Māori King movement origins

Page 3 – The land issue

A line in the sand

The pressure to sell land was a key factor in the creation of the Kīngitanga. In 1840 there were about 2000 permanent European residents in New Zealand, and perhaps 70,000 Māori. Yet by 1858, Pākehā outnumbered Māori.

Before European settlement Māori could not sell land, and few chiefs had the mana or authority to tuku (gift) land. The Treaty of Waitangi gave the Crown pre-emptive or sole right of purchase of Māori land. This might have protected Māori custom and interests, but instead the Crown used its monopoly to aggressively purchase Māori land.

Initially land purchases were discussed in open meetings, but by the late 1840s Māori were making secret deals with government officials. Deals with individual Māori or groups who did not represent all the owners caused inter-tribal disputes. In 1854 hui (meetings) in Taranaki and Waikato resolved to retain intact all the land within certain boundaries. Those who joined this movement swore to maintain a tapu on the land on pain of death.

When Māori living beside Manukau Harbour attempted to sell land they claimed on the banks of the lower Waikato River, they were confronted by a large armed party that had travelled down the river to mark the boundary beyond which no sales were permitted. In August 1854, Rāwiri Waiaua and four other men were killed near New Plymouth for attempting to sell land. In response to what was labelled the Puketapu feud, British troops were stationed in New Plymouth to protect European settlers.

The year 1854 was significant in many respects. Many settlers now had direct political representation under a constitution that created an elected House of Representatives. In the minds of proponents of the Kīngitanga, this heightened the need to find a suitable candidate to be king, and quickly.

How to cite this page

'The land issue', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/the-maori-king-movement/the-land-issue, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 1-Oct-2014