Thank you, all, for your interest in my beloved teacher Jim Okeroa, who was buried at Parihaka yesterday.
I want to share with you how he passed on the gift of peace to me.
This is one side of the monument that was erected at Parihaka to Te Whiti o Rongomai, a great chief who was known as a prophet of peace. He died in 1907, aged 90 years.
When the government began to take the land of his tribe by force, Te Whiti led his people in passive resistance. First they pulled out the surveyor’s pegs. Then they met guns with ploughs, tilling the confiscated land rather than fighting back with guns, and putting up fences across the government’s roads. One after the other, his people were arrested, while others took their places.
In 1881 the peaceful village of Parihaka was invaded by soldiers. They were greeted by hundreds of skipping and dancing children who offered them food. But the soldiers arrested Te Whiti and destroyed the village.
Here are the foundations, all that remain of the burned dining hall and Te Whiti’s house.
At the base of the memorial, on two sides, are recesses protected by heavy glass, which is now cloudy with age. Te Whiti’s pounamu (greenstone) implements and weapons are stowed in there. You can see the outside of a large mere (greenstone club) behind the glass.
My teacher’s grandparents journeyed separately to Parihaka, inspired like so many by Te Whiti’s message of peace. There they met and fell in love. They became members of the tribe of Taranaki from that time on.
Jim’s father spoke fluent Maori, and was the main speaker and welcomer on the marae. This is the gravestone of Jim’s mother and father. You can see the lighthouse, which stands at Cape Egmont, the mountain, and the three albatross feathers which were worn by Te Whiti’s followers.
The three feathers represent the Raukua, the central teaching, which has three principles:
2. Making peace within yourself and with others
3. Maintaining goodwill, despite conflict
They were a handsome pair, like their son. He inherited the philosophy of peace, and refused to use the strap in his class-room. This was most unusual at the time.
I always felt a great sense of peace and safety when I was with him. Later I discovered just how deep that river of peace had run through his family.
Now he is in the earth at Parihaka, alongside his ancestors. I know he will be resting in peace.