The Māori King, Te Arikinui Tūheitia Paki, can trace his position back to the 1850s, when tribes from all over the country discussed the notion of appointing a king. Rapid European population growth was putting pressure on Māori to sell land, and there was a sense that they were losing control of their own affairs.
Pōtatau Te Wherowhero 1858–60
Matutaera Tāwhiao 1860–94
Te Rata 1912–33
Te Ātairangikaahu 1966–2006
Tūheitia Paki 2006–
The first king, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, was selected because he had the mana needed to hold such a position. His coronation in 1858 established a dynasty. His son Tāwhiao became king in 1860 and led the movement during the difficult period of the Waikato War of 1863–4 and the land confiscations that followed. These were crucial times for the fledgling movement. Tāwhiao, who was also a prophet, led his people into exile in the area now known as the King Country. He managed to keep the Kīngitanga together when it was viewed as a direct threat to the authority of the British Crown and to European settlement.
In 1894 Tāwhiao was succeeded by his son, Mahuta. His reign saw a shift in the formal relationship between the Kīngitanga and the government. Mahuta became a member of the Legislative Council and the Executive Council (Cabinet), thus involving the Kīngitanga in mainstream politics.
From 1912 Mahuta’s son, Te Rata, continued the work of his father by negotiating with the New Zealand government and the British Crown and by seeking redress for grievances. His son Korokī was assisted during his reign (1933–66) by his aunt, Te Puea Hērangi. When Korokī died, his daughter Te Ātairangikaahu became the Kīngitanga's first female hereditary leader.