Tuesday 29 November 2011

Back to front

This is Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi where an eternal flame burns above the simple black marble platform and an endless stream of school parties, pilgrims and tourists - as well as the odd world leader - come to pay homage, walk around the tomb three times, and visit the two nearby Gandhi museums. One of them is in the house where he was living when he was assassinated, and where his last footsteps have been replicated in concrete leading up some steps to the little gazebo where he was killed.

He is, of course, rightly and understandably venerated in India and all around the world, and his campaign of civil disobedience and passive resistance was one of the things for which he's remembered and seen as an inspiration. But he wasn't the first to think of this way of reacting to oppression by a stronger force. Fifty years earlier, at Parihaka in Taranaki two Maori chiefs, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, led their people in exactly that when Government surveyors came onto their land: they politely removed the pegs and fences and ploughed up the settlers' crops planted in Parihaka soil.

It all came to a head on 5 November 1881 when 1500 armed troops rode into the village where children welcomed them with songs and dances and offered them freshly-baked loaves, while the adults sat silently on the ground. The chiefs and hundreds of their followers were arrested and imprisoned without trial, the village was pillaged, the women raped, the houses destroyed, and the land seized without compensation. Parihaka never recovered and the settlement dwindled to almost nothing, from a population of 2500 down to four.

Now it's being resurrected, and groups of tourists, like us last week, are being welcomed and fed just as the soldiers were (except with a very tasty 4-course meal), told the story and shown the grave of Te Whiti, which is almost as simple as Gandhi's. It's a good thing that Maata and her people are doing there, but shameful that it's the only way that New Zealanders can learn the detail of such an important event in our history and about two such influential men, who are commemorated nowhere else.

Gandhi has a statue in Wellington, though.

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