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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 13. Somewhere-in-July. 1971

[Rua Kenana cont.]

Photo of a circular temple

The circular temple at Maungapohatu, 1908. Rua Kenana and his wives are shown standing on the upstairs entrance.

think in more limited terms, the perfect time and place would have to be limited to a smaller geographical region, perhaps in the Ureweras. Further, although the place could be chosen by the Messiah, his choice would have to be one in which his followers approved. And, as most of his followers were Tuhoe the obvious remaining choice would be the Ureweras. The question which naturally arises is; why did Rua select such a remote spot as Maungapohatu for his actual settlement?

The Government was disturbed by Rua and his followers squatting at Pakowai, and brought increasing pressure upon the local Maori Council to have him fined and removed. However, although the Council was unable to take any legal action against Rua, the general climate of opinion in the Gisborne district was not favourable to him. In this atmosphere of general distrust and constant surveillance and investigation by the police, it is probable that Rua realised that his following could never increase; indeed that in time his mana, his own self confidence, would be affected, and that there was nothing to be gained by remaining at Pakowai.

I do not know whether it had always been Rua's intention to go back to the Ureweras, but there is one interesting piece of evidence on this. In the "Poverty Bay Herald" of 22 August, 1906, a letter was published signed "Ngatiawa". (Ngatiawa had written to the editor before this, defending Rua.) In this letter "Ngatiawa" repudiated some of the complaints made against Rua while encamped at Pakowai and stated significantly: 'Te Rua will return home when his time has arrived". A week later, on 29 August, 1906, Rua and his followers had struck camp at Pakowai and were on their way back to the Ureweras. Rua and his party headed towards Maungapohatu, halting en route for some three weeks at a clearing beyond Waimaha. It is fascinating to speculate at what stage of his career Rua thought of building a settlement at Maungapohatu, or rather Toreatai as it was then known, a small clearing in the forest which was the site of an ancient pa. Had this been in his mind long before he went to meet King Edward at Gisborne, or was he still making up his mind during his halt at Rangitata? According to several of my reliable informants, Rua built a prototype of his circular council house, the famous so-called Maungapohatu temple, while he was at Rangitata, although it was a very crude makeshift affair made partly out of canvas.

However, it is clear that Rua was now on his way to build a New Jerusalem in the wilderness, a place where he could develop his ideas on the way a community should be run if it was to escape the evils which had befallen the Maori In the past. And his choice was inspired, for it would have stirred the imagination of every Tuhoe. Rua selected a site for his settlement on a sloping plateau at about 2,000 ft., right under the rock walls of the sacred mountain of the Tuhoe tribe, Maungapohatu, where for hundreds of years their ancestors had been buried. It was at Maungapohatu then that Rua's dream of the millennium had finally been focused, and it was here that he wished to build his new Jerusalem.

As soon as Rua reached Maungapohatu and started to clear the bush in preparation for his settlement, the news of his return quickly reached his followers and potential followers in the Bay of Plenty. At Waimana, according to reports from a local pakeha settler, the Maoris had been behaving very strangely for some months, refusing to work and acting as if they were waiting for something to happen. (This also suggests that they knew that Rua was going to return to the Ureweras and that his moves were part of a prearranged plan.) Then, the great migration to Maungapohatu began. I shall not go into any details of this here, but once again people sold their personal possessions, left their houses, their plots of land, gave up their jobs and began trekking up to Maungapohatu. Although many of Rua's followers went up the Whakatane river and others over the old trail from Ruatahuna, the majority went up the Waimana valley. This migration continued for some two years from 1906 to 1908;

There is ample evidence that Rua had stated a flood would destroy all those people who remained behind and failed to follow him to Maungapohatu. In fact, rumours of this flood had been current for some time. But I do not think that it was simply to escape the flood that his followers went to Maungapohatu, as many people have suggested. The fear of the flood may have reinforced their reasons for going, but they went primarily, I think, because they believed in Rua and his vision. There is evidence also that Rua offered eternal life to those who followed him. This, of course, links up with his idea of the millennium, but although we cannot be sure what he meant by this offer, we do know that as an established faith healer he would promise to look after their health.

Having dealt with the millennial aspects of the migration, the driving force as it were, I wish finally to look at the practical aspects, in fact what may be broadly described as the political and economic reasons for this exodus to Maungapohatu. As I have already pointed out, the Tuhoe feared that legislation would be passed classifying the Ureweras as unoccupied or surplus land and that it could then be taken over compulsorily. The trend of legislation pointed in this direction. Now by going back to the Ureweras, back to Maungapohatu where many of Rua's followers owned land in any case, they may well have been demonstrating their rights of occupation. By living there en masse and farming the land no-one could claim that it was surplus. Furthermore, the site of Rua's settlement was right on a stock route being cleared between Ruatahuna and Poverty Bay, a stock route which had already reached Toreatae by 1906. In addition, there had been suggestions that another road would one day be built into the Ureweras either via Waimana or through the Whakatane valley, and Rua may have hoped this would come through Maungapohatu. For Rua's mana to remain, it was essential that the settlement should be a success, and the practical side of the situation would not have escaped him at all

Once at Maungapohatu, the Maoris worked with a frenetic energy to clear the forest. Newspaper correspondents and other observers who visited the settlement from about 1908, many of whom had set out with a hostile attitude to Rua, were amazed at the speed and energy with which the land had been cleared and the buildings erected. I shall not describe the settlement here except to note the high standard of cleanliness which Rua enforced (he even appointed his own sanitary inspectors!); the complete ban on smoking and drinking, practices which Rua considered were injurious to health; and the special emphasis on community living where his followers were expected to help one another and work for the common good. By setting up instituations at the settlement such as a Council, Court and Bank, Rua was showing that the Tuhoe were quite capable of running their own affairs. Indeed, this was one of the reasons why they had come to Maungapohatu.

Rua's commune at Maungapohatu represented a challenge to the authorities and primarily for this reason (and a number of others which I have not the space to discuss in this article) was doomed to failure.

In 1910, Rua was convicted by the Police on charges of sly-grogging, and in 1915, gaoled in Mount Eden for several months for the same type of offence. After his release he antagonised the Government further by speaking out against the recruiting of Maoris for the War, and was soon charged again with selling alcohol without a licence. When Rua refused to attend court and face another sentence of imprisonment, a large force of armed police was despatched to his settlement to arrest him forcibly. When Rua was quite unnecessarily manhandled and frog marched across his marae in front of his followers, shooting started. The shooting lasted about half an hour. Several hundred rounds were fired, and the Maoris and the Police suffered a number of casualties. None of the Police were killed, but two young Tuhoe, Toko, Rua's son and Te Maipi, his friend were both cornered and shot by the Police. The manner of their death aroused considerable enmity against the pakeha amongst the Tuhoe, and this incident has by no means been forgotten.

Rua was tried and once again imprisoned at Mount Eden. He was released in 1918, and lived at Maungapohatu and Waimana until his death in 1937.

A faithful band of followers still remain in the Ureweras, with their own sustaining mythology, a "saving remnant", who believe in the eventual return of their messiah.

Rua was never looked upon with any sympathy by the pakeha, nor, conditioned by their past experiences, do his followers expect any today. But strangely enough, now that millennialism is better known, not that 'imagination' is no longer a dirty word, but above all, now that an expanding pakeha sub-culture faces the disapproval of the establishment, the situation may have begun to change. Younger people, in revolt themselves, may begin to understand why Rua suffered, and the reasons for the deaths of Toko and Te Maipi. More than any other generation of pakehas, they may have some increasing sympathy for and comprehension of Rua's millennial dreams, and the founding of his New Jerusalem 'commune'.

This article is a modification of the one printed In the Whakatane Historical Review. (Vol. XV. No 1. April 1967.)