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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)

Chapter 16: The Maori King

page 150

Chapter 16: The Maori King

IT WAS Tamehana te Rauparaha, the son of the great Ngati-Toa conquistador, who first suggested the establishment of a king or high chief for the union of Maori tribes. Tamehana had made a voyage to England, and, being an exceedingly shrewd and observant man, he returned with many ideas for the betterment of his countrymen. The principal reform he felt impelled to propose was the setting-up of a king under whose control the people should live in harmony with each other and with their pakeha neighbours. His kinsman Matene te Whiwhi, of Otaki, seized upon the notion with patriotic enthusiasm, and travelled among the tribes advocating union and the election of some high rangatira as head of the Maori nation.

The members of the confederation of the anti-land-selling chiefs and people found considerable difficulty in the selection of a head for the union of the tribes. Many men of high pedigree were approached, but one after another declined the troublesome office of king. One of the chiefs whom Matene te Whiwhi and his fellow-leaguers urged to accept the kingship was Whitikau, of the Nga-Rauru Tribe, Waitotara. He refused; so did Tamati Hone, the man of highest standing in Ngati-Ruanui. A deputation of chiefs went to Wanganui and placed the position before Pehi Turoa, who refused. Te Heuheu Iwikau, of Taupo, similarly declined the offer.

The Waikato tribes held a very large meeting in 1857 at Paetai, on the Waikato River, at which the question was debated by delegates from all the tribes of the confederation, as well as others outside the league. The Arawa people of Rotorua and Maketu were represented at this gathering by Temuera te Amohau. Eloquent efforts were made to induce the Arawa to join the Kingites. Temuera refused, saying, “One of our chiefs, Timoti, was the only man of the Arawa people who signed the Treaty of Waitangi, but we shall not depart from the pledge he then gave. We will not join the king tribes. My king is Queen Victoria.” (“Taku kingi ko Kuini Wikitoria.”)

Temuera was taunted by some of the Waikato chiefs with the defeat Te Waharoa had inflicted on the Arawa twenty years page 151 previously at Mataipuku, near Ohinemutu. He retorted with an allusion to Te Waharoa having been taken prisoner and spared by the Arawa in his infancy. “As for us Arawa,” he said, “we shall stand as firmly as a rock in the ocean. Upon that rock shall be shattered the waves of your kingdom.” (“Ka tu a te Arawa hai toka tu moana, e pakaru ai nga ngaru o to Kingitanga.”) Temuera concluded by telling the Waikato that if they wished to set up a Maori king they should apply to the highest chief in New Zealand, Te Kani-a-Takirau, of the East Cape.

This suggestion is said to have led to an offer to the chief named to become king of the federated tribes, but here again the leaguers met with a refusal. Te Kani, in any case, was not a suitable selection. He was a very high-born rangatira, but a man of no force of character, and his territory was remote from the chief seats of agitation.

A conference was also held in 1857 at Pukawa, Lake Taupo, and was attended by chiefs from all over the Island. The chiefs finally selected Potatau te Wherowhero, who had no desire for the honour. He was a very old and feeble man, but his warrior reputation, his exalted lineage, and his widespread tribal connections qualified him as the necessary figurehead behind whom Wiremu Tamehana and his fellow-reformers might carry out their schemes of self-government.

The late Te Heuheu Tukino, the head chief of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa Tribe, described to the writer as follows the highly ceremonious manner in which the chiefs of the various tribes assembled at Pukawa in 1857 centralized their mana and bestowed it upon Potatau te Wherowhero, who was then chosen as the king of the confederated tribes:—

Te Heuheu Iwikau, who was head of our tribe since the death of my grandfather, Te Heuheu Mana-nui, in the landslip at Te Rapa (1846), caused a high flagstaff to be erected on the marae, the meeting-ground, at Pukawa. At the masthead he hoisted a national flag; the pattern was that of the flag given by King William IV of England to the northern Maori tribes at the Bay of Islands some years before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Beneath this flag at intervals down the mast he had long ropes of plaited flax attached. The flagstaff symbolized Tongariro, the sacred mountain of our tribe. The Maoris were assembled in divisions grouped around the foot. Te Heuheu arose and said, indicating a rope, ‘This is Ngongotaha’ (the mountain near Rotorua Lake). ‘Where is the chief of Ngongotaha who shall attach this mountain to Tongariro?’ The leading chief of the Arawa Tribe, of Rotorua, rose from his place in the assemblage, and taking the end of the rope fastened it to a manuka peg, which he drove into the ground in front of his page 152
From a photo about 1865]Wiremu Tamehana Tarapipipi te Waharoa

From a photo about 1865]
Wiremu Tamehana Tarapipipi te Waharoa

page 153 company. The next rope indicated by the Taupo head chief symbolized Pu-tauaki (Mount Edgecumbe), the sacred mountain of Ngati-Awa, of the Bay of Plenty. The next was Tawhiuau, the mountain belonging to Ngati-Manawa, on the western border of the Urewera country. Each tribe giving its adherence to the king movement had its rope allotted to it, representative of a mountain dear to the people. Hikurangi, near the East Cape, was for the Ngati-Porou Tribe, Maunga-pohatu for the Tuhoe (Urewera), Titi-o-kura for the Ngati-Kahungunu Tribe, Kapiti Island for the Ngati-Toa, and Otairi for the Ngati-Apa.

“The great mountains of the South Island also were named. Each had its symbolic rope—Tapuae-nuku and Kaikoura, and the greatest of all, Aorangi. Those were for the Ngai-Tahu Tribe, whose representative at the meeting was Taiaroa. Returning to the North Island mountains, our ariki took in turn the ropes emblematic of the west coast and the Waikato, and called upon the chiefs from those parts to secure them to the soil. These mountains were Para-te-tai-tonga (the southern peak of Ruapehu), for the Whanganui tribes; Taranaki (Mount Egmont), for Taranaki, Te Atiawa, and Ngati-Ruanui tribes; Pirongia and Taupiri, for the Waikato clans; Kakepuku, for the Ngati-Maniapoto; Rangitoto, for Ngati-Matakore and Ngati-Whakatere; Whare-puhunga, for Ngati-Raukawa; Maunga-tautari, for Ngati-Haua and Ngati-Koroki; Maunganui (at Tauranga), for Ngai-te-Rangi; Te Aroha, for Ngati-Tama-te-ra; and finally Moehau (Cape Colville Range), for the Ngati-Maru Tribe.

“Each of the ropes representing these sacred mountains of the tribes was hauled taut and staked down. So in the middle stood Tongariro, the central mountain, supported and stayed by all these tribal cords, which joined the soil of New Zealand to the central authority. Above floated the flag, emblem of Maori nationality. Thus was the union of the tribes demonstrated so that all might see, and then did Te Heuheu and his fellow-chiefs transfer to Potatau all the mana-tapu of the soil and acclaim him as the king of the native tribes of New Zealand.”

While the scheme for a king for the Maori people originated with the two chiefs of the Ngati-Toa at Otaki, it was not long before the leading rangatira of the Ngati-Haua, in the Waikato-Waihou country, emerged as the great advocate of the doctrine of Maori self-government. Wiremu Tamehana was a master of logical argument expressed in plain words, and his deep knowledge of the Scripture enabled him to give point to his addresses and his letters with quotations from the Testament. Governors and Ministers were indeed hard put to it to confute his reasoning or demolish his pleas for Maori rights. Sir John Gorst, his friendly antagonist in Waikato politics, told me in 1906 that he page 154 considered Tamehana one of the most able debaters and keenest thinkers he had ever met. The kingmaker's appeals to the pakeha Administration read pathetically. With all the powers of a well-balanced brain he contended for the right of the Maoris to administer their own affairs within their own boundaries. He quoted the sales of native land for very small prices, only to be cut up and sold for much greater sums. “Have we not better right to this advanced price than the pakeha?” The land, always the land, was the theme of his earnest argument. “Surely that it is unoccupied now is no reason why it should always remain so. I hope the day will come when our descendants will not have more than they really require. As to a king, why should not every race have a king of its own? Is not the Queen (English), Nicholas (Russian), Bonaparte (French), Pomare (Tahitian), each for his own people? If all the countries were united the aloofness of the Maori might be reprehensible, but they are not.”

“My friends,” he wrote, “do you grudge us a king, as if it were a name greater than that of God? If it were so that God forbade us, then we would give it up; but he forbids not, and while only our fellow-men are angry we will not relinquish it.” In another letter to the Government he defined the reasons for the appointment of a Maori king: “to put an end to land feuds, to put down troubles, to hold the land of the slaves, and to judge the offences of the chiefs.” And this desire for a high chief for the Maori was not inconsistent with loyalty to the accepted principle of British eminent domain. He had seen the evils of disunion among the tribes, the failure of the white Government to stop bloodshed over land disputes. His ideal was peaceful union and civilization for the Maori, under the benevolent control of Christianized chiefs. “Te Whakapono, te Aroha, me te Ture” (“Religion, Love, and the Law”) was the watchword of his political faith. But the altruistic king-maker was in advance of his contemporaries in the colony, Maori and pakeha. Had Sir George Grey been Governor in 1857 both the Waitara blunder and the Waikato War would probably have been avoided. But the mischief was done by Governor Gore Browne and his advisers, and when Grey returned to New Zealand in 1861 he found upon his hands the legacy of folly of the war in Taranaki and an inevitable outbreak in Waikato. In its beginning the king movement might have been turned to a blessing to the Maori people. Grey, indeed, did endeavour to meet the crisis by an offer of a semi-independent provincial government for the Maori people; but the antagonism of the more violent sections of Waikato and their co-clans had by then reached a stage at which compromise was impossible.