Te Kooti's war

Page 9 – A Māori matter

After Te Kooti escaped from the grasp of the authorities yet again, Donald McLean (who was now Native Minister) decided that the pursuit would be left to Māori. A reward of £5000 (equivalent to over $600,000 in 2011) was offered for his capture.

Rāpata Wahawaha led four expeditions into Te Urewera. The first was a joint operation with Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui in which the Tūhoe stronghold of Tōrea-a-tai at Maungapōhatu fell. Te Keepa and Rāpata then stormed Te Kooti’s pā at Maraetahi. One by one Tūhoe leaders were forced to surrender as their crops and villages were destroyed by Te Arawa, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Porou.

In August 1871 Te Kooti eluded Mair and Te Arawa at Waipāoa. Rāpata commenced his final ‘pacification’ of Te Urewera in the spring. He stated that he wished to capture only ‘rebels and murderers’; refugees and fugitive hapū would be allowed to return home. On 1 September Te Kooti narrowly avoided capture at Te Hāpua.

The toll was telling on Tūhoe. In late September they helped capture Kereopa Te Rau (who was wanted in connection with the killing of the missionary Völkner) in a bid to end the fighting. Rāpata informed a gathering of Tūhoe at Ruatāhuna that the government was now at peace with them. Te Kooti was no longer a realistic military threat. He and his dwindling band were forced to live as fugitives. In December Rāpata withdrew his garrison from Te Urewera and returned to the East Coast.

‘I ceased strife’

In May 1872 Te Kooti arrived at Arowhena in the King Country, accompanied by Heni Kumekume (his favourite wife) and possibly one other woman, and six men. Granted sanctuary by Tāwhiao, he did not declare peace until September 1873. For the next decade he lived at Te Kūiti developing the rituals, texts and prayers of his Ringatū church. As his teachings began to spread, so did belief in his powers as a healer and prophet.

Te Kooti was formally pardoned by the government on 12 February 1883, when he exchanged pledges of peace with Native Minister John Bryce. He moved to Ōtewā near Ōtorohanga and established a religious community there. Te Kooti made a series of journeys, visiting his followers and making peace with his enemies.

Lingering fears

In early 1889 Te Kooti attempted to attend the opening of the meeting house Rongopai (Gospel), one of four houses built for him in Poverty Bay.

Pinepine te kura

Although Te Kooti was prevented from attending the opening of Rongopai, his presence was felt. A waiata he composed, ‘Pinepine te Kura’, was sung by his followers at the opening. This asked why he alone was banished from Poverty Bay.

Local settlers and Māori he had clashed with made known their opposition to his return, and there were fears fighting might break out. The government intervened. Te Kooti was stopped at Ōmarumutu, arrested and convicted of unlawful assembly. The resident magistrate at Ōpōtiki ordered that he be sent to Mount Eden gaol in Auckland. He was released after only two days on condition that he never return to Poverty Bay. The sentence was overturned in the Supreme Court, which found no misconduct or action on the part of Te Kooti to justify ‘terror and alarm’. But in 1890 the original decision was reinstated by the Court of Appeal.

Final years

By 1891 Te Kooti had once more turned his back on the Kīngitanga. He also rejected approaches from other Māori leaders. He was given 600 acres (240 ha) on Ōhiwa Harbour, an area in which Ringatū had established itself. In February 1893 he was injured while travelling there. He was resting in the shade of his cart when it slipped and fell on him. Te Kooti had predicted that he would die as the result of an accident. He carried on to Ōhiwa Harbour, then went to Rūātoki in late March to meet Tūhoe chiefs before returning to Ōhiwa, where he died on 17 April 1893.

How to cite this page

'A Māori matter', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/te-kootis-war/a-maori-matter, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 10-Jul-2018