Rua Kēnana, resisting police

Rua Kēnana, resisting police

Rua Kēnana
Labourer, born about 1869, New Zealand
Tried: 17 October 1916, Auckland Supreme Court
Charges: Sedition, resisting police, counselling persons to murder, counselling persons to discharge arms with intent to resist lawful apprehension, counselling persons to wound, counselling persons to assault police, counselling persons to do bodily harm
Sentences: Acquitted of sedition, one year’s imprisonment and 18 months’ reformative detention for resisting police; the jury disagreed on the other charges and they were dismissed by the court

The wartime arrest and prosecution of Rua Kēnana remains one of the most controversial episodes in New Zealand’s history. Rua, a Ringatū prophet, was the leader of the small and isolated Tūhoe village of Maungapōhatu, which developed its own institutions and practices separate from the New Zealand authorities. Officials and some Māori leaders regarded him with suspicion and attempted to undermine his position by various legal means, without success.

Rua was arrested in 1915 for selling alcohol illegally at Maungapōhatu and summonsed to appear before a magistrate in January 1916. He requested a delay during harvesting season, but the magistrate denied this and issued a warrant for his arrest when he failed to appear. Rua’s prosecution appears to have been influenced by a perception that he was encouraging his community to resist recruitment and so constituted a threat to the war effort in addition to his broader challenge to settler authority. Police Commissioner John Cullen led an armed police expedition which reached Maungapōhatu on 2 April 1916, occupied the marae and arrested an unarmed Rua. Someone fired a shot, and Rua’s son and another Māori man were killed in the ensuing firefight.

The Auckland Supreme Court heard Rua’s case in October 1916. He was accused of sedition for speaking against conscription and urging his followers to resist the police. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict on the charge of resisting the police; some observers claimed that the police action had been both illegal and excessive. The jury rejected the sedition charge and noted that he was only ‘morally’ guilty of resisting his initial arrest in 1915. The judge nevertheless sentenced Rua to one year’s imprisonment with hard labour and another 18 months of ‘reformative detention’, a sentence so harsh that eight members of the jury protested publicly and petitioned Parliament about it. Rua remained in prison until April 1918.

Sources: Judith Binney. 'Rua Kenana Hepetipa', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography; Police Gazette, 1916, pp. 575, 777

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