Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sedition by Example XVI: Te Whiti and Tohu

(An occasional history of the abuses committed under our archaic law of sedition)

Address by Erueti Te Whiti-o-Rongomai III to a meeting at Parihaka, September 17th, 1881 (as recorded by C. W. Hursthouse):

This is the chief quarrel of this generation. We quarrel with all to-day. There is no other word but quarrel. Mine is the land from the beginning. I say to all Kings, Governors, Prophets, and wise men stand up with your weapons to-day, but the land will not be released. The quarrel is arranged by us to be here. Neither the King not the Governor shall turn us off the land to-day. Carry on to the land the quarrel; let them be the ones to use the weapons. We quarrel for the place which is said to be the land of the Government. Take to-day your guns and weapons. Pakehas, come with your guns; Maoris, come with your guns - by the weapon alone shall things be settled in these days.

In the wake of the invasion of Parihaka, with the government looking for reasons to imprison him, Te Whiti was charged with sedition for uttering these words. Notably, the charge included not just the talk of quarrels and weapons, but also the phrase "mine is the land" (naku te whenua). His fellow prophet Tohu was charged with a similar offence. Both were jailed to await trial, but that trial never came. According to Crown prosecutors, the case was weak, and the reports of the meeting "garbled" (likely due to problems with both transcription and translation). Rather than risk an acquittal, the government enacted the West Coast Peace Preservation Act 1882 - an act of attainder - which allowed both men to be detained indefinitely at the pleasure of the Governor. They were not released until February 1883.

(Sources: Taranaki Herald, November 12th, 14th, and 15th, 1881; Waitangi Tribunal Taranaki Report, chapter 8).