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Church youth trek to first Parihaka peace festival

A contingent of Methodist young people was among the thousands who made the pilgrimage to Taranaki last month to attend the inaugural Parihaka International Peace Festival.

Conceived as an offering of peace, the festival was a chance to celebrate and exchange stories, skills and understandings in the spirit of Parihaka’s non-violent legacy. Among its offerings were music, dance, theatre, comedy, film, korero, original medicine, traditional crafts, and carving and weaving symposiums.

The Decade to Overcome Violence sponsored a number of youth leaders to attend the peace festival. Among them were Te Taha Maori and Tauiwi youth workers Keita Hotere and Te Rito Peyroux. They were joined by three Te Taha Maori rangatahi from the Hokianga rohe and four rangatahi from the Taranaki rohe.

The young Methodists stayed at Ngamotu Mission House in New Plymouth and drove out to Parihaka every day for the festivities.

“On the powhiri day a group of Moriori from the Chatham Islands had come to share their kaupapa of peace with the people of Parihaka. They had come to remember the past and the Parihaka story of the leaders Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu and their passive resistance to colonial oppression.”

“On the first day we parked on the road and walked in to the festival. We didn’t realise how far it was or how rugged the ground was. There were three maraes around Parihaka Pa and there were events on all of them,” Te Rito says.

“At one there were Maori language classes, at another there was a healing workshop and at another marae there was a peace forum with different speakers. The main stage, where the music was performed, the craft village, and all the commercial stuff were further away.”

Musical groups who performed at the festival were chosen for their adherence to the peace kaupapa. They included some of NZ’s leading bands – Fat Freddy’s Drop, Katchafire, David Grace, Anika Moa, and the Warratahs.

Many Te Taha Maori members from the Taranaki rohe have links to the maraes at Parihaka, and some of them were on hand at tents. Keita says organisers took advantage of the hilly terrain around Parihaka. Many activities – such as stone and wood carving and a meditation spot were situated on hill tops.

She says the Methodist group enjoyed wandering from event to event. She was impressed with the organisation of the festival, its family-friendly atmosphere, and the peaceful crowd attending.

“They looked after people of all ages. There was a kaumatua and kuia tent and there were lots of children and babies. There was even a birthing tent.

“I was impressed they had wheelie bins to recycle paper, cardboard, plastics, cans and organic waste. They even had a horse border patrol who rode the hilltops keeping an eye on things to make sure people didn’t come in to the festival without buying a ticket.”

Along with the fun and feel-good atmosphere, the festival had a serious side. There were a number of speakers at workshops throughout the Parihaka Pa including Milton Hohaia, Huirangi Waikerepuru, Maui Solomon and Tame Iti who shared their passions and about the struggles of their people. At the peace forum speakers from around the world exchanged their experiences in the struggles of peace. Among the topics discussed were the Treaty of Waitangi, human rights, HIV and the culture of violence.