Actions at Parihaka

Image credit: For Diver’s Reasons cartoon, Wellington Advertiser, 1881 attributed to Edward Pharazyn. Ref: A-095-038 Alexander Turnbull Library.

Satirical cartoon of a European man in military uniform sawing the leg of a Māori man, with Mt Taranaki in the background. The leg is marked ‘flour’ and the other leg, marked ‘sugar’, is already removed.

When the government enforced land confiscation around Parihaka in Taranaki, followers of Te Whiti and Tohu peacefully resisted. This cartoon captures the effects of the confiscation. Find out more, and explore our collections and curated resources.

Read a story about Parihaka

The woodcut cartoons printed in Taranaki Punch, a satirical magazine published between 1860 and 1861, are thought to be the first to depict Māori. Many were to do with the war erupting in Taranaki at the time and showed Māori in a negative light, invariably as one of two ‘types’ — shrewd, bloodthirsty savages or primitive simpletons.

A later stage of the Taranaki wars — the 1881 invasion of Parihaka in south Taranaki — prompted another cartoon featuring Māori, which Alexander Turnbull collected from the Wellington Advertiser. At first glance, this brutal image of a man in naval uniform dismembering a defiant Māori man could be read as an attack on Māori.

However, the historical evidence suggests the opposite, with an initial clue in the pencilled text written by Turnbull below: ‘Evidently war in Taranaki. Parihaka?’

Parihaka was founded in 1866 by two rangatira, Te Whiti-o-Rongomai III (Te Āti Awa; ?–1907) and Tohu Kākahi (Te Āti Awa; 1828–1907), who opposed the Māori land confiscation that had followed the Taranaki wars. When the government began to enforce the confiscation, including at Parihaka, the followers of Te Whiti and Tohu resisted — without using violence. Surveying was interrupted, ploughmen ploughed confiscated lands and fencers repaired fences damaged around Māori cultivations. The government’s concern over this opposition culminated in the invasion of Parihaka on 5 November 1881 by 1500 militia and volunteers. The inhabitants of the settlement, who numbered more than 2000, offered no resistance.

Among the invaders was a naval doctor called Henry Diver, represented here sawing off the man’s leg. His name provides the title’s pun: ‘divers’ is another word for ‘diverse’. By 19 November, when this cartoon was published, Te Whiti and Tohu had been arrested, their followers removed, and the village and its cultivations were being destroyed. This may have been the cartoonist’s message — without their economic base, Taranaki Māori were left, literally, without a leg to stand on. The artist may also have been commenting on the government’s credibility over the invasion. The mountain and the tree on the right seem to echo surveyor Charles Heaphy’s famous painting Mt Egmont from the Southward (1840), an idealised scene used to promote colonisation. This cartoon, by comparison, is far from a New Zealand idyll, with the soldiers’ tents at the centre underscoring the domination of Māori by force.

Cartoons are valuable evidence of attitudes to issues of the day and the times — here, that Pākehā did not universally support the government’s actions at Parihaka. This one is also significant as an early example of a cartoon that does not depict Māori in a negative, stereotyped light.

Story written by: Paul Diamond

Copyright: Turnbull Endowment Trust

Soldiers at Parihaka

Image credit: Volunteers soldiers at their camp at Parihaka, ca 1881 by William Andrews Collis. Ref: PA1-q-183-13 Alexander Turnbull Library.

Black and white photo of a military camp at Parihaka showing government troops in uniform, standing in line formation.

Find out more

The Wellington Advertiser was a short-lived newspaper that is thought to be this country’s first to include editorial cartoons. The library’s holdings of the newspaper do not include the cartoons, which were collected separately by Alexander Turnbull.

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