This week I attended a seminar at Parihaka, probably the most significant site of colonial racism anywhere in New Zealand.

Despite an agreement between Crown and Maori, land was taken and sold by the Crown without purchase from Maori to local settlers who set up farms.

They just pinched it, so Maori asserted their ownership by taking down fences and ploughing roads and fields.

The people had farmed the land and sold produce to immigrants and, in fact, many settlers would have been in dire straits had the resourceful community not catered to the needs of surrounding districts.


It was fine, arable volcanic soil, easy pickings for an armed force over an overtly pacifist indigenous community.

The constabulary showed up in big numbers and were met not with aggression but singing, dancing, and the offer of food.

Women were raped by the forces and men arrested and taken off in their hundreds. They were held without trial and then sent to several sites in the South Island where they were locked in caves, forced to work in conditions so dreadful that many died.

The village was destroyed, and an incredibly peaceful community of people were martyred — but not for their faith because they professed Christianity, the same faith as the armed constabulary and the politicians giving the orders.

None of this was done for any other reason than greed, and covetousness. The murders, rapes and false imprisonment went unacknowledged except by legislation to protect the Crown by making legal these atrocious acts.

When those who had survived the imprisonment were allowed to return home, they lived on a tiny remnant of the land they had previously held which, by now, amounted to a few acres. They and their descendants supported themselves by working on the confiscated farms removed from them.

Of course, the stories were told and handed down in songs, chants and sayings because Maori history and language was oral but, as early adopters of technology and "modern" practices, they wrote the histories, too. Photographs of the incidents and what followed are well recorded in museums, books and collections.

The blind eye had been turned and continued to be turned for the next 100-plus years. Kids like former Prime Minister Jim Bolger who grew up within a couple of kilometres of Parihaka never knew the story as it was never taught at school or mentioned in the community.


The vast majority of people living within a mere two hours of Parihaka have never visited the place. Though we have the opportunity to visit and learn the history, most don't and won't — yet many have firm views on history, or at least have very strong views on how we should react to that history.

People will visit fantastic museums such as the Whanganui Regional Museum, the Tawhiti Museum in Hawera, or Puke Ariki in New Plymouth, but never visit the actual sites of battles or significant altercations like Parihaka.

More Taranaki and Whanganui folk will have driven further to visit World War I commemorative exhibits at Te Papa or the National War Museum in Waiouru than will visit Parihaka.

Yet the Land Wars had far greater impact on New Zealand history, prosperity and economic success than any of those campaigns or any since.

One presentation on Tuesday was from Andrew Judd who calls himself The Recovering Racist.

He spoke of the journey he has been on since he started to question himself regarding his views of Maori. He was, of course, preaching to the choir but, nevertheless, it was a challenging address — it was insightful and incite-full.

I found years ago, after making my own inquiries and through reading, asking questions, attending courses and taking advantage of public lectures and site visits, that the process is a bit like clearing out the wardrobe of all the clothes that no longer fit, or I no longer wanted to wear.

It was not easy, but afterwards I always felt happy with the way I presented. More comfortable in my own skin.

Nobody can read letters to the editor, Facebook, stand in a pub or bowling club, or wherever people gather, without witnessing first-hand ridiculous statements from the ignorant and the racist, proudly and authoritatively expressed.

My challenge to readers is to arrange a visit and hear the stories, see the photos and be prepared to be educated in history that has previously been withheld from you.

Visits can be arranged by ringing the marae — contact number 06 7590041 — and speaking to Rita Rukuwai. Google Parihaka and check out some history before you go.

After that, be prepared to self-examine long-held beliefs and measure them against who you really know yourself to be.

*Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.