Story: Kotahitanga – unity movements

Page 2. Kotahitanga movements around the 1860s

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The formation of the Kīngitanga, or Māori King movement, began in the 1850s. Tāmihana Te Rauparaha and Hēnare Mātene Te Whiwhi promoted the idea of a Māori monarch. Te Whiwhi believed a Māori monarchy would be vital to protect Māori land. Māori sought to bring bargaining power together and so aimed to put together a united movement with a king as its head. As the King movement began it was branded a ‘land league’ because it tried to halt land sales.

In 1856 a meeting was held at Pūkawa, on the western side of Lake Taupō, and a decision was made to appoint Waikato chief Pōtatau Te Wherowhero as king. A flagstaff was erected and iwi from the North and South islands located ropes representing their mountains and pegged them into the ground. King Pōtatau was crowned in 1858.

Mountain won’t move

When it was suggested that the ariki (paramount chief) of the East Coast, Te Kani a Takirau, might become king, he refused. He said, ‘Kua kingi ano au i oku tipuna’ (through my ancestors I am already a king). He also noted, ‘Ehara taku maunga i te maunga haere’ (my mountain does not move).

Kīngitanga and war

The reign of Pōtatau was short – he died on 25 June 1860. His son Tūkārotu succeeded him. In August of 1864 he was given the name Tāwhiao by prophet Te Ua Haumēne. The Kīngitanga was soon embroiled in war, as the government saw it as a threat. Following the war Waikato lost 1.2 million acres (485,622 hectares) of land through confiscation, and Tāwhiao and his people went into exile behind the aukati (boundary line) into Ngāti Maniapoto territory, which became known as the King Country. King Tāwhiao symbolically laid down his arms in 1881. He said, ‘This is the end of war in this kingdom.’ These words were later seen by Te Puea Hērangi, a Kīngitanga leader and a granddaughter of Tāwhiao, as a justification for Waikato men not taking part in the First World War.

1860 Kohimarama conference

In July 1860 Governor Thomas Gore Browne held a conference at Kohimarama, Auckland, to justify the government’s war in Taranaki. It was attended by rangatira from a large number of iwi throughout New Zealand. There were a number of propositions put forward and those attending, by a significant majority, condemned Taranaki iwi for the war, and were critical of the Kīngitanga. Iwi who just a few short years had supported the Kīngitanga at Pūkawa now failed to do so. The conference brought together a number of iwi in a decision-making body, under the aegis of the government.

This conference was later interpreted as embodying the requirements of the 1835 Declaration of Independence, which noted that an annual congress would happen each year. It became referred to as Te Tiriti o Kohimarama (the Treaty of Kohimarama) or Te Kawenata o Kohimarama (the Covenant of Kohimarama).

Grey’s Māori councils

Following on from the conference, Governor George Grey, who had taken over from Gore Browne, organised a new system for rūnanga (Māori councils). Māori districts were to be divided into ‘hundreds’ (in England a ‘hundred’ was the name for the subdivision of a county). The system would have civil commissioners who would work with chiefs. There were also magistrates who would work with wardens and karere (messengers). It was a complicated system and, due to wars between Māori and the government in the 1860s, it never took hold.

Te Ua Haumēne

Kotahitanga movements were not necessarily solely political in nature. The teachings of a number of Māori prophets called for the unification of Māori.

Te Ua Haumēne formed the religion known as Pai Mārire, which means good and peaceful, in the 1860s. His adherents became known as Hauhau, and various missionaries moved around the country preaching his gospel. This was significant in that the teachings and followers reached across the North Island. His teachings also influenced other kotahitanga leaders including King Tāwhiao, Te Kooti, who would later found the Ringatū faith, and Te Whiti and Tohu.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Kotahitanga – unity movements - Kotahitanga movements around the 1860s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 June 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 20 Jun 2012