph of Parihaka was probably taken in the late 1870s.
Credit: Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference: 1/1-012101-G. Photograph by William Andrews Collis. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Passive resistance by ploughing

In March 1879 followers of the Tītokowaru, who had aligned himself with the Parihaka community, started pulling up survey pegs from their land on the plains, and on one occasion men from Parihaka packed up the surveyors’ camp and moved it across the Waingongoro River. The government’s response was to try and move European settlers onto the land as quickly as possible, though the sales were postponed while an enquiry was held into Māori grievances on the plains.

Te Whiti was included in the early stages of the inquiry, but was subsequently ignored. Te Whiti’s response was to send out men to dig land near Ōakura, not with their traditional kō (digging sticks), but with the European plough. They went on to plough confiscated land held by settlers around the Waimate plain.

In response the government moved in the Armed Constabulary (a military police force), with orders to arrest ‘any native who ploughed again’. Te Whiti then organised a disciplined resistance, and ordered that only men of mana should plough. When they were arrested, others would take their place. The ploughing parties were unarmed and unresisting, and went off to gaol cheerfully.

Prisoners at Mount Cook

In all 195 ploughmen were arrested. As Taranaki gaols filled, the government decided that all the ‘Maori insurgents’, as they called them, would be sent to Mount Cook Barracks in Wellington. Speedy alterations and repairs were made and an encircling palisade built. The first 48 ploughmen arrived in Wellington on the Hinemoa on the morning of 6 July 1879. Newspapers reported that ‘All the natives were well provided with clothing and blankets, and seemed in very good humour.’ Other ploughmen were shipped to Wellington over the following months.

On 10 July the steamer Patea brought 29 more prisoners to Wellington. The Pākehā media of the time was not sympathetic – this time they were described as, ‘the most disaffected on the Coast.’ On their arrival at the gaol, there was reportedly ‘riotous conduct … [by the] mutinous natives,’ when Whakaurira (a chief) asked that their rooms be swept clean by their guards.

Prisoners shipped to the South Island

The government was concerned about the potential influence of Te Whiti on the prisoners and decided it would be prudent to imprison them in the South Island. The prisoners were shipped out of Wellington in the early morning on 8 January 1880. The Evening Post newspaper reported that ‘91 were put on board the Hinemoa, bound for Dunedin, in custody of thirty Armed Constabulary; and forty-three on board, the Stella, for Hokitika, with twenty Armed Constabulary in charge.’

Held without trial

The ploughmen were never tried. A succession of government legislation meant that they could be ‘detained’ indefinitely, but that they would not be tried or punished, although they were made to work. The first prisoners were released after 15 months in gaol, with many others there for up to two years.

Passive resistance by fencing

In 1880 a commission into confiscated Māori land in Taranaki reported that the West Coast people had legitimate grievances, however no native reserves were set aside. Instead the Armed Constabulary was sent in to make roads and prepare for settlement. Fences surrounding Parihaka fields and cultivations were broken by the constabulary, and then repaired by Parihaka people. The cycle of breaking and repairing went on for two weeks before the inevitable arrests. The arrests stopped only after 216 fencers had been detained and sent to gaols in Dunedin, Lyttelton and Hokitika.

The government was intent on settling the Waimate plain with Pākehā and started surveying the arable land to the west of Parihaka. Te Whiti allowed the survey to proceed without opposition, but as the 1881 planting season approached the people of Parihaka started work on their gardens. They ignored warnings that they were on ‘government land’. By this time most of the fencers and ploughmen were back in Parihaka after being released from gaol.

Arrest of Te Whiti and Tohu

In September newspapers were reporting a ‘Serious State of Affairs At Parihaka’ and the government desired an end to the resistance. They wanted to arrest Te Whiti, and later that month seized an opportunity. At a half-yearly hui (meeting), Te Whiti gave a speech which some translators interpreted as threatening and rebellious. Despite knowing that there were no preparations for war taking place at Parihaka, the government decided it could charge Te Whiti with sedition.

In October a government proclamation gave the Parihaka residents 14 days to accept the reserves the government ‘intended’ to set aside for them. On 5 November 1881 a force of 1,600 volunteers and soldiers of the Armed Constabulary entered Parihaka. They were greeted by children singing waiata (songs) and women offering loaves of bread. Te Whiti and Tohu were asked to answer to the proclamation. With no answer forthcoming, the Riot Act was read to the 2,500 people on the marae. An hour later the two chiefs were arrested, without resistance, and led away. Over the next few weeks most of Parihaka’s inhabitants were dispersed to their places of origin and the village systematically demolished.

Te Whiti and Tohu spent six months imprisoned awaiting trial. Faced with the likelihood of the collapse of the trial, the government urgently passed special legislation that allowed for their indefinite incarceration without trial. They were exiled in the South Island for 16 months.

looking over parihaka pa about 1890

Looking over Parihaka towards Mount Taranaki, around 1890.
Credit: Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference: 1/1-012106-G. Photograph by William Andrews Collis. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Continued resistance

Upon their return in March 1883, Te Whiti and Tohu began rebuilding Parihaka in grand style, with support from Māori outside Parihaka. Differences between Tohu and Te Whiti started to become evident: Tohu refused to be influenced by Pākehā ways, while Te Whiti saw merit some merit in them.

The people of Parihaka continued to resist to the loss of Māori land. On 19 July 1886 around 500 Māori started to build a whare (house) on farmland near Manaia. In the afternoon the leaders, including Tītokowaru, were arrested. The remaining Māori left and the whare was pulled down. The same day a small group of Māori who were camped at Ōakura prepared to plough the land in protest.

While Te Whiti was not present at either site, he was arrested the following day and charged with inciting a breach of the peace, which was later reported as forcible entry and rioting. The prisoners were all held at the Terrace Gaol in Wellington awaiting the trial. In early October Te Whiti was sentenced to three months in prison and a fine of £100. Tītokowaru and the other eight defendants were each sentenced to one month in prison and a fine of £20.

In November 1897, 91 Māori were sentenced to two months prison after ploughing land near Hawera. Though the arrested claimed a link to Parihaka, it is unknown what knowledge Te Whiti had of their actions.

te whiti's monument at parihaka

A photograph of Te Whiti's monument at Parihaka taken about 1910.
Credit: Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference: 1/2-001269-G. Photograph by David Duncan. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.


The ‘new’ Parihaka had fine buildings, roads and modern amenities and was described in 1902 as being up with the most advanced municipal developments in the country. Despite the tensions between the two leaders, Parihaka continued as a centre of non-violent resistance to settler laws until the deaths of both men in 1907.

Their message of non-violent resistance and the spirit they engendered has survived them to this day.

Further information

Updated on 14th November 2019