Monday, November 5, 2007

Parihaka - a nonviolent village

Dearest Family and Friends,

I was in the middle of doing some research for a blog on the concept of the village, when the remarkable evening Jack and I spent last night demanded that I devote a blog to it. The focus is the history of Maori nonviolent action, but it is also the story of a village. The images above are firstly, the village event of Parihaka's men returning from years in gaol, in 1898, and secondly, an artist's collage of many aspects of this history. (They should be reversed, but my blog skills grow only in tiny increments.)

Last night, Jack and I drove the short distance to Riverside Community, a 65 year-old settlement founded by Christian pacifists. It is no longer Christian, but maintains a strong peace culture. Members of the community had worked with local Maori to produce this event. It took place in a beautiful hall which once was the Methodist Church for the Riverside Community. The event began with a calling into the hall by conch horn. The 100 or so people who moved into the hall spanned infancy to advanced age. The narrative was told in Maori and English, in voice, dance and song, very movingly. Then four community members rotated to the four quadrants of the room, speaking simultaneously quotations of key figures on nonviolence. A Maori Anglican priest spoke, then went to the courtyard to bless the ample and delicious potluck dinner.

Over dinner Jack and I conversed with a Maori public health worker who wants to move forward with plans for a Maori village, and is interested in what we're doing, as we are in what she's doing. We'll have dinner with her next week.

Then there was another 'coming together' of people in the hall, singing a most beautiful Maori song, which seemed known to many folk there, including nonMaori. A young Maori spoke spontaneously of the importance of the occasion, and of unity between peoples. He said that in Maori gatherings a speech to the community was followed by a song. He would play one on the flute about All-encompassing Love. Even the little kids listened quietly.

Then, astonishingly, seven giant marimbas were carried in and set up, and the place erupted in Zimbabwean music played by 9 local (white) people. Everyone, of all ages, was bouncing with joy. You can't imagine how loud seven giant marimbas could be. I never saw Jack dance so happily and for so long. There was a pause while the players reminded us that Zimbabweans weren't themselves having much fin these days...we noted, and then bounced on. How is it, I ask, that this little town (popn. 6000) has such a group? I was told that another little town over the mountain pass in Golden Bay, has an even bigger Zimbabwean marimba group.


So, what's the story of Parihaka?

It's set in the mid- to late 19th century, when land developers were encouraging European immigrants to come to New Zealand, and attempting to take over Maori land for that purpose. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, but in this shameful phase of NZ history, was flagrantly ignored. The NZ government supported this surge of land acquisition and European settlement, desiring the tax revenues that would accrue. Worse still, there was an influential group of landowners, known as 'the Mob', profoundly racist, who actively desired war with the Maori, expecting and hoping to exterminate them. They were supported by some New Zealand newspapers. War erupted in 1860 and after stalemate and truce, flared again as settlers moved in and took over Maori lands. In the south-west of the North Island, in the shadow of beautiful Mount Taranaki, lay the lands of a people headed by two men generally referred to as 'prophets' -- Te Whiti (pronounced 'te fiti') and Tohu. Together they generated a philosophy of radical nonviolence in response to this situation and strategies to implement it. Te Whiti was described as the greatest orator in New Zealand at that time; Tohu was more retiring.

Prior to incursion on their land, Te Whiti and Tohu had shown the utmost friendliness to pakeha (Europeans), speaking repeatedly of the need to share the land, and expressing willingness to give up some of it for European settlement. 'Enough blood has been shed for that land. Let no more be shed.' They founded a new village at Parihaka. On the 17th of every month, the anniversary of the beginning of the wars, thousands of people came to Parihaka to hear Te Whiti speak. The two men were known by all as a peacemakers. Their village was known as a model village.

Certain elements of the government were determined to provoke a war. Surveyors were sent in to the cultivated areas around Parihaka to mark settler holdings. They cut through gardens and trampled crops. The villagers quietly removed their pegs overnight. Eventually, on Te Whiti's orders, the Maori in the area surrounded the surveyors, packed them, their instruments and their camping equipment on to carts, and conveyed them all out of the area.

When settlers came to take up their holdings, teams of ploughmen were sent out by Te Whiti and Tohu. With their horses, they began before dawn and ploughed until dusk, conveying symbolically that this was their land for cultivation. They were described as 'very civil and dignified' and no settler was ever threatened. Te Whiti said, ' I am cutting a furrow to the Governor's heart.' Two hundred ploughmen were arrested. the government passed a bill allowing Maori prisoners to be held without trial. The government collapsed; Te Whiti ordered the ploughing to cease.

The new Native Minister was John Bryce, whose answer to the problem of disputed Maori land was to take it all by force. He moved hundreds of troops to the area on the pretext of repairing the roads. 'Even though the bayonets of the soldiers blind your eyes with their brightness, do not flinch,' Te Whiti told his people at Parihaka. Te Whiti announced that he wanted the road repaired and sent several cartloads of food to the soldiers working on it. In return, the army band performed for them.This was not at all what Bryce had in mind.

The chief surveyor changed the course of the road and drove it through the Parihaka gardens, breaking down the fences around them. In the morning the army returned and found the fences repaired and the road blocked. They broke them down again and the Maori rebuilt them again and again.The colonel in charge telegrammed Bryce to say that the Parihaka men were very reasonable and wanted gates across gaps in the fences. Bryce refused to authorize gates and ordered the fencers arrested. Day after day Te Whiti sent new teams to repair fences after each team was arrested. This was played out 40 or 50 times. Some prepared themselves for arrest by wearing their best clothes and holding out their hands for the handcuffs. At one point, 300 men and boys descended on the roadline, dug up the road, sowed it with wheat and put up a fence. Bryce introduced more legislation to make erecting a fence punishable with two years' hard labour. Hundreds of Maori from the area received this sentence. As the men dwindled in numbers old men and children carried on the demonstrations, the singing children known as tatarakihi - cicadas. The government had had enough. Bryce was ordered to stop taking prisoners. He resigned as Native Minister.

But the land confiscations did not stop. Te Whiti's thousands of acres of mountain forest, plains and beach was to be reduced to an inland town, its inhabitants living on handouts and surrounded by white farms. An armed force was sent to amass outside Parihaka. Te Whiti never wavered in his attempts to accomplish 'an extraordinary political feat - to forge a permanent and not merely an expedient peace between two of the most bellicose peoples in the world, the English and the Maori' (Walker).

It is not right that fear of war, or imprisonment, should be made master of the world, and that the great and strong, by coercion, should become masters of creation. It is not right that the men of the island should be made slaves to fear of war, anger and vexation or that the land should be relinquished from that cause. If it happened to be the case that the world had been created in a feeling of anger and vexation, then it would be right that these moods should continue to rule the world, and conclude all things. But no, the world was created through love and all things made upon the face of the earth were created out of affection and love. Therefore I say, since things commenced with love, our affairs should continue by love, through to the end. (Te Whiti)

Then Bryce, back in power, unleashed the dogs of war. Volunteer whites streamed into the area. The army was ready to strike. Te Whiti gave a last address to 2500 to 3000 people, including many pakeha.

The canoe by which we are to be saved is forbearance. Let us abide calmly on the land...Be firm, that the world might be informed and hear the good word.

Tohu said:
I shall place no weapons in your hands. You were imprisoned for ploughing and fencing, but there is no imprisonment for what we are now doing. I will not take you away from death or from the mouth of the guns; I will thrust you into the mouth of the guns and on the point of the sword.
"I will not save you or give you any means of escape. If any warlike man among you ask me what is to be done I will not answer him ... I have no place to hide you except in this marae, and we cannot be overcome ... Those who flee from the guns will fall by them. If you are overwhelmed in this day be patient ... have faith ..."

A Maori policeman was sent out to invite Bryce and his escort into town. Bryce declined. Bryce had imposed a news blackout, but five journalists sneaked by the patrols, were welcomed by Tohu, hid in the cookhouse, saw and recorded everything. The thousands of people of the town sat quietly on the marae, the forecourt of the great meeting house. One of the journalists described 'a prevailing sadness, as though they felt a great calamity were approaching...It was saddening in the extreme; it was an industrious, law-abiding, moral and hospitable community calmly waiting the approach of men sent to rob them...'

The army advanced. 'At the first sight of the soldiers, a great cheer rose from the gates of Parihaka. Two hundred children, the cicadas, ran out to meet the soldiers. The boys began to sing and perform action dances. Behind them were girls with skipping ropes and 500 loaves of bread that had been baked during the night for the soldiers.
The advance guard marched on the children and wheeled away at the last minute, unsure of how to proceed. Bryce then ordered a cavalry charge, but the tatarakihi sang on as the horses thundered towards them. "Even when a mounted officer galloped up and pulled his horse up so short that the dirt from its forefeet spattered the children, they still went on chanting, perfectly oblivious, apparently, to the pakeha,' one old soldier recalled...' (Walker) He described how he found his way blocked by skipping parties. When he grabbed a skipping rope, he suffered a rope burn. He picked up one girl and carried her to the side of the road. He looked back to see his men grinning at the ridiculous sight.

Officers went to the packed marae and read the Riot Act. The crowd did not acknowledge them and kept their eyes fixed on Te Whiti. Tohu spoke briefly:

Let the man who has raised the war finish his work this day. We will wait where we are...Even if the bayonet be put to your breasts, do not resist...'

For an hour, nothing happened. Then Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested. As they were led away, both spoke words of encouragement to the assembly and urged them to remain steadfast in peace.
A woman began to cry. Another said to her, 'Why are you sorry? Look! He's laughing as he goes away with the pakehas.' The people remained on the marae all day until darkness fell. The next day the town was destroyed and the people dispersed.

Parihaka was rebuilt by Te Whiti when he was released from prison. Today it is the site of an annual international peace festival.

Several more things were said in the oral narrative we heard on Monday night. One was that the children born of rape after the destruction of Parihaka were accepted and loved by their communities. Another was that Gandhi heard the story of Parihaka in South Africa. I am immensely moved and inspired by this story. The captain of the arresting party said that if one rifle had gone off by accident among the Maori, there would have been a mass slaughter. No one was killed. (One officer suffered skipping rope burn!)

For a long time, I've been told, Parihaka Day, November 5th, was commemorated in the mood of 'Look what they did to us.' Now the mood is 'Look what we, the Maoris, invented in the 1880s in response to the brutal colonial treatment. We have a message for the world.'

Love to all my family and friends,

Walker, Peter. The Fox Boy: the story of an abducted child. Bloomsbury, 2001.
Oral narrative of Parihaka Peace Gathering, Riverside Community, 2007.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Idea of the Village

Dear Friends,

In this blog entry, I'd like to convey some of the ideas that have been developed about the characteristics of villages to be built in this project.

Why a village at all? While most humans have lived in villages (settlements of 500-5000) for most of human history, the last century has seen a strong and continuing trend to urbanization, recently passing a milestone in which about half the global population now lives in cities. Many who live in villages would rather live in cities, especially in the low income countries, where cities offer better education, better health care, more stimulus and novelty, sometimes greater acceptance of diversity. Yet nostalgia for whatever people imagine a village represents is readily apparent. Bits of cities are often wistfully labelled 'villages', as are retirement homes and gated communities. What is it people long for?

This particular village idea of the Sustainable Settlements group is a response to the complex global ecological and economic crisis of climate change, coming oil scarcity and other resource depletion. The thinking behind it is that humans are very rapidly degrading the Earth's capacity to support many species, including ourselves, and we must learn to respect and live within the biophysical limits of this capacity. It is not only the ominous climate change effects of greenhouse gases, it is degradation and depletion of fresh water, of soil, of fish stocks, of coastal ecosystems and so on. It is the addition to the ecosphere of chemical and radioactive substances foreign to it, and of genetic combinations that did not evolve in the web of life, but in the laboratory, and have unknown effects on the web.

The thinking behind this village development includes an awareness that an adequate response to the climate change crisis entails a need to stop and eventually perhaps reverse the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This obviously means minimising the use of fossil fuels. The peaking of oil supply will support this process, but, as a result of inadequate planning for it, it is likely to cause severe economic disruption in the short term. It is important that populations, whether rural or urban, plan for so-called 'post-carbon' living.

Technological development, especially in alternative energy resources, will be part of the solution to these challenges, but this needs to be done very carefully. Since the unthinking application of technology has got us into this species-threatening mess, we need to appraise very carefully the impact of old and new technologies on the web of life over time. We, the group working on this project, believe that both the need to respond to climate change and the need to prepare for peak oil are urgent issues. We think it is unlikely that alternative energy sources will be able to fill the gap that will grow between demand for energy at current rates of consumption and supply. Even if projected levels of energy demand could be met at some time in the future, we contend that use of that energy to move and change matter in the biosphere will unbearably strain its biophysical limits to a point incompatible with supporting large human populations.

We are convinced that alternative energy sources, though important, will not solve our fundamental problems, and that we must experiment with different ways of living. We need to live so as to move ourselves and our goods around much less, that is, we need to be closer to the sources of supply of our basic material needs. We need to use less energy generally and to take care of water, soil, wood and so on, with lower material throughputs in our economies.

In addition, since about a third of excess carbon in the atmosphere comes from changes in agricultural practices exacerbated by cheap oil, we need to move quickly to take care of the soil in such a way that it becomes a carbon 'sink' and not a carbon 'emitter'. Returning organic matter to the soil through 'no-till' methods and other agriculture methods is crucial, urgent and scarcely mentioned in general discourse on this topic. The technologies for this are known, but as with cheap oil, government subsidies are perverse and keep the wrong practices going. The agricultural practices that will accomplish this are more labour-intensive. They would reverse the global trend to rural depopulation. There needs to be reruralization of the land.

Over the last 30-40 years, the idea of agriculture that works with Nature rather than dominating and 'denaturing' Nature has developed. One of these developments, Permaculture, originating in Australia, has now been applied successfully around the world. It demonstrates the capacity to restore damaged land and to enable growing food on poor and marginal land. Its 'healing' of the soil entails the soil holding, instead of releasing, carbon in organic matter, thus extracting it from the atmosphere. It has a strong focus on knowledge - of land, water cycles, natural energy systems and storages, species that benefit humans, evolution of manmade ecosystems and the need for constant study of the land. I'll say more about Permaculture in a future blog.

Here, of course, is where the idea of village fits - a human settlement where people learn to live with lower consumption of energy and materials, to grow food, fuel, fibre and building materials near to where they use them, by means of agricultural systems that restore rather than damage land and improve natural carbon sequestration.

They will need to

  • live in well-insulated and smaller houses with passive solar heating

  • grow food close by with more intensive land-care, although not necessarily more laborious agriculture

  • rehabilitate land to better support human settlements by use of Permaculture technologies, restoring fertility, productivity and beauty.

  • restore native habitat in some areas, thus preserving species

This will mean people will be more closely connected to the land that supports them, and will be more aware of how many it can support.

This way of living, whether done in rural or suburban areas, cannot be done by isolated families very easily or effectively. It needs a community, and a highly knowledgeable one. There needs to be expertise in hydrology, soil, Permaculture, botany, food processing and preservation, ecology, land management, land and forest restoration, animal husbandry, architecture, business, economics, small scale democracy, conflict resolution, political advocacy, education and research in a range of areas.

But large, dense conurbations of many millions of people, hundreds of kilometres from their food sources, with infrastructure needing high energy inputs, may find it difficult to reduce their fossil fuel dependence and their dependence on destructive carbon and methane-emitting agricultural practices. This kind of human settlement is possible only with high energy inputs, which are unlikely to be available in the future.

While historically, villages grow organically and slowly, experiments along the lines decribed need to take place rapidly, and with the expectation of errors. It will be an advantage to have multiple experiments, and systems of rapid learning from each other. There are Permaculture villages in Africa, India and other developing countries from whom to learn.

There are aspects of this transformation that may seem unattractive at first glance - less car use, growing one's own food, smaller houses, travelling much less. What about access to high culture and higher education and the stimulus of city life?

We need to consider that some of the health problems of urban life, obesity, diabetes etc., are closely related to ways we transport and feed ourselves. And what is it that people long for in the idea of 'village'? Most clearly, they long for community, to be part of a small population of people that belong to a place and take care of it and each other. Is it possible to have great intellectual stimulus, higher education and high culture in such settings? There is clearly enormous intellectual stimulus in the application of a whole range of abilities to the problems to be solved in living in a way that doesn't hurt the Earth. Villages generate arts in music, dance, visual art. ( A good deal of the cultural and intellectual activity we've participated in over the last six weeks has been centred in Riverside, a nearby community far smaller than a village, but with a 65 year tradition.) Christopher Mare, who has studied human settlements from a historical perspective, claims that the two most sustainable civilizations in human history, classic Egyptian and Mayan, were village-based. They both comprised clusters of villages that related to centres of religious activity. These civilizations generated some of the world's most impressive architecture, visual art and intellectual accomplishment. Regarding higher education, young people may continue to benefit from travel to centres of higher education; technologies of distance education advance continually.

It will be important to demonstrate that a Permaculture village is an attractive way of life. Currently, very large numbers of people are acutely aware of global ecological problems and willing to act on them. But beyond blue boxes and light bulbs, they often don't know how. The technologies of a Permaculture village can be partly applied to suburbs and to small towns or less dense areas of cities. Retrofitting houses, converting land to grow food in or near urban areas, working near to home and public transportation will be part of what needs to be done. But it will also be important to get more people on to the land to reverse that one-third contribution to greenhouse gases and sequester carbon in soil.

All of this is not a sufficient response to either the climate change crisis or the problems of peak oil. Political advocacy at all levels from local to global is needed. Issues of carbon tax, transportation, land use, housing, economic incentives and many more require social action. This action may be more powerful if it comes from people and groups who are living the solutions to the problems.