Story: Te Mahuki

Page 1: Biography

Te Mahuki


Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Kinohaku prophet

This biography, written by Chris Koroheke,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

Te Mahuki, also known as Te Manukura, was born at Te Kumi, north of Te Kuiti, probably in the 1840s. He belonged to Ngati Kinohaku, kin to Ngati Maniapoto. Little is known of his parentage or childhood, but he came to prominence in the 1880s as a follower of Tohu and Te Whiti, the prophets of Parihaka. Te Mahuki and other members of Ngati Kinohaku lived in Parihaka from the late 1870s. They were among the fencers and ploughers arrested for resisting the survey of the Waimate plain, and Te Mahuki was one of those imprisoned in Dunedin for his part in this campaign.

On his release he rejoined Ngati Kinohaku, who had been ordered to return to Te Kumi. Here they reproduced the life and religion of Parihaka. The meeting houses and family houses were modelled on those of Parihaka, and the government agent, G. T. Wilkinson, recorded that 'their modes of living, their speeches, their songs, their prayers and their continuous reading of the Old Testament…were just the same as when they were at Parihaka'.

The name of Te Mahuki's movement, Tekau-ma-rua (the twelve), suggests that he saw himself as a follower of Te Whiti. Both men regarded Maori as Israelites seeking to return to the promised land. Te Mahuki and his followers tried several times to make a symbolic return to Parihaka but were turned back at Pukearuhe by the constabulary.

The views of the two prophets, however, were not identical. Te Mahuki, who took the name Te Manukura (leader), saw himself in the role of Old Testament prophet. His conception of himself and his followers as active instruments of God's will gave Tekau-ma-rua a more active character than Te Whiti's movement of passive resistance.

Tekau-ma-rua actively resisted the advent of the railway and other signs of Pakeha civilisation in the King Country. They believed that the introduction of roads and railways would render them powerless to retain their lands and would eventually result in their destruction as a race. On 20 March 1883 Te Mahuki and his followers captured the surveyor Charles Wilson Hursthouse and his companion William Newsham at Te Uira and held them for 41 hours. Their rough treatment suggests that Hursthouse's role as key prosecution witness in the trials of Te Whiti and Tohu had been neither forgotten nor forgiven. Hursthouse and Newsham were eventually rescued by Ngati Maniapoto chief Wahanui Huatare.

A few days after this incident, Te Mahuki and 26 of his followers initiated an unarmed march on Alexandra (Pirongia); their intention may have been to protest against the co-operation of Ngati Maniapoto chiefs with the survey of the King Country, and perhaps to provoke an incident that would cause a breakdown in the rapprochement with the government. They were arrested, and gaoled at Auckland, Nelson and Wellington.

In October 1890, on his return from a visit to Parihaka, Te Mahuki prophesied that the millennium would occur on 2 November 1890. In anticipation of the event, his followers took possession of stores in Te Kuiti. For this and other 'fanatical actions' Te Mahuki was again arrested, and he served a term of 12 months' imprisonment at Auckland. In October 1897 he set fire to a store in Te Kuiti and was sentenced to seven years' hard labour. By this time both Wilkinson and Wahanui Huatare were questioning his sanity. In his defence he put two questions to the storekeeper which indicate his uncompromising attitude: 'Who placed you at Te Kuiti? Does the land belong to the Europeans?'

Te Mahuki died on 19 August 1899 after falling ill while serving his prison sentence at Auckland Lunatic Asylum. He had married Te Kaama Totorewa, who died in 1936; it is not known if they had any children. Like many other Maori prophetic movements in the later nineteenth century, Tekau-ma-rua had become involved in direct action to try to turn back the tide of European settlement. It failed in this objective, but did succeed in providing a rallying-point during a period of change and dislocation in Maori society.

How to cite this page:

Chris Koroheke. 'Te Mahuki', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 September 2020)