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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 nearly $750,000 today) 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 on Tūhoe was telling. In late September they helped capture Kereopa Te Rau (who was wanted in connection with the killing of the missionary Carl 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 military threat; he and his dwindling band were 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 with whom he had clashed made known their opposition to his return. Amidst fears of fighting, 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 two days on the condition that he never returned to Poverty Bay. The sentence was overturned in the Supreme Court, which found that there had been no misconduct or action by Te Kooti justifying ‘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 to Ōhiwa. He was resting in the shade of his cart when it slipped and fell on top of him. Te Kooti had predicted that he would die as the result of an accident. He carried on to Ōhiwa, 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:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated