The New Zealand Wars: Parihaka and the Birth of Nonviolent Resistance

The New Zealand Wars Part 5: The East Coast Wars

Directed by Stephen Tainui (2017)

Film Review

Part 5 mainly covers the East Coast wars between 1865-72. Triggered by the Māori murder of a missionary caught spying for the Armed Constabulary, these wars killed more unarmed civilians than the earlier conflicts.

In 1866, despite fighting alongside government forces against Hauhau members of Pai Marire movement, the Māori leader Te Kooti was accused of espionage and imprisoned (without trial), along with captive Hauhau in the Chatham Islands.* Led by Te Kooti, 300 prisoners overwhelmed their guards, seized a supply ship, and forced the crew to return them to the North Island.

Taking refuge in the Urewera Mountains, they survived three unsuccessful attempts to recapture them. Eventually defeated at Ngātapa pā, Te Kooti and his remaining supporters retreated to King Country – still regarded as sovereign Mäori land under the protection of the Mäori king.

In 1870, government forces ambushed Te Kooti and his remaining supporters after luring them to Rotorua under the false pretense of peace negotiations. After Te Kooti himself escaped to the Urewera mountains, the government undertook a brutal campaign of burning farms and slaughtering local Tuhoe who supported him. Nine years later he received a formal pardon and a plot of land (belonging to another iwi) to facilitate government plans to open up King Country to European settlement.

Although most historians date the end of the New Zealand wards as 1873, Mäori continued to exert sovereign control over discrete areas of New Zealand for an extended period.

King Country remained closed to Europeans until the mid-1880s, when iwi leaders agreed to the extension of the North Island Main Trunk Railroad.

South Taranaki resisted settler incursions until the peace colony at Parikaha was invaded in 1881 by 1,500 members of the Armed Constabulary. The latter slaughtered many of the men (and raped many of the women) and sentenced surviving men to forced labor in the South Island.

Parts of Northland remained sovereign until 1890, with Māori losing most of their Northland holdings through the Native Land Court and Public Works Act confiscations.

Parts of the Urewa forest also remained off limits to Europeans until heavily militarized police invaded Maungapohatu in 1916.


An important fact not mentioned in this series is that Māori only lost 4 million acres of land in the New Zealand Wars, in contrast to 8 million acres lost (between 1860 and 1890) via the Native Land Court and legal confiscations. In 1890 they still controlled 40% of New Zealand. By 1910 they controlled only 27%;  in 2000 only 4%. See https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/interactive/maori-land-1860-2000.


*The Chatham Islands form an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean about 800 kilometers east of the South Island of New Zealand.

**Many historians view Parihaka as the birthplace of nonviolent resistance, based on evidence Gandhi was influenced by the history of peace colony’s nonviolent movement. Parihaka’s leaders greeted invading forces by sending children hot with hot bread for the soldiers.

Racial Repression and Police Terrorism in New Zealand

An Innocent Warrior

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

In 2007, after spying on them over an extended period, New Zealand police arrested charismatic Maori leader Tame Iti and his supporters in so-called “anti-terrorist” raids. The saga began when a police SWAT teams launched an assault on the families in Iti’s small rural community and established a massive blockade preventing all movement in and out of the region.

Iti and three other people (the “Urewera Four”) were accused of running a terrorist training camp and of being members of a criminal group. After the high court threw out the “terrorist” charges as being unlawful, the group were ultimately convicted of unlawful possession of firearms.

Filmed over seven years, the documentary follows Iti as he fights to clear his name. In a surprising turn, the government apologizes to his Ngai Tuhoe tribe for historical oppression – and the police apologize to Iti and his family.

The video can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at An Innocent Warrior

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