Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 13. Somewhere-in-July. 1971
In the heart of the Ureweras is a great clearing in the forest, and scattered over it the empty houses of a departed people. A deserted homestead; a desolate meeting house open to the winds; a marae pockmarked by the rootings of wild pigs; and empty school; an abandoned mission station - these are the remains of the once thriving Maori settlement of Maungapohatu. Here, at the beginning of this century, the prophet Rua Kenana led his people to found a New Jerusalem in the wilderness. Here, in the shadow of a sacred mountain, over a thousand of Rua's followers sought to escape the pakeha and live free from the domination of an alien race. These people changed the face of the landscape. They cleared some 2,000 acres of dense bush, sowed grass and stocked the land. They established a large settlement and erected buildings of a size and style never before seen in the Ureweras. They organised the settlement with a mixture of ancient Maori custom and contemporary pakeha ideas, and attempted to build a new community under the direction of their prophet and his appointed officials.
These remains of settlement, these changes in the landscape now form the physical evidence of a people's hopes and fears, but most of all of their millennial dream. For Rua's movement was essentially a Maori messianic cult, followed closely in the tradition of many others in New Zealand, particularly that of Te Kooti.
The study of millennarian movements of this kind is now being actively pursued by scholars, and the amount of literature published on this subject during the last fifteen years is quite staggering. It seems to me that Rua's movement fits in quite markedly with the general pattern of other messianic cults throughout the world, and therefore the problems of explanation are both general and particular. In this article, I shall discuss only one of these problems, even though it may be the most difficult to solve. Although I believe that a general theory about the development and causes of millenarian movements is both possible and necessary, I shall confine this article to Rua's movement. The problem I wish to discuss is this:
Why was it that in 1906 several hundred Maoris abandoned their homes, sold most of their valuable possessions such as ploughs, cows and carthorses on which their livelihood depended and set off to follow Rua? Some of them who had followed him to Gisborne, continued with him into the Ureweras. Many others did not accompany him to Gisborne but joined him later at Maungapohatu. In fact, migrations of Maoris to Maungapohatu from other areas in the Bay of Plenty occured from the end of 1906 and continued even after the settlement had been completed, right up to 1908. Many people returned home, perhaps because they were disappointed in Rua, or because they were short of food, but it would be no exaggeration to say that over a thousand people went up to Maungapohatu with the intention of joining Rua during these early years. When I first came to examine this particular problem, I thought that one way of approaching it would be to assume that Rua's followers wanted some-sort of change, that they were seeking an improvement in their situation. These two questions naturally arose: What was it in their lives that these people were dissatisfied with, end in what way did they think that Rua could improve their situation? I was also interested in Rua's motives, and what part his own personality played in the emergence of the cult.
I come to the conclusion that there was general Maori discontent at that period, and that they looked to the future with no hope. Apart from the general feeling of frustration over the loss of their lands in the past, one of the main causes of Maori anxiety and discontent was the increasing trend of Government legislation towards compulsory acquisition of much of the land which they still retained. The Maoris felt that there was very little they could do about it, since they could no longer have recourse to arms as they had done in he past. For many of them, there was still the hope, the wish - perhaps not outwardly expressed, but there in the subconscious - that the pakeha could somehow be removed and the land that had once belonged to the Maoris, returned. This wish, the collective day-dream as it were, that a miracle could happen was common amongst Te Whiti's followers, and my guess is that as the pressure of their remaining land grew, many more Maoris indulged in this kind of thinking. And indeed, the position of the Maoris concerning their land in 1905 was serious. Although the Government figures revealed that the Maoirs owned about 6 million acres of their original 67 million acres, many Maoirs were convinced that there were only 4 million acres still in their possesion. I need to show that there was special cause for concern over land in or about 1905 or early 1906, and, I need to show that the Tuhoe had cause for anxiety as well, for most of their land came under the Urewera District Native Reserve Act of 1896 and was not affected by ordinary legislation. Further, I shall need to examine very carefully the sort of prophecies or promises that Rua made when he attracted general attention early in 1906. If it can be shown that Rua's prophecies were in some way concerned with discontent over land and the fear that the pakehas were going to overrun the Maori completely, then my assumption is that Rua's follwers, Tuhoe or not, were worried about the fate of their remaining land.
Now, there is ample evidence to show that the trend of legislation between 1905 and 1906 was towards the compulsory acquisition of Maori land. The Maoris were aware of this for all over the North Island, in the press and in Parliament pakehas were1 openly advocating that the Land for Settlement Act of 1984, which enabled the Government to compulsorily acquire European large estates, should now be applied to the Maoris as well. Furthermore, an examination of the legislation of the period shows that as any Act could be amended by Government, nothing in the way of past promises was of any value when it came to the problem of increasing land hunger. It would have been political suicide for any Government to have ignored the settlers' claims. Although the Tuhoe came under separate legislation, I do not think that they would have been so naive as to assume that this legislation would not be changed so that the settlers could acquire their land if they thought it suitable for settlement and urgently demanded it. And it is most significant that it was in 1905 that the Maoris' worst fears seemed about to be realised. In his Speech from the Throne in June 1905, the Governor declared that legislation would soon be passed enabling Maori land to be acquired compulsorily under a law similar in character to the Land for Settlement Act. It was in 1905 too that the Government agreed to demands from the Opposition that a special return be prepared showing the estimated total acreage of native land in the North Island which was unoccupied or unproductive. It is clear from speeches in the House that many members considered the Urewera District Native Reserve to be Maori waste land suitable for European settlement. Furthermore, when the actual return of these waste lands was submitted to the House in 1906 the Urewera District Native Reserve had been included and marked suitable for settlement.
The Government did not manage to introduce a bill as blatantly confiscative as had been suggested in the Governor's speech, but the Maori Land Settlement Act which was passed later in 1905 did introduce increased powers of compulsion in obtaining Maori Land. Although this Act was at first limited to two districts, there was nothing to stop further legislation being passed to enable it to be extended to others. The reasons for Maori anxiety over the future of their remaining lands - and I include the Tuhoe in this - can best be assessed by quoting the words of Stout and Ngata in their Report to the Government on Native Land and Land Tenure, published in 1907
'The position reached in 1906 was therefore this: that Parliament or those initiating the Native Legislation, recognising the unwillingness of the Maori people to place their land under the administration of Councils or Boards, had decided to use compulsion in certain cases."
Closely linked with the land question was the economic and political position of the Tuhoe. Although they retained their land for the present, they could not gain much benefit from it without the capital needed for modern farming. There was also the question of organisation - now that the power of the chiefs had decreased, who could possibly weld the many conflicting interests of the different hapus into the common social will and effort needed for economic development? Each year an increasing number of Tuhoe drifted away from the Urewera Reserve to work as wage labourers or as contractors on pakeha farms in the Bay of Plenty or Poverty Bay. They watched the pakeha grow weatlthy in comparison with themselves, and realised that although they proved a cheap labour force, they could never equal the pakeha standard of living.
It is possible then that the Tuhoe felt frustrated. Their own lands were locked up in the heart of the Ureweras. Once they had them surveyed, there was some danger that they could be compulsorily acquired, yet the people could not develop the lands for themselves, for they possessed neither the capital nor the organisation. Any further encroachment on the Urewera country would have meant a probable loss of the autonomy which they still retained. If the Maori Land Settlement Act was applied to them, any powers held by their General Committee would have then been vested mainly in pakeha hands. Thus, the threat of the Land Settlement Act meant not only the threat of losing their land, but that the mana of the Urewera would no longer have belonged to the Tuhoe.
One of these wage-labourers working as a fencer, ditch digger and shearer on the edge of the Urewera country was Rua Kenana. There is some evidence to suggest that the call to be a prophet first came to him about 1904, while he was working and living on a farm just south of Taneatua. !t is not known exactly how Rua gained influence at this early period, but it was probably through his powers of faith healing. In 1900 the Maori population was still at a low ebb, and Maori health as a whole was in a very poor state. Although it is possible that the Tuhoe in the Ureweras proper lived on a better diet than those who had left their ancestral home, yet they still died from the diseases which the pakeha had introduced. The chief killers were the respiratory diseases, and contributing to these were the severe bouts of influenza which swept the country from time to time. The Ureweras were no exception. The truth is that from the medical point of view the Maoris were badly neglected by the State. In 1904 there was only one full-time Government medical officer for the whole of New Zealand attending the Maoris. There were also subsidies given to private practitioners in various districts to treat Maoris, but they could not cope with the situation at all. In the Urewera there was only one remedy if a man fell ill and that was to attend tohunga. The tohungas who specialised in curing the sick had no formal medical training, and by their treatment often hastened the end of a patient rather than effecting a cure. However, some tohungas were genuine faith healers, in the sense that by virtue of their personality and reputation for curing people, they were undoubtedly able to alleviate the symptoms of those diseases which were basically psychological in origin. Any Maori who was successful in his faith healing activities would very soon acquire local mana, which could then be extended. In fact this claim to healing almost seems to have been a prerequisite for a certain type of leadership.
"I was born just over forty years ago at Maungapohatu, beyond Waiaremoana My mother was engaged to be married to a man called Kenana, but before they could be married, he went off to war and was killed, and three years after I was born. Kenana was my father as Joseph was the father of Christ. My people rejected me, and I was homeless, so I was brought to Napier and stayed here at Pakipaki and Waimarama until I wai nine years old. Then I went back, but I was again rejected and despised by my people, so that the Bible words were fulfilled, but as the Scripture says. The Lord called me', and I knew what I had to do."
Rua also told the reporter that he had been carrying on the work of a prophet for about three years, which suggests that this particular phase of his life began about 1905 Leaving out the "immaculate conception", if this account of the reporter's is correct, then it is a most interesting one, for it suggests that Rua in his early life may have had far more contact with pakehas than is generally realised. It also suggests that he may have been a marginal man, an outsider, who felt different from the rest of his tribe. He may well have been seeking some sort of identity, a return to his status as a member of the tribe, particularly if he had been rejected for some reason as he himself suggests. Of course this is all speculation, but I feel in this tantalisingly short account there may well be a sort of clue to Rua's subsequent behaviour.
According to Colonel Porter, by 1905 Rua attracted the attention of one of the leaders of the Ringatu Church, Eria Ruakura, from Ngatapa, one of Te Kooti's lieutenants during the wars. Porter states that Eria became convinced of Rua's claim that he was the man whom Te Kooti had promised would come to carry on his work and gave him full support for a period. This prophecy of Te Kooti's was of course well-known amongst the Maoris, especially the Tuhoe. It was, I think, no accident that Rua claimed to be the successor of Te Kooti, and that he based much of his own religion on Ringatu, for by so doing he was carried forward in the strong current of a powerful tradition, one of the sustaining myths of the Tuhoe. Furthermore Te Kooti's prophecies, made during the last years of his life, that a man was coming to carry on his work, would have considerably aided Rua's emergence as a Messiah. Not only did he come from within the area predicted by Te Kooti, but Rua, likeTe Kooti, had evidently given up a wild youth to become a religious, and a changed man.
By the end of 1905, Rua had already established himself as a prophet. He was, indeed, claiming to be far more, for he stated that he was the brother of Jesus Christ, the New Messiah who had come to rule on earth in the same way that Christ ruled in heaven. This sincere belief of Rua's that he was the brother of Christ and the New Messiah explains many of his subsequent actions. Rua's view of the world was, of course, shaped by his social and physical environment, but his belief that he had special powers meant that he thought the world could be manipulated by him and any situation altered with the aid of his divine powers.
Although he claimed to be carrying on Te Kooti's tradition, it seems that Rua was determined to make his own cult distinctive, and to extend, and then consolidate his powers, for he knew that without power and discipline he would achieve nothing. He realised that if the Maoris were to progress they had to have some unifying belief under a strong leader, and that many of them sought for explanations, and ascribed success or failure to magico-religious causes. Above all he realised that they had to have some belief in their future, some hope which would restore their morale, and release the psychological energies which had been locked up by their despair. Rua believed that the Maoris had to organise themselves for any lasting success. He demanded instant and complete obedience from his followers, lowers. He appointed his Tekau-ma-rua, his twelve apostles, who acted as his disciples. One of these men, a hunchback, Wairama, served him faithfully as secretary. Rua stated that the hair on his head was strictly tapu and would never be cut. The apostles also wore their hair long, as well as the majority of his followers, and they called themselves lharaira (Israelites).
It was not until March 1906 that he first attracted general attention. Rua declared on 26 June. King Edward VII would come to Gisborne, and that he was going to meet the King. But it was the purpose of King Edward's visit which was most significant. According to Rua, King Edward was going to bring with him the sum of 4 million pounds which he would give to Rua to purchase from the Europeans all the land that the Maoris had lost. King Edward, according to Rua, was thus going to give back New Zealand to the Maoris and deport the white-faced people. Of course there were many variants of this prophecy. One was that King Edward was bringing a large diamond with him to New Zealand, and that it was the money from the sale of this valuable stone which would buy out the pakehas from their land. However, the gist of the many variants which survive today was the return of Maoris' lost land, the expulsion of the pakehas, and the mana of rule to Rua. I think that what we see here is a special Maori version of the millennium, and that Rua was claiming to be the Messiah who was going to usher in this Golden Age. Now, by the term "millenium", I do not mean in the strict Biblical sense that Christ was going to reign on earth for 1,000 years, as set out in Revelations, but in the far wider sense, which is being used by anthropologists, sociologists and historians today to signify movements which seek some sort of salvation, some special supernatural dispensation for their followers. Martin Buber (Paths in Utopia, 1958) has distinquished between Utopia and millenium by stating that thepage break
[unclear: r] is the search for a perfect space and the
[unclear: a] seeking after a perfect time. But as far as [unclear: a] movement is concerned, this is an unreal [unclear: ction] for, apparently, in his millenium, he [unclear: not] distinguish between perfect space and [unclear: time], and for all practical purposes these combined. These millennarian movements, [unclear: ating] in antiquity, are a world-wide phen-[unclear: a] and are not limited to any particular or area. It is very difficult to classify their [unclear: vers] and in New Zealand, of course, they [unclear: by] no means been confined to the Maori, [unclear: example], about the time that people were [unclear: ving] Rua up to Maungapohatu, another [unclear: a] but in this case pakehas, had left for the [unclear: eldt] of South Africa to escape a deluge and [unclear: e] their own particular version of the millen-[unclear: ream.)]
as I have stated, Rua's prophecy was in the [unclear: on] of the millennium, the question which [unclear: lly] arises is what did his followers think? they prepared to accept that Rua was the Messiah about to usher in a new [unclear: dispen-] for the Maori? There is evidence to show that in the Bay of Plenty there were Maoris employed by Europeans as labourers, fencers, shearers, and ploughmen, who were persuaded by Rua to sell their stock and their agricultural implements, leave their jobs, and turn what little capital they possessed into cash so as to be able to follow Rua to Gisborne and await King Edward to usher in the millennium. People were prepared to do this and follow Rua to Maungapohatu, even after Rua's first prophecy failed.
One of the most valuable pieces of evidence of this phenomenon comes from the later Sir Apirana Ngata who actually witnessed people in the grip of the millennial dream. In May 1906 Ngata happened to be staying for a weekend with a hard-headed Scottish friend, a farmer in the Opotiki district. On Sunday, two Maoris appeared at the farm and, to quote Ngata,
"...it was not long before I noticed that they appeared somewhat
fanatical. They had a strange look about them. They were worked into a ferment; and they had been reading the scriptures during the previous night, from Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel and all the prophets of old - Indeed, they had been studying and reading through the whole of the Old and New Testaments, especially the Revelations (my emphasis (B. W.) ) and to their minds everything seemed to point to the fact that this man, Rua, was the man who would arise to fulfill the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments."
Ngata then goes on to relate how these two Maoris sold three fine draught horses to the farmer, two jersey cows and two double furrow ploughs at a fraction of the price that they were actually worth. He states: "The men were only too glad to get the money, because it was only a matter of two or three months before they would get the money back because King Edward was going to give New Zealand back to the Maoris and deport the pakeha."
Now, although Ngata's statement refers to only two Maoris, there is considerable evidence to show that the belief In Rua's millennium was held by several hundreds of Maoris in the Bay of Plenty and the Ureweras Rua also had some followers In Poverty Bay. Not only were Maoris selling their belongings to raise money to go and meet the King, but some of them were buying new suits so as to be suitably attired for the occasion. At the same time unscrupulous pakehas were laying bets with Rua's followers on the chances of the King coming to Gisborne, and this betting by pakehas was widespread enough to attract the attention of the police.
Rua and a group of about 50 to 60 of his close followers arrived in the Gisborne district a few days before the King was scheduled to appear. This number rapidly swelled to hundreds, as Maoris, many out of curiosity, converged upon the area. About 24 June he made camp at Pakowai, near Repongare, about two miles from Patutahi. Shortly after his arrival he announced that the King had been delayed and would now arrive some time between 27 June and the end of the month When the King did not appear, even on the revised date, a number of Rua's followers left him, but many still remained. The King had failed to materialize, and it was the arrival of the King which was to herald the millennium We do not know for certain what Rua or his remaining followers thought or wished to do, but it seemed that they intended to remain in the Gisborne district for some time. This was also the impression of many of the local inhabitants.
Now, Rua's prophecy was undoubtedly the sort of dramatic statement which would have had a real impact reaching beyond the Ureweras. The idea of the return of their lands would have had a wide general appeal to the Maoris of the Bay of Plenty as well as those of Poverty Bay Similarly, many Maoris felt that it was the pakehas who were primarily responsible for their troubles, and they thought that New Zealand would be a much happier place for the Maori without them. The Tuhoe, in particular, would have shed no tears to see the pakehas leave, although in comparison with other tribes they were well off in retaining much of their land in the Urewera District Native Reserve But as I have already pointed out, the pressure on the Maoris' remaining land, including the Ureweras, had suddenly intensified during 1905, and this would have fawned into flame many of the old smouldering embers of resentment and suspicion.
For belief in a prophecy to occur, it cannot be outside the believers' range of expectations, nor can it afford to be irrelevant, and in this sense Rua's prophecy was well chosen. It is possible that his dramatic statement could have been part of a plan to collect a wider circle of Maoris than the mainly Tuhoe followers that he had at the time. Then, he may have hoped that his influence would have been sufficient to retain their loyalty even after his prophecy failed. But whatever Rua's motives were, many of his original followers did remain with him, and many others subsequently joined him. The phenomenon of belief surviving the actual failure of a particular prophecy is well documented in accounts of other cults. It would appear that once someone has an expectation, and thinks it can be achieved, the fact that it is not immediately realised does not mean that the expectation necessarily ceases. Not only does the expectation continue, but the failure may not be considered important, for the failure can be though of as a temporary one - next time the prophet may be right Here we have the belief in the metaphysical equivalent, as it were, of the statistical mean.
Then there is another possibility. My Maori informants have pointed out that the authorities would never have allowed Rua to come to Gisborne to hold a large meeting to usher in a Maori Millennium, which inlcuded the return of their lands and the deportation of the-pakehas, if he had not specifically stated that he and everyone else would be going to meet the King. Rua, they said, wanted to assemble a large gathering so that he could have the opportunity of getting over his own real message and this was the best way to do it. According to many of Rua's followers, the gist of Rua's message was that he was the King, and it was Rua himself who was going to save them. My view, however, is that at this stage Rua genuinely believed the King was coming to usher in the Maori millennium, and it was only after he failed to appear that Rua had to delimit his millennium.
From reports at the time, and from the evidence of people who knew Rua subsequently, Rua was quite sincere in his belief that he was the brother of Christ and the ruler of this world for the Maoris, in the same way that Christ rules in heaven. Thus, quite logically, if Rua believed himself to be the new Messiah, it was no great step for him to believe that he could usher in the Maori millennium. Although we must look at the specific historical evidence, the pattern of millennial beliefs elsewhere shows clearly the extraordinary powerful persuasive force of the millennial dream.
At Gisborne, in July 1906, we have in Rua a prophet, a Messiah who had fixed the precise date for a Maori millennium which did not occur. At this stage it would seem reasonable to assume that Rua would have to readjust his goals, and