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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Te Kani-a-Takirau and the Maori Kingship

Te Kani-a-Takirau and the Maori Kingship

Many conjectures have been made as to why the Poverty Bay and East Coast tribes stood aloof from the Maori king movement in 1856 and 1857, seeing that most of their members denied allegiance to Queen Victoria. Mr. Wardell, R.M., was of the opinion that it was because they were jealous of the Waikato tribes. He says that the chiefs along the East Coast did discuss the propriety of appointing a king of their own, but that rivalry among the principal leaders prevented them from doing so. Te Kani had died in 1856.

James Cowan informed the writer that, when Tamihana Kuta and Matene te Whiwhi began their crusade in 1852 in support of the appointment of a Maori king, Te Kani was, he understood, the first great chief to whom the kingship was offered. At any rate, his name was mentioned as that of a suitable chief for the position. Personally, he had never made any inquiries on the subject from the East Coast natives. He added that Potatau te Wherowhero was chosen at Taupo in 1856, and that his appointment was confirmed in the Waikato in 1857. On the other hand, the Rev. T. S. Grace (then stationed at Pukawa, Taupo) states, in his annual report for 1856, that no selection was made at the Maori Congress in 1856. He adds: “Our great chief (Te Heuheu), whom they wished to appoint, declared himself on the side of the Queen.”

Among the East Coast natives it is firmly believed that Te Kani was approached. One of their versions states that the envoys were Tamihana and Matene and another that Te Heuheu himself visited Uawa. No reference to any such visit appears in the writings either of W. Williams or of W. L. Williams. J. G. Baker (a son of the Rev. C. Baker) was emphatic that, long before hostilities broke out in Taranaki or in Waikato, deputations from Taupo, Waikato and elsewhere visited Te Kani, whose reply was that it would be impossible for anyone to confer upon him a title greater than that which was his birthright, and, therefore, he could not accept any new—and what to him would be only a hollow—title!

A monster runanga was held at Poverty Bay on 21 May, 1858. Mr Wardell described it to the Governor as “the most influential and most numerously attended that has taken place since my page 212 arrival.” In none of the speeches was there support for the Queen's authority. All that the leaders were prepared to receive from Europeans was Christianity. Rutene Piwaka complained about the changes that had been made in the prayer book. “The first prayer book,” he said, “contained a prayer for the rangatira Maori and their families. In the second edition the prayer was for the Queen and the rangatira Maori. The prayer in the third edition was for the Queen and her family alone. Let the pakehas pray for the Queen if they like, but we will not call her our Queen, nor will we recognise her authority.” There was a general feeling that the magistrate should be withdrawn.

The position grew steadily worse. In April, 1859, delegates from East Cape attended a meeting at Pawhakairo (H.B.) at which Tamihana was present. All the tribes were advised to cancel all leases to pakehas and to repurchase lands that had been parted with. Some of the Hawke's Bay chiefs proved unwilling to relinquish the rents which they were receiving. Towards the end of the year, Lands Commissioner Bell visited Poverty Bay, but his efforts to settle the outstanding land claims disputes were negligible, on account of the hostility of the Repudiationists, of whom he regarded Lazarus as the ringleader.