Māori King movement origins

Page 3 – The land issue

A line in the sand

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

Before European settlement Māori had no concept of selling land, and few chiefs had the mana (authority) to tuku (gift) it. The Treaty of Waitangi gave the Crown pre-emptive (sole) right of purchase of Māori land. This arrangement had the potential to protected Māori customs and interests, but instead the Crown used its monopoly to aggressively purchase Māori land.

Initially land sales 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 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 for another reason: many male settlers now had direct political representation under a constitution that had created an elected House of Representatives. To many Māori, this heightened the need for a king capable of unifying the tribes.