Story: Ngāi Tūhoe

Page 6. Self-imposed isolation

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Te Whitu Tekau

In 1871 Tūhoe reached an agreement with the government. They would lay down their arms and assist in capturing Te Kooti if the government forces would cease their scorched earth policy in Te Urewera country. Despite this agreement, Te Kooti escaped unharmed to the sanctuary of the King Country.

Following the cessation of hostilities in 1872, Tūhoe convened a governing council of chiefs called Te Whitu Tekau – The Seventy. They were charged with protecting the lands of the tribe and keeping out government authority. Their catchcry was ‘Kaua te rori, kaua te rūri, kaua te rīhi, kaua te hoko’ (No roads, no survey, no leasing land, no selling land).

Having seen the disastrous effects of Pākehā settlement on other tribes, their lands and resources, Tūhoe closed access to its lands.

Signposts were erected at tracks entering Te Urewera warning strangers, especially Pākehā, not to enter. Eru Tamaikōhā, fighting chief of Te Whakatāne hapū of Waimana, was even more explicit, erecting signs on his lands, warning: ‘Trespassers will be eaten’.

Rua Kēnana

In 1905 a prophet emerged from the people: Rua Kēnana. He would play a crucial role in Tūhoe political affairs until his death. Rua called himself Mihāia (Messiah) and claimed to be the successor whose coming Te Kooti had predicted. By 1907 he had established a community of around 600 people at Maungapōhatu, the sacred mountain of Tūhoe. He named it Hiruhārama Hōu, New Jerusalem.

The policies promoted by Rua were non-violent and progressive. He strove to introduce trade and agriculture and even tried banking and mining. He promised the people the return of their lands and mana. As historian Judith Binney stated, ‘To lives which were otherwise bounded by quiet despair he brought hope that might “show the Heavens more just”. Who would deny them that?’ 1

Rua’s community was seen by Pākehā as subversive, and he was accused of discouraging his followers from enlisting for the First World War and selling alcohol. In 1916 police invaded Maungapōhatu to arrest him and in the ensuing gunfight two Tūhoe men, including Rua’s son, were killed. Rua and others were arrested and transported to Auckland for trial for sedition. Rua was sentenced to one year of hard labour followed by 18 months’ imprisonment.

Rua was released from jail in April 1918 and returned to Maungapōhatu. His community had been torn apart by the police invasion, the subsequent trials, the imprisonment of community members and the crippling legal costs. There followed a long slide into irrelevance for Rua and his church. He died in 1937 and was buried at Matahī in the Waimana valley.

  1. Judith Binney, Mihaia. Auckland: Auckland University Press/Bridget Williams, 1987, p. 189. › Back
How to cite this page:

Rangi McGarvey, 'Ngāi Tūhoe - Self-imposed isolation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 April 2024)

Story by Rangi McGarvey, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017