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The Parihaka Woman by Witi Ihimaera
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The Parihaka Woman

by Witi Ihimaera

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264593,793 (3.78)1 / 4

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The Parihaka Woman is narrated by a retired history teacher researching his ancestress through her diary which is written in Te Reo. It is set during the 1870’s-1880’s in the peaceful Taranaki settlement of Parihaka which is led by Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi and came about as the result of warfare, persecution and land confiscation. Erenora has been orphaned by colonial troops and Parihaka is the place she now calls home.

After growning up under the protection of Te Whiti and Tohu, Erenora marries her childhood sweetheart, Horitana, after he returns from fighting with Titokowaru against the British troops. When the Government attacks Parihaka, Erenora and Horitana are part of the passive defence of the settlement.

Along with many others, Horitana is arrested for obstruction of government surveyors. He is carted off to prison - first at Mt Cook in Wellington, and later in a cave on 'Peketua Island'. Along with her sisters, whose husbands have also been arrested, Erenora sets off to discover to find her husband. Because of the danger to women travelling alone, Erenora disguises herself as a man.

Horitana's intense suffering is caused by his nemesis, the Pakeha settler Piharo, who locks Horitana into a tangata mokomokai, a silver head designed to drive him into madness and early death. Erenora eventually finds out where he is imprisioned and devises a way to reach him. Horitana's jailer on the island is lighthouse keeper Rocco Sonnleithner and his crippled daughter Marzelline who employ Erenora to help around the island.

Ihimaera's fictional account is interspersed with large blocks of quotes from real historians. While this does lend weight to the accuracy of events, I found it distracting from Erenora's fantastic story which was first conceived as an opera. I felt that her story could have stood alone, without the narrator or the quote interruptions. Possibly a chapter on the history of Parihaka could have been added at the end of the book. Otherwise, a fascinating and captivating story. ( )
  DebbieMcCauley | Sep 23, 2012 |
Witi Ihimaera uses an interesting device to reveal to the readers the events that took place in Taranaki during the 1860's and 1870's. A retired school teacher has been given the task, by family members, of translating an ancestor's manuscript from Maori to English. The story moves from the past to the present and is reinforced with extracts from New Zealand historians' accounts of the events which took place in and around Parihaka at that time. Erenora and her tribe attempt to stand their ground against the gradual incursion of the colonial settlers on to Maori land. They are a very Christian tribe and despite having not used any means of force, large numbers of the men are arrested and incarcerated without trial. After a long period of no word from their menfolk three sisters venture forth to locate and reclaim their husbands. The journey takes them to the South Island where they eventually discover what had taken place. This is a fascinating accout of an apparent injustice and creates a vivid picture of an earlier time and place in New Zealand history.
I found the early part of the story a little disjointed with the inclusion of fact with fiction however I understood the authors need to include respected historians' accounts to reinforce his tale. ( )
  HelenBaker | Apr 17, 2012 |
This was a strong, beautiful book, an historical novel, by the author of the The Whale Rider. Here's the description from Wheelers.co.nz: "There has never been a New Zealand novel quite like The Parihaka Woman. Richly imaginative and original, weaving together fact and fiction, it sets the remarkable story of Erenora against the historical background of the turbulent and compelling events that occurred in Parihaka during the 1870s and 1880s. Parihaka is the place Erenora calls home, a peaceful Taranaki settlement overcome by war and land confiscation. As her world is threatened, Erenora must find within herself the strength, courage and ingenuity to protect those whom she loves. And, like a Shakespearean heroine, she must change herself before she can take up her greatest challenge and save her exiled husband, Horitana. Surprising, inventive and deeply moving, The Parihaka Woman confirms Witi Ihimaera as one of New Zealand's finest and most memorable storytellers. Always surprising and inventive, The Parihaka Woman reveals a working writer constantly extending his range and humanity, continuing his exploration into the history of New Zealand and working at its intersections with fiction. It affirms Ihimaera's place in New Zealand literature as one of our finest technicians and storytellers."

Author's Bio, also from Wheelers.co.nz: "Witi Ihimaera was the first Maori novelist and has now published 12 novels, 6 collections of short stories as well as various works for children. Apart from his work as a writer, Ihimaera has also had careers in teaching, theatre, opera, film and television. " ( )
  ziziaaurea | Mar 26, 2012 |
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"Richly imaginative and original, weaving together fact and fiction, it sets the remarkable story of Erenora against the historical background of the turbulent and compelling events that occurred in Parihaka during the 1870s and 1880s. Parihaka is the place Erenora calls home, a peaceful Taranaki settlement overcome by war and land confiscation. As her world is threatened, Erenora must find within herself the strength, courage and ingenuity to protect those whom she loves. And, like a Shakespearean heroine, she must change herself before she can take up her greatest challenge and save her exiled husband, Horitana"--Supplied by publisher.… (more)

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