Skip to main content

New Zealand's 19th-century wars

Page 4 – Prophets and colonists

In 1864 the Kīngitanga took refuge in Ngāti Maniapoto territory – the ‘King's Country’. Much of its land was confiscated by the settler government. Another round of fighting was sparked by new Māori religious movements.

Te Ua Haumēne and Pai Mārire

The first prophet to emerge at this time was Te Ua Haumēne. His Pa Mārire faith had grown out of the conflict over land in Taranaki in 1862. Followers of his Hauhau church soon distorted its principles of ‘goodness and peace’ to justify guerrilla attacks from Taranaki to the East Coast. These raids terrified many. Despite high-profile incidents such as the killing of the missionary Carl Völkner at Ōpōtiki, the attacks lacked coordination and each flare-up was soon doused.


A graver crisis struck in 1868 when resistance to land confiscation in Taranaki erupted into warfare. In south Taranaki the Ngāti Ruanui leader Tītokowaru won several stunning victories despite being heavily outnumbered. A Methodist lay preacher who became a Pai Mārire prophet, Tītokowaru gained some support from the King Movement and his fighting force grew to around 400.

His victories almost brought the colony to its knees, and the government considered returning confiscated land. But at the height of his success Tītokowaru’s army mysteriously fell apart. This may have been due to his adultery with the wife of an allied chief. Read more about Tītokowaru's war.

Te Kooti and Ringatū

With neither the British nor settlers willing to foot the hefty bills for the imperial army, kūpapa and settler forces now playd front-line roles. In 1868 the small colonial army, the Armed Constabulary, faced war on two fronts. Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki of Rongowhakaata had been arrested for allegedly helping a Pai Mārire force in 1865. He was one of hundreds exiled to the Chatham Islands, 800 km east of the South Island.

In exile Te Kooti established the Ringatū faith, which was adopted by many of his fellow prisoners. In July 1868, he and his followers overpowered their guards and sailed back to the mainland. When the government refused to negotiate with them, they descended on Poverty Bay in November to attack the many locals – Māori and Pākehā – who had offended Te Kooti over the years.

After a battle at Ngātapa at the beginning of 1869, Te Kooti retreated to the Urewera Range. Over the following years he was pursued across the central North Island by a number of forces, including the Arawa Flying Column. Trained and led by Captain Gilbert Mair, this highly mobile guerrilla unit was made up of 100 young Te Arawa men.

The final phase of the war with Te Kooti was a bitter campaign. One by one the Tūhoe leaders were forced to surrender. Stripped of his main support, Te Kooti took shelter in the King Country under the protection of King Tāwhiao. He was eventually pardoned by the government in 1883. Read more about Te Kooti's war.

How to cite this page

Prophets and colonists, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated