TimFinn_1.jpg Tim Finn performs at Puke Ariki in honour of the temporary exhibition, *Parihaka: The Struggle For Peace* (2003). Graeme Brow. Taranaki Stories image collection.

Musician Tim Finn did what his big sister wanted and wrote one of New Zealand's most poignant songs - Parihaka. When Carolyn Finn read Dick Scott's book, Ask That Mountain, she turned to her famous brother. "She said to me 'You've got to write a song about this, it's such a great story'" Tim says during a visit to Taranaki, the home of Parihaka.

"I hadn't heard anything of the story at all," he admits. "So you do what your big sister tells you to do. I think I got caught up in her passion for the story. Then I read the book and loved it and it just flowed from there. The song came from that really - it was directly inspired by the book," he says.

It was recorded in the United States and the words were sent home for checking. "I wanted to make sure it was 100% with the people, so we got in touch with Richard Wharehoka, he was our contact, and we sent him the lyrics. He said 'Great, great, but make sure you mention Tohu', because I had just been singing Te Whiti. So, we ended up having to drop in a micro-second's [worth] of tape span, Tohu and Te Whiti."

Parihaka is on the album simply called Tim Finn, which was released in 1989. "I ended up meeting Dick Scott in Auckland a little bit after that. I really wanted to meet him to explain to him how much of an inspiration his book had been. I subsequently found out how many other writers and painters he had influenced in that way" says the former lead singer of New Zealand band Split Enz.

The song has also touched hearts and put Parihaka on the international stage. "It's amazing how many letters and emails I've had from people in America and everywhere, who have heard it and wanted to know more," says the solo artist. "It really did have quite an impact outside of New Zealand. It's led a lot of people through to the story and to visit the marae."

It even led Tim to coastal Taranaki. "The only marae I have ever been invited on to in New Zealand was the Parihaka Marae" Tim says. "We were called on and it moved me deeply. I suppose I'd reached out and so they reached out back. I spent a couple of days with some of the people and talked with them and ate with them and surfed with them and drank with them.

"It was just an inspiring couple of days and it really bonded me with this place, just walking around the land out there with the people and talking. I'd never had any particular affinity with this part of the country before, but I sure did after that. And the mountain itself."

Tim says he has been nervous performing Parihaka in front of Māori. "I suppose Pākehā’s are pretty gutless in this country of stepping in and mingling, but then some aren't, like [artist Colin] McCahon etcetera. I think you just have to jump in and do it, honestly, from the heart.

"I know there were some Māori people that thought 'Why the hell is he doing that, what does he know about it?' I am sure there were very mixed reactions from Māori people."

Writing and performing the song has been an ongoing lesson. "When I sang it with Herbs, they made sure I understood that Te Whiti wasn't just some peace-loving hippy, he had been quite a warrior in his day and then he sort of discovered, I suppose, the philosophy of non-violence as a skilful means, as a tactic.

"He wasn't just saying 'Take whatever you like, we won't fight you', there was far more to it. There was cunning and guile and skill. In the end it shows pride and fearlessness and that it's much braver to take a non-violent approach. To be violent is to show fear."

The people of Parihaka embraced the song. "When I went on to the marae, they made sure they copied the down all the lyrics and so they could teach people who were passing through, or teach their own kids or whatever. So, the song lives on..."


Scott, D. (1981). Ask That Mountain: the story of Parihaka. Auckland: Southern Cross/Reed.

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