A new biography of Kawiti, Te Ruki appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Kawiti, the fighting chief of Kawakawa (Bay of Islands), was a member of the Ngati-Hine hapu of the Ngapuhi. He was a rival and enemy of Hone Heke, but through the exigencies of war became his ally. Kawiti's name stood at the head of those who signed the Treaty of Waitangi, but he soon became dissatisfied with the new order. He joined Heke's rebellion more out of loyalty to his people in their quarrel with the Government than from any desire for plunder, although many of his followers did not share this selfless attitude. Heke and Kawiti joined forces at Te Uruti, near Kororareka, where Heki cut down the flagstaff while Kawiti launched a diversionary attack on the town. Kawiti lost a son in the fighting, was slightly wounded himself, and his men were twice dispersed. He retired to Puketutu pa where Imperial troops, aided by Waka Nene's warriors, attacked him. In this siege his second son, Taura, was killed. Undeterred, Kawiti built a strong pa at Ohaeawai, though he could no longer count on the support of Heke, who had been wounded and was anxious for peace. On 24 June 1845, in the hope of ending the northern rebellion, Colonel Despard made a foolish attack on the unbreached fortifications of Ohaeawai, suffering heavy losses. Kawiti, however, evacuated the pa and sought peace, but as Governor FitzRoy demanded some of his land as compensation he decided to fight on. He built Ruapekapeka pa (the “Bat's Nest”), which was a revelation of the Maori genius for adapting their traditional military engineering to the standards of European warfare.
When Sir George Grey assumed the Governorship and made peace overtures, Kawiti was conciliatory but Heke preferred to fight. Colonel Despard laid siege to Ruapekapeka and opened such a fierce bombardment that Heke was unable to enter with reinforcements. On Sunday, 11 January 1846, Waka Nene and Patuone reconnoitred and, finding the pa all but deserted – the defenders having gone out to attend a church service – they led a small force which captured it after meeting only token resistance. Kawiti wrote to the Governor seeking peace and was granted free and unconditional pardon. He moved to Waionui, where he lived for a while, refusing to have anything more to do with Heke. Kawiti's grandson, Parata, encouraged him to make his home at Tamati Pukututu's pa, where he became reconciled with Nene. He joined the Church and moved to Pakaraka to be near Henry Williams, being baptised on 20 February 1853. Shortly after this, on 5 May 1854, Kawiti died and was succeeded in his chieftainship by his son, Maihi Paranone.
Kawiti possessed a noble and chivalrous nature and was a pillar of strength to the Ngapuhi. It was his misfortune that in the early years of the new regime he had to choose between two loyalties – the abstract sovereignty of the Crown and what he believed were the needs and aspirations of his people. Under the circumstances it is not surprising that he chose the latter.
by Robert Ritchie Alexander, M.A., DIP.ED.(N.Z.), B.T.(CALCUTTA), PH.D.(MINNESOTA), Teachers' Training College, Christchurch.
- Heke's War in the North, Burrows, R. (1886)
- Hone Heke's Rebellion, Rutherford, J. (1947)
- The New Zealand Wars, Cowan, J. (1955)