Settlers bring change
Following many generations of Te Āti Awa settlement in the Taranaki region, the arrival of Europeans created major political, social and cultural disruption. An influx of New Zealand Company settlers in 1841, anxious to start farming the fertile Te Āti Awa lands around New Plymouth and Waitara, marked the start of continued unrest. This began at a time when large numbers of Te Āti Awa were away from their homeland establishing new communities and territories in the south with other allied tribes. The pressure that settlers put on Māori to sell land resulted in about 600 Te Āti Awa members returning to Taranaki from the Waikanae–Wellington area under the leadership of their chief, Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke, in 1848.
Opposition to land sales
Kīngi was opposed to selling land to Europeans, but in the 1850s others in the tribe sold off portions of the tribal estate. This led to friction and warfare between various sub-tribes of Te Āti Awa, as well as hostility toward the European settlers. Despite this, Kīngi Te Rangitāke and his allies managed to establish a thriving tribal economy based primarily on selling food to the settlers in New Plymouth. They planted extensive orchards and wheat and tended a variety of farm livestock. They had also purchased European-style ships for trading outside the region.
In the 1850s, Kīngi was believed to be associated with a Māori ‘land league’, established to encourage Māori to retain their land rather than sell it. Because Kīngi was considered to be the leader of this organisation, he was vilified in the press. To the resident European population he exemplified everything that was perceived to be ‘bad’ about Māori.