Parihaka 1970s

by vivian Hutchinson


THE MATAKITE MAORI LAND MARCH had finished eighteen months beforehand, and I was living and working in Auckland. I was also regularly traveling back home to Taranaki to continue supporting the work that kuia Matarena (Marjorie Raumati Rau Kupa, or Aunty Marj) was doing at Parihaka. 

For the previous decade, Aunty Marj had been leading a restoration project on the marae in which a large former dining room, the twin-gabled Te Niho o Te Atiawa, was being transformed into a new meeting house.

The Parihaka community was once at the heart of a passive resistance campaign against the colonisation and confiscations of land in Taranaki in the 1860s. Even after the brutal sacking of the “Village of Peace” in 1881, there were still hundreds of people living there or visiting the marae on the holy days of the Prophets, the 18th and 19th of every month.

But four generations later, by the 1970s, Parihaka was virtually a ghost town. What had been a thriving village had now only one or two people as permanent residents. The bell was still being persistently rung on the monthly holy days ... but there were many such times when no one turned up.


Kuia Matarena Marjorie Raumati Rau Kupa, photographed at Te Rewa Rewa Pa, near the Waiwakaiho river, New Plymouth

Aunty Marj’s very identity was steeped in what Parihaka stood for. Her father Hamiora Raumati had been brought up in the household of Nohomairangi Te Whiti. Nohomairangi was the son of Te Whiti o Rongomai (one of Parihaka’s original prophetic leaders) and he had married Marj’s grand-mother, Ngaropi Damon.

Aunty Marj had a vision, and she also had a mission. Her vision was that the teachings of the Parihaka prophets of the 19th century were going to be just as important to the 21st century. She saw thousands of people from all over the world coming to Parihaka to hear the history of the marae, and learn about the continuing messages of fostering peace, and pursuing non-violent action for change.

Her mission was to restore a venue so that the people of Parihaka could welcome these guests, and offer the manuhiritanga or hospitality that could show the best of Taranaki culture and heritage. 

Te Whiti o Rongomai's former home and grand meeting house, named Te Raukura, had tragically burned down in 1960. But fortunately, the equally historic dining room Te Niho o te Atiawa had escaped the blaze.

So Aunty Marj started on the restoration and transformation of this building. And she invited, cajoled, and hood-winked anyone within speaking distance to come and help her out with her determination.


(above) Kuia Sally Karena

(below) Kuia Ina Okeroa and Neta Wharehoka


The main support came from three Parihaka women whom Marj respectfully described as her own Aunts – the kuia Ina Okeroa, Sally Karena and Neta Wharehoka. They were primarily supported by Te Ru Koriri Richard Wharehoka, who later became one of the more prominent kaumatua of the Parihaka community. Between them, with various husbands and wives, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins and friends of these families ... they were all drafted in to help with the restoration.

In addition to this, Aunty Marj also had a very wide and eclectic network of Pakeha friends ... local artists, writers, musicians, historians, museum workers, church ministers, spiritualists, teachers, carpenters, farmers and gardeners, young hippies, and high school students like myself. Any of whom might just wander into Parihaka to tentatively see what Marj and the Aunts were up to ... and then be given a job to do.

Aunty Marj was an activist whose main instruments for change were friendship and the weaving of connections. Anyone who knew her quickly came to understand that it would be a fierce friendship. She was curious and kind, and she was also a strict disciplinarian around matters of decency and tikanga, and she did not suffer fools lightly.

She drew her guidance from the Taranaki symbol of peace - the three white feathers of an albatross, known as Te Raukura. These feathers signified the Christmas message that was at the heart of the teachings of the Parihaka prophets ... and it was not a sentimental message. It had been an enduring guide for behaviour and action towards peace and reconciliation in the face of the destruction of Maori communities and assets throughout the late 19th century.

He kororia ki te atua i runga rawa

He maungarongo ki runga i te whenua

He whakaaro pai ki nga tangata katoa

Glory to God on High

Peace on Earth

and Goodwill to all Mankind


Te Niho o Te Atiawa Meeting House 1977

In restoring Te Niho and turning it into a new meeting house, Aunty Marj also wanted to create the space for a different type of conversation to take place.

She was one of the first kuia to invite groups of school children onto the marae so that they could experience a Maori world on its own terms.

She also reached out to a wider Pakeha community – to reintroduce them to their own wilfully forgotten histories of war, colonisation and the thefts of land. And in doing so, she wanted to create a place for the sorts of conversations that could lead to real peace and reconciliation.

She established some innovations – especially in setting up the interior of Te Niho o te Atiawa as if it was a lounge in your own home, complete with couches and carpet on the floor. This was quite a different meeting place from the usual style on marae at the time.


(left to right) Pat Brophy, Wai Uatuku, Alwyn Owen, Te Miringa Hohaia, Katerina Hohaia, Ngahina Hohaia, Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru, vivian Hutchinson, Aunty Marj Raumati Rau, and Hilary Baxter, in Te Niho o Te Atiawa 1977.

The restoration of Te Niho took nearly five years. When the house was re-opened, and in line with her vision of the thousands of people that she was expecting, Aunty Marj symbolically gave the key to its front door to “the students and teachers of the world”.

If you looked at Parihaka in the 1970s, you may have thought that such a vision and its mission was close to being delusional. But Aunty Marj was not trying to recreate some nostalgia amidst a toothless ghost-town.

She knew well that Parihaka had not just been a village of peace, but also of prophecy. And, as her own participation in the Maori Land March had shown ... the guidance of these prophecies and the practice of non-violence was very much alive and still shaping the life of our nation.

So amidst the cooking, and cleaning and hosting of a steady stream of visitors to the refurbished Te Niho, I stepped outside to photograph the Parihaka of 1977. I was looking for images that might capture a seemingly ghosted village on the cusp of its own renewal.

If Marj and the other kuia of Te Niho were right, then this was a place that was going to look very different in the decades to come.


vivian Hutchinson
Winter 2018