There was much hope for the new king, Te Rata, but his kingship was hindered by illness – rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. Te Rata’s major activity was the study of tribal traditions and whakapapa. During his kingship, his cousin Te Puea Hērangi exerted a strong influence on and practical leadership within the Kīngitanga.
During a visit to London in 1914, King Te Rata and his companions witnessed all the sights, from the underground to Piccadilly Circus to the World Lawn Tennis Championship (Wimbledon), as well as the arrest of Emily Pankhurst, the leader of the British women’s suffrage movement, outside of Buckingham Palace. Te Rata and his travelling companions were at Westminster to witness the third reading of the Home Rule Bill for Northern Ireland – which may have given them hope that the King movement might also one day achieve a degree of autonomy.
Travel to England
One of Te Rata’s closest confidantes, Tupu Taingākawa Te Waharoa, had for some years advocated that the Māori king should travel to England to present a petition to the British Crown. Despite opposition from a number of Māori, including politician Apirana Ngata, in 1914 Te Rata and Taingākawa, accompanied by Mita Karaka and Hōri Tiro Pāora, travelled to London, as King Tāwhiao had some 30 years earlier. On arrival Te Rata recorded his occupation with the British immigration authorities as Māori king, while Taingākawa facetiously wrote ‘settler’.
In London Te Rata, although continuously beset with illness, was fêted by the English aristocracy and gentry and former residents of New Zealand. An audience was eventually granted with King George V and Queen Mary, but Te Rata, whose secretary by then was referring to him as H. H. Te Rata, was under clear instructions not to mention his grievances. Like Tāwhiao before him, Te Rata was advised that these were matters for the New Zealand government to address.
First World War
While in London, Te Rata witnessed the outbreak of the First World War. His secretary wrote, ‘Kei te kino rawa atu inaianei te porangirangi o nga pakeha’1 (the English are in an absolute frenzy). Once home, Te Rata and his followers did little to support the war effort. Waikato opposed conscription in 1917, leading to several of Te Rata’s relatives being imprisoned. Representatives of Waikato explained that in 1881 Tāwhiao had forbidden Waikato from taking up guns ever again, saying, ‘Ko te pakanga i runga i tenei motu, kua rite ki te koka harekeke. Ko te tangata whakaara pakanga a muri ake nei, koia tonu hei utu’2 (warfare in this land has ended just like a withered flax bush. For those who wish to promote warfare after this, they in turn shall suffer.) Many Waikato Māori did not want to fight for the land of the English when their own land had not been restored to them.
Te Rata, who had suffered from rheumatism almost continuously over the previous six years, died at Waahi Pā, Huntly, on 1 October 1933. His tangihanga lasted a week, with Te Puea in charge of the arrangements. Again the succession of the kingship was discussed by the visiting chiefs, and again they chose a successor from the kāhui ariki (royal house) of Pōtatau.
Particularly influential in Waikato opposition to participating in the war effort was Te Rata’s cousin, Te Puea Hērangi. She became the most prominent Kīngitanga leader of her time. As Taingākawa’s influence waned, Te Puea increasingly became Te Rata’s mouthpiece. She was determined to rebuild the mana of the Kīngitanga with Ngāruawāhia at its centre, and took guidance from Tāwhiao’s tongi (saying):
Ko Arekahānara tōku haona kaha
Ko Kemureti tōku oko horoi
Ko Ngāruawāhia tōku tūrangawaewae.
Alexandra [present-day Pirongia] will ever be a symbol of my strength of character
Cambridge a symbol of my wash bowl of sorrow
And Ngāruawāhia my footstool.3
Don't mention the war
Te Puea's opposition to the First World War brought her much personal criticism. The German ancestry of her grandfather, William Searancke (whose family had lived in England for four generations before coming to New Zealand), was thrown at her, and she was called ‘the German woman’. She astutely responded, ‘Is not the King of England of German descent?’4
An accomplished kapa haka performer, Te Puea formed the cultural group Te Pou o Mangatāwhiri. The group toured the country giving concerts to raise funds for the establishment of Tūrangawaewae marae, and in 1929 its celebrated meeting house, Māhinaarangi, was opened. In the 2000s Tūrangwaewae marae remained the centre of the Kīngitanga.
Land schemes and tribal settlement
Te Puea worked tirelessly for the Kīngitanga. Eager to rebuild an economic base for the movement, she also enthusiastically embraced Apirana Ngata's schemes to develop Māori land through government loans. The once isolationist and intransigent Kingites were now some of the exemplars of this government scheme. Te Puea was also a driving force behind the partial settlement of Waikato’s land grievances in 1946, which led to the establishment of the Tainui Māori Trust Board.