RUA TAPUNUI HEPETIPA, or KENANA RUA HEPETIPA
A new biography of Rua Kenana Hepetipa appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Rua was born in 1869 at Maungapohatu in the Urewera Country. He was the posthumous son of Kenana Tumoana, who was killed at Makaretu in November 1868 while fighting for Te Kooti, and of Ngahiwi Te Rihi. Rua was a member of the Tamakaimoana hapu of the Tuhoe tribe and, although not a chief in his own right, was of high birth and could trace his descent from Potiki and Toroa of the Mataatua canoe.
In 1887 Rua left Maungapohatu to learn farming. He worked on sheep stations in the Gisborne and Bay of Plenty districts and was a member of a shearing gang on the East Coast. During this period he studied the Bible. In 1905 he returned to Maungapohatu where he set himself up as a prophet of the New Testament type. Rua claimed to be the Christ – the son of Jehovah – and said that no one who joined him would die. His followers vested their lands in Rua and he had these surveyed and sold back to them. The settlement was administered by the prophet's own parliament. He also formed a Maori mining company to exploit the mineral resources of the Urewera. At the prophet's command 5 miles of forest were cleared and a prosperous farming community grew up under his leadership. Rua acted as his people's banker and took tithes of all they earned; but in return he gave them a prosperity they had never before known.
Rua built a two-storied, circular temple at Maungapohatu. He grew his hair long and affected a bushy beard in the patriarchal tradition. As his reading of the Bible appeared to prescribe seven wives, Rua kept to this number and immediately replaced any who died or ran away. In all he had 12 wives and over 70 children. From the King-ite tradition he inherited the idea that Maoris possessed a separate nationality, and this, together with the success of his community, aroused the jealousy of local chiefs and incurred the Government's enmity. By 1908 Rua's struggle for power had brought the Tuhoe to the brink of civil war and Sir Joseph Ward intervened to curb the prophet's influence. In 1910 Rua was fined for sly grogging and, in 1915, served a short gaol sentence for a similar offence. On his release he resumed his sly grogging and also advised his people to boycott military service. On 2 April 1916 a large, heavily armed police party arrived at Maungapohatu to arrest him. There are conflicting versions of what took place. Rua refused to submit to arrest, and his supporters fought a brisk half-hour gun battle with the police. In this exchange his son and a Maori bodyguard were killed and two Maoris were wounded. Four constables were also wounded. Rua was taken to Whakatane where, after a trial which lasted 47 days, he was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for resisting the police.
When he returned to the Urewera, Rua found his mana unimpaired. The settlement at Maungapohatu, however, was broken and he moved his followers down river to Matahi. There he lived peacefully until his death on 20 February 1937. He was survived by five wives, nine sons, and 13 daughters. His divinity did not long survive him, however, because he failed to fulfil his promise to rise from the dead. Little now remains to show the glories of Maungapohatu, and his church (Te Wairua Tapu) boasts few followers. The Urewera Country is peaceful, a startling contrast to what it was in the stirring days of the Prophet Rua.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
Dominion, 28 Apr 1937, 21 Jul 1951; Poverty Bay Herald, 4, 5 Apr 1916; 24 Feb 1937 (Obit).