Friday, June 8, 2012

Resting in peace

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:
1. Spirituality
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.

9 comments:

lifeonthecutoff said...

What a remarkable teacher to have made such an impression on you, Juliet, and what a remarkable story of his family's journey and the quest for peace of his people. Now, that gift has been handed down to other family members, including the greater family of Jim's students.

What a beautiful headstone with all the symbols of Jim's parent's life. I was struck, as well, by how long his mother outlived his father - almost 50 years. Half a lifetime.

This is such a peaceful post, Juliet, and that is what I bid you this night. Peace.

juliet said...

Jim's mother certainly lived a long life. Jim ended his days in the same little rest home as she was in. Thank you Penny, and peace to you too.

Hotly Spiced said...

Wow. He certainly came from an impressive family line. Isn't it terrible what atrocities were done by colonisation. But if it wasn't the British it would have been the French or the Spanish or the Dutch etc and things would have been no better. With Empire building the great mission, they were sitting ducks I'm afraid. I have a cousin whose children attend a Maori school in Wellington. Maori is their first language and their English isn't so good. I'm glad the farewell went well. The Maori are a beautiful people with such a rich culture and great traditions xx

juliet said...

Hi Charlie, yes the family was impressive, and devoted followers of Te Whiti. It's nice to hear of your connections too. Thank you.

Lynley said...

There was an article in our paper today about Parihaka after someone rescued a book of old photos of that village from the rubbish dump. The book is being restored thank goodness.

I enjoyed learning about the three feathers. Our indigenous people offer us so much to aspire to and live by Juliet.

juliet said...

What a coincidence, and how good that the book was rescued. I have a copy of Dick Scott's original book about Parihaka, which is quite old. Te Whiti was certainly an inspiration. Thank you Lynley.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Juliet - and you've given him another tribute here ..that too will last for many a long year .. also it's your memorial that you can come back to refer to ..

Your teacher obviously instilled great love in your heart .. and gave you that peaceful existence you seem to inhabit now ..

With great thoughts .. Hilary

juliet said...

Hi Hilary. It's been valuable for me to gather together this memorial. You are so right. And so good to have it witnessed. Thanks, much appreciated.

Anne Dean Ruffell said...

Thank you for the story of the village and of your old teacher's parents. It was a fascinating history lesson. I love the way they include their photos on the memorial stones like they do in continental countries.