Story: Kīngitanga – the Māori King movement

Page 2. Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, 1858–1860

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In 1856 Iwikau Te Heuheu of Ngāti Tūwharetoa convened a famous meeting known as Hīnana ki uta, Hīnana ki tai (search the land, search the sea) at Pūkawa, on the western shores of Lake Taupō. All the major iwi were represented. Here Te Heuheu proposed the famed rangatira of Waikato, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, for the kingship.

In 1841 Governor William Hobson had reported to London that Pōtatau was the most powerful chief in New Zealand. Mātene Te Whiwhi of Ngāti Raukawa had canvassed the genealogical experts Te Hūkiki Te Ahukaramū and Te Whīoi of Ngāti Raukawa, who believed that Pōtatau was the most suitable candidate. He had extensive genealogical connections with many iwi and his kingship could be well supported by the fertile lands and resources of the then wealthy Waikato. The wealth of Pōtatau was important, as his people would host many gatherings.

Accepting the kingship

Like the others, Pōtatau stubbornly refused the kingship. Several meetings were held to discuss the proposal, including an 1857 meeting known as Te Puna o te Roimata (the wellspring of tears) at Haurua among Ngāti Maniapoto. Here Ngāti Maniapoto leader Tanirau announced their decision to support Pōtatau as king. Pōtatau replied, ‘E Ta, kua tō te rā’ (O sir, the sun is about to set), meaning that he had not much longer to live. Tanirau replied, ‘E tō ana i te ahiahi, e ara ana i te ata, e tū koe he Kīngi’ (it sets in the evening to rise again in the morning; thou art raised up a king). He was suggesting that on Pōtatau’s passing his son, Tāwhiao, could carry on the kingship, which might then become hereditary. Pōtatau replied, ‘E pai ana’ (it is good).1 With this he accepted the kingship, and Waikato the role of kaitiaki of the Kīngitanga.

Becoming king

In 1858 Pōtatau was declared the king at Ngāruawāhia. Iwikau Te Heuheu spoke: ‘Potatau, this day I create you King of the Maori people. You and Queen Victoria shall be bound together to be one (paiheretia kia kotahi). The religion of Christ shall be the mantle of your protection; the law shall be the whariki mat for your feet, for ever and ever onward (ake, ake tonu atu).’2

At a gathering at Rangiaowhia in 1858, Te Tāpihana of Ngāti Hikairo asked the people what formal title should be given to Pōtatau. From the crowd came the traditional Māori suggestions – ariki tauaroa (chief of chiefs), toihau (supreme chief), kahutatara (paramount chief) – until finally ‘king’ was proposed by the Hawke’s Bay chief Te Moananui. The people agreed.

The following year Pōtatau was confirmed as king at Ngāruawāhia and anointed by Wiremu Tāmihana Tarapīpīpī Te Waharoa (known as the kingmaker), who held a bible over Pōtatau’s head in the whakawahinga ceremony.


In his short time as king, Pōtatau was based at Ngāruawāhia, where he established his great council, Te Rūnanga o Ngāruawāhia, to guide his kingship. He died on about 25 June 1860 at his home in Ngāruawāhia.

  1. Quoted in Pei Te Hurinui Jones, King Potatau: an account of the life of Potatau Te Wherowhero, the first Maori king. Wellington: Polynesian Society, 1959, p. 207. Back
  2. Quoted in James Cowan, The New Zealand wars: a history of the Māori campaigns and the pioneering period (1845–64), (last accessed 30 August 2023). Back
How to cite this page:

Rahui Papa and Paul Meredith, 'Kīngitanga – the Māori King movement - Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, 1858–1860', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 May 2024)

Story by Rahui Papa and Paul Meredith, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 2 Mar 2023