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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



The Chief Te Whiti now became the central figure of the drama. He was a sort of New Zealand Gandhi—a passive resister. He was regarded by his followers as a prophet with some strange power of wizardry. He knew the Bible almost by heart, and had evolved a mystical religion of his page 155own. Thousands of natives poured into Parihaka where he lived, and stripped themselves of all they possessed to sustain his entourage. Great chiefs of higher lineage than Te Whiti trembled before him. He even claimed to be able to raise the dead, and his deluded subjects actually brought in armfuls of clothing in which to dress their friends when they should be resurrected. But ostensibly he remained a man of peace. His earlier objections to the Government surveys seem reasonable and quaintly humorous.

Your survey is wrong (he said), being without my consent or authority. Where is the piece to be retained by the natives? Where are the promises of McLean and Parris that the lands in the occupation of the natives should not be taken from them? You say let me and the Governor sit down on the blanket. The Governor will not do that. He is dragging it all away for himself. From the way the surveys are being conducted, it seems that you want to take the whole of the blanket and leave me naked.

No immediate response was made to Te Whiti's complaint. He now resolved to make some more forcible demonstration to bring matters to an issue. In May 1879 he set up a claim to all the land not only of that district, but of all New Zealand. To assert his title he sent out parties of his followers to plough not only the land in dispute but other lands at some distance away held by settlers under Crown grants. Gradually he became more and more arrogant and defiant. The Grey Government arrested some of his ploughmen, but more natives under orders from Te Whiti took their place.