In the winter of 1868 the third Taranaki war broke out when the Ngāti Ruanui leader Riwha Tītokowaru led a campaign against the confiscation of Māori land. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the former Methodist lay preacher won several stunning victories that almost brought the colony to its knees. In February 1869 – at the height of his success – his army fell apart almost overnight. He had suffered a loss of mana, perhaps through committing adultery with the wife of one of his warriors.
Tītokowaru re-emerged as a strong supporter of the pacifist prophets Te Whiti and Tohu Kākahi at Parihaka, where he helped to organise a campaign of non-violent resistance to ‘creeping confiscation’ in 1878. Following the government’s invasion of Parihaka in 1881, Tītokowaru was imprisoned. After his release in 1882 he remained committed to peace while continuing to oppose confiscation. He died in 1888.
In the 1980s James Belich argued that Tītokowaru’s war had become a ‘dark secret’ of New Zealand history, ‘forgotten by the Pākehā as a child forgets a nightmare’. For Belich, Tītokowaru was ‘arguably the best general New Zealand has ever produced’.