Our Most Difficult Story


Waiapu News, April Issue 2006
Anglican Media Officer - Lloyd Ashton - recounts the tragedy surrounding Mokomoko and Volkner
Of all the stories that lie behind the 2006 Waiapu pilgrimages, perhaps none is more gruelling than this one. Certainly, as far as the Whakatohea leader Te Riaki Amoamo is concerned, there’s nothing much to celebrate about the March of Western Civilisation reaching Opotiki and his people.
It’s brought few benefits to them. ... sadly, at crucial points in the past, the Anglican Church has been part of the problem.

To understand how he feels, we first needed to head to Rangiaowhia, a tiny speck on the map outside Te Awamutu, and consider the events that happened there in February 1864.
And we needed to hear about Kereopa Te Rau, of Ngati Rangiwewehi, a hapu of Te Arawa. Kereopa was one of the first disciples of Te Ua Haumene, the founder of Pai Marire (Good and Peaceful), an indigenous religious movement with Old Testament roots. Kereopa was in Rangiaowhia at the time.
But after the events at Rangiaowhia in February 1864, Kereopa wasn’t feeling peaceful.
Who can blame him? Because his wife and two daughters had been killed there by British troops, and his sister was killed a few days later.
What’s more, Kereopa felt betrayed by the church. In Te Riaki’s view, Kereopa’s daughters “were killed in a place of worship, more or less”.
He explains: When the British missionaries began spreading the Word among Maori, there were no churches. The place of worship then, according to Te Riaki, was the meeting house. And the time for worship, or so the missionaries had instructed, was when people heard the bell.
Furthermore, when those missionaries sensed that the Land Wars were coming, they also taught Maori that, at the sound of the bell, women and children should make their way to sanctuary in the meeting house.

But something came tragically unstuck at Rangiaowhia. The bells didn’t deliver that promised safety. Not on February 21, 1864, anyway.
Because General Cameron’s soldiers did come. And sure enough, the bells did summon the women and children to the safety of the whare.
But the whare was torched, with several children, including Kereopa’s two daughters, burned alive in it.
That’s the story that Te Riaki Amoamo tells, anyway.
Te Ua Haumene had long wanted Kereopa to take Pai Marire to Opotiki. He did. But after Rangiaowhia, Te Ua Haumene’s words to Kereopa about “going in peace” sailed out the window.
“He swore savage vengeance on all missionaries,” says Te Riaki. “He’s reported as saying: ‘Friends, this is a word from God to you. If any minister or other European comes to this place, do not protect them. He must die.”
Tragically – most tragically for the Whakatohea people – the CMS missionary Carl Volkner was unlucky enough to have just returned to Opotiki.
He’d gone to Auckland, and had been warned not to return by Maori who felt he was a spy. But Carl Volkner didn’t stay away. He came back to his doom.
Of course, Volkner hadn’t killed Kereopa’s daughters. But he represented the church, and then there was that spying allegation. On March 2, 1865, he was strung up, and Kereopa was apparently the instigator of that lynching.
Because of that one man’s misdeeds – a man who wasn’t one of theirs – Whakatohea reaped a whirlwind. They suffered then and continue to suffer.
Te Riaki concedes that “some militants of Whakatohea would have followed Kereopa, but not all of Whakatohea.”
The first consequence for Whakatohea was that their rangatira, Mokomoko, was arrested, tried and hanged, in May 1866, for Volkner’s murder.
His pardon in 1992 tells you that was a bum rap.
But Mokomoko’s execution was only the beginning of Whakatohea’s punishment. The government then confiscated 490,000 acres from the iwi – and banished the so-called “rebels” among them to the 20,000-acre Opape Native Reserve.
“That,” Te Riaki says, “was like an Indian reservation. We put on the reservation.”
He should know. He grew up there.
And the truly bewildering thing for Whakatohea is that it’s almost impossible to see how that hurt and damage, which they live with every day, can ever be fully repaired.
Yes, Mokomoko has been pardoned. Cleared of any trace of wrongdoing. But there’s no chance that the other part of that wrongful punishment – the loss of 490,000 acres – can ever be fully undone.
“We cannot get our land back,” says Te Riaki. “Only the land occupied by the State Owned Enterprises. You cannot upset the other landholders. There are farmers on much of that land today.”
“That’s the March of Western Civilisation,” he says.
“When the conquerors take over, they put the ones who were living on the land, into a reserve.”
“It’s a story that’s got to be told, so the other side will know it.”
And told it was, line upon line, detail upon detail, version upon disputed version, by Bishop George Connor at Hiona St Stephen’s, to a full congregation of pilgrims, parishioners and local visitors – Mokomoko’s whanau among them.
When Bishop George had finished, Te Riaki Amoamo was invited to give his reading of the story. But he only added details: clearly the two men were agreed about the substance of the story.
Of the events that Bishop George recounted, two incidents remain, for many of the hearers, etched in their minds. In 1992, the former Minister of Treaty Settlements, Doug Graham, delivered Mokomoko’s framed Crown pardon to Waiaua, Mokomoko’s marae. That was a noble gesture. No doubt the Minister saw it that way.
But the Minister didn’t have Te reo – and none of his aides translated the speeches that followed. Had they done so, Doug Graham would have heard the people’s irrefutable logic:
“They’d had Crown confirmation,” says Bishop George, “that their ancestor wasn’t guilty. So if their land was taken because he’d earlier been considered guilty – then why shouldn’t the land now be given back?
“What kind of justice doesn’t see it that way? That’s how most Maori see it.
“And yet how do you deal with that? People can’t begin to get their heads around what the consequences might be.
“Most Pakeha think of all this as ancient history, and are always saying: ‘we should move on’.
“But how can you move on, when you’ve not only been unjustly demonised, but you’ve also been unjustly economically disadvantaged?”
A few weeks later, Mokomoko’s weeping great granddaughter brought that pardon to Hiona St Stephen’s, cradling it to her chest – and telling how she’d never set foot in the church before, because as a child she was told she belonged to the family of a murderer.
So what ‘s to be done now? How do you find a way forward from that impasse?
“I don’t know,” says Bishop George,” other than just going on and telling the story and trying to get it accepted as true.”
Is that the main need, then? To keep telling the story in the hope that the popular discourse will change?
“Yes. I think that’s right. Because until we can hear the story, until we get a generation of people who, in general, accept it as true, we won’t even begin to think how it might alter our perceptions…”
And so we travelled the last leg of this pilgrimage – Waerenga-a-Hika, near Gisborne,” the hinge of fate,” as the Waitangi tribunal described it, in relations between local Maori and the Crown.
After Volkner’s murder in 1865, Pai Marire evangelists had headed south from Opotiki to Turanga (the original name for Gisborne) to spread the word. They were joined by other Hau Hau, who’d been driven from Waiapu by 260 Ngati Porou warriors.
A majority of Turanga Maori converted to the new faith, promising as it did to protect their lands and independence against an apparently aggressive Crown.
They hastily built a pa, virtually next door to Bishop William William’s
Waerenga-a-Hika Anglican mission station.
After Volkner’s murder, tensions in Turanga were high – and Donald McLean, the Government’s Land Commissioner on the East Coast, decided, once and for all, to rid Turanga of Pai Marire, and to force and end to the neutrality of the Turanga tribes.
So, on November 17, 1865, using the mission station as their base, a combined force of Government troops and Ngati Porou warriors launched an assault on the Pai Marire pa, which now sheltered about 800 Maori, including 300 women and children.
When the siege ended, four days later, more than 70 Turanga Maori had been killed. Many of those Pai Marire men were then exiled by the Crown to the Chatham Islands.
And even though he’d fought on the Government side at Waerenga-a-Hika,
Te Kooti – once a man with hopes of becoming an Anglican lay preacher – was later accused of being a spy, and also railroaded into exile in the Chathams. When Te Kooti and his followers escaped from the Chathams in 1868, the district was thrown, once again, into turmoil.
In more than one sense, the era of Pai Marire – Good and Peaceful – was finished.
Lloyd Ashton is the Anglican Media Officer