Parihaka Earth Festivals


IN SEPTEMBER 1978, a series of small gatherings began at Parihaka marae which introduced a whole new generation of Pakeha people to a Māori world on their doorstep. It also awakened many of the participants to a history and inheritance of war and the opposition to the land confiscations that took place in Taranaki in the 19th century.

This cycle of gatherings continued to be held annually for the next seven years, and saw a steady stream of Pakeha visitors from throughout New Zealand and the world come to respect and honour the legacy of Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, the Parihaka prophets of Peace, and to learn more about the passive resistance struggles of Taranaki Māori.

The gatherings were also designed to be cross-cultural “festivals” which featured workshops and conversations about environmental concerns, alternative lifestyles and the diverse spiritual traditions which offered insights into creating healthy communities through justice, peace and reconciliation. 


THE PARIHAKA EARTH FESTIVALS grew out of the friendship between Taranaki kuia Matarena Raumati Rau-Kupa (Aunty Marj), local community activist vivian Hutchinson and the Auckland-based astrologer Gretchen Lawlor. Kuia Matarena saw the gatherings as part of her vision of welcoming the “students and teachers of the world” to Parihaka to learn about the example and heritage of the prophets of Peace.

For the previous decade, kuia Matarena had been leading a restoration project on the marae in which the former dining room, Te Niho o te Atiawa, was transformed into a new meeting house.  She was supported in this work by a large network of elders, friends and relations, including the Parihaka kuia Ina Okeroa, Sally Karena and Neta Wharehoka, and kaumatua Te Ru Koriri Richard Wharehoka.

At the recommendation of Gretchen Lawlor, the first Earth Festival was timed to coincide with the Spring Equinox, 21st September, which was also the International Day of Peace. Later gatherings were either held around the Spring or Autumn Equinoxes.

Kuia Matarena gave the name “Te Raa Aranga”, or “day of emergence” to the first Spring gathering, recognising that this was a sacred festival that had been celebrated by communities for thousands of years in places like Stonehenge in Britain, and had also been observed in many other cultures around the globe. 

When Matarena was asked one evening as to why she was hosting the Festivals at this time,  she replied that these gatherings would help remind Pakeha people that they also come from indigenous traditions.

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THE EARTH FESTIVALS were multi-generational and multi-cultural and attracted participants from all parts of the country. The gathering sizes could fluctuate between 30-100 people. There was a particularly large number of young people who turned up who were in their late teenage years or their early 20s.

The popular youth culture at the time was the American and British counter-cultural movement commonly known as the hippies. This was essentially a reaction (or “counter”) to the post-war consumer society of the 1950s and 60s.

The hippie movement became an explosion of alternative ideas and lifestyles which flourished in New Zealand in the late 1970s culminating in a series of huge summer music festivals like the Nambassa gathering in the Coromandel.

This counter-cultural movement could be seen beyond the music to fashions in clothing and the arts and publishing, as well as a growing interest in community living, co-operatives, organic gardening, vegetarianism and natural healing ... and a fresh push for the civil liberties of women, minorities, and gay and lesbian people.

This was a time that also saw an explosion of interest into deeper aspects of Christianity, as well as exploring an alternative array of religions, spiritual enquiries and “personal growth” practices.

When such a large number of these “alternative” Pakeha young people turned up at Parihaka to the Earth Festivals, they drew much curiosity and sometimes consternation or amusement from the Parihaka locals. Yet they were generously welcomed and hosted ... while, in later years, earning the tongue-in-cheek label of “Ngati Hipi”.


Whina Cooper (1895—1994) speaking at Owae Marae, Waitara on Maui Pomare Day, 27 June 1975, beginning her campaign to gain support for the Māori Land March. photo by John Miller



Māori Land March leaving Te Hapua, 14 September 1975 with vivian Hutchinson, Cyril Chapman (carrying the pou whenua), and Moka Puru. photo by The Auckland Star

A SIGNIFICANT INFLUENCE on these gatherings in the 1970s was the emergence of a new phase of indigenous land rights activism, and its impact on the views of mainstream Pakeha society. 

Kuia Matarena and the elders of Te Niho had been active supporters of the Matakite Māori Land March led by Dame Whina Cooper in 1975.

vivian Hutchinson had been on the organising committee of Te Roopu o te Matakite and campaigned with Whina Cooper to gain support for the Land March in the six months before it started. Gretchen Lawlor and her partner Steve Tollestrup had also walked on the Land March, which left Te Hapua in the Far North on September 14th and  reached Parliament Grounds in Wellington a month later.  This protest had a direct influence on the establishment of the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal and became a significant influence in later land rights struggles.

By 1977, the main focus of Māori land rights protest was on the occupation of Takaparawhau (Bastion Point) at Orakei in Auckland City. This was led by Joe Hawke of Ngati Whatua who had also been one of the organisers of the Māori Land March. There had also been a connection between the Bastion Point protestors and Parihaka that had been reinforced by a private visit by the Ngati Whatua leaders to Te Niho o te Atiawa during their time of occupation.

On 25th May 1978, however, the government of the day sent in more than 600 army and police officers to forcibly remove the protestors, arresting 222 people. They demolished the meeting house, other make-shift buildings, and the community gardens.

The Ngati Whatua leadership responded to this sacking with peaceful and passive resistance – a resolve that showed that Bastion Point had become the Parihaka of a new generation.

The negative public reaction to these government interventions later proved to be a turning point in national attitudes towards Māori grievances.


The police cordon around the protest village at Bastion Point during the eviction on 25th May 1978. Photo Ministry for Culture and Heritage

IT WAS ALSO in response to this climate of protest and dissent that the idea of the Earth Festivals at Parihaka took root. Kuia Matarena advocated that, alongside the necessary acts of protest and resistance, we also needed to create places that explored a different conversation between Māori and Pākehā, and one that reached across racial, political and spiritual differences.

Her view was that as we faced our difficult histories together and addressed the ongoing questions of justice, we also needed to lay a much deeper groundwork for the friendships that could lead to peace and reconciliation.

The Earth Festivals were innovative in that, at this time in the 1970s, there were just not that many opportunities for Pakeha people to visit marae and get to know a Māori world on its own terms. Most of the participants were keenly aware of the privilege being offered to them, and the learning and responsibilities that came with such an invitation.

The Festivals were influential in that they introduced participants to a history and a face of New Zealand that they had never experienced in their own families, or been taught at school.

Several participants later went on to become involved in the anti-racism and treaty training workshops in the 1980s, or to introduce and support Māori points of view and initiatives within community organisations and networks and government departments.

The festivals were also personally transformative. Many participants reported that not only were they being introduced to a Māori world ... they were also awakening to a different understanding of themselves as Pakeha New Zealanders. They were awakening to a deeper sense of their citizenship that was also tied to this place.

And for a whole bunch of the young people involved, these Festivals taught them how to gather. The example and guidance of the Parihaka elders had a definite impact on the culture of gatherings that these young people went on to create in their own communities and workplaces throughout New Zealand, and the world.


Kuia Matarena in Te Niho o te Atiawa, answering questions after her presentation on the history of Parihaka and the passive resistance campaign of the 19th century. photo by Jane Dove Juneau from the 1983 Autumn Equinox Festival

THE FIRST WORKSHOP at every gathering was from kuia Matarena who spoke on the history of Parihaka and the lives of the prophets of Peace. Her presentation was based on the oral histories of her own elders, as well as the documentary research of friends and historians such as Dick Scott and Michael King. In later years, she worked with vivian Hutchinson to assemble a fuller presentation that included the slides of photographs drawn from the archives of the Taranaki Museum and the Alexander Turnbull Library, with a recorded commentary.  The slide-and-tape presentation was the first audio-visual about the history of Parihaka, made well before the availability of video technology at a community level.

The presentation was finalized for the centennial commemoration of the sacking of the Parihaka village by colonial troops in November 1881. It was first presented at an art exhibition commemorating Parihaka held at the Govett Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth. The audio-visual was thereafter shown regularly in the Taranaki Museum, and in secondary schools throughout the province.

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IN NOVEMBER 1983, Kuia Matarena and vivian Hutchinson were invited to become part of the speaking and touring group for the international One Earth Gathering, a 7-day festival that was held at the Tauhara Centre in Acacia Bay, Taupo.

Kuia Matarena spoke on Māori and wider indigenous issues, while vivian spoke on unemployment in New Zealand, and the work of the New Zealand worker co-operative movement.  Other speakers in this “Festival of Awareness” represented subjects as diverse as Aboriginal land rights, organic agriculture, horticulture and orcharding, new approaches to business, appropriate technologies, meditation, health and wellness, community living at Findhorn in Scotland, contemplative Christianity, clowning, and the visual and performing arts.

After the Taupo gathering, the speakers went on a 13-city tour from Dunedin to Whangarei, convening public meetings and leading workshop events. The public meetings during the tour used a version of whaikorero or circle sharings as their main format for introducing the One Earth Gathering speakers. This style of meeting had been directly influenced by the evening whaikorero held at the Parihaka Earth Festivals.

One of the unexpected bonuses of the national One Earth tour was the dozens of people who came to public meetings, who had also previously attended the Festivals at Te Niho o te Atiawa.

They gave a tangible sense of the diverse impact these small Parihaka Festivals had gone on to have in vastly different areas of New Zealand life ... as the young participants had moved on to find their place in educational institutions, in arts and cultural activities, community services, working in businesses or establishing their own social enterprises.

Seasons.pngTHE CYCLE OF EARTH FESTIVALS lasted for seven years before kuia Matarena and some of the key organisers turned their attention to other work and responsibilities. Some of this included running gatherings elsewhere, or working with other community issues and whanau or social services in New Plymouth.

Yet many of the friendships and relationships that were established during the Earth Festivals have proven to be enduring in the 40 years since they began.

Many of the participants are now grand-parents ... who look back and can see that these gatherings were a significant incubator and contributor to what their lives had become. And the Parihaka Earth Festivals had also helped to shape the craft and the genealogy of future gatherings that would continue to unfold in Taranaki, and around New Zealand.


Spring 2018

Written for the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Festival
held at Te Niho o Te Atiawa, Parihaka, Spring 1978