Tītokowaru's war

Page 8 – A return to peace

In late 1869 a tohunga absolved Tītokowaru of the sin which had cost him his support at Taurangaika, and his mana and following began to recover. After what has been described as his third conversion to peace, his relationship with Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi of Parihaka strengthened. He nevertheless made it known that he would fight if attacked.

In 1871 Tītokowaru began to reoccupy his former territories. He built a new meeting house, Te Aroha Kainga, at his birthplace at Ōkaiawa, and developed a profitable business selling cocksfoot grass-seed to settlers.

Though Tītokowaru was no longer considered to be a military threat, a fresh wave of ‘creeping confiscation’ saw him enter a new phase of activism in the late 1870s. He initially accepted £900 for some of his land; the payment was added to the common fund at Parihaka. Tītokowaru’s position hardened when the government started surveying confiscated land on the Waimate plain in 1879. His followers pulled up survey pegs and removed equipment belonging to the surveyors, then ploughed the disputed land. This non-violent protest was designed to overwhelm the Pākehā legal system. Mass arrests of those involved severely tested both the patience and the resources of the authorities. Tītokowaru was imprisoned three times during these ploughing campaigns.

While historians emphasise the role of Te Whiti and Tohu in this campaign of passive resistance, it was Tītokowaru who saw to its logistics. His presence at Parihaka was certainly not lost on the authorities when plans were made to invade the settlement in November 1881.

Given Tītokowaru’s reputation, Native Minister John Bryce took no chances. A force of over 1500 was deployed against the inhabitants of Parihaka. The settlement’s key figures, including Te Whiti, Tohu Kākahi and Tītokowaru, were arrested without resistance. Most of its inhabitants were driven away and the settlement was largely destroyed. Much of central Taranaki now became Pākehā farmland.

Tītokowaru was released from prison in July 1882. Although he was now in poor health, he resumed his campaign for peace. A number of reconciliation pilgrimages reminiscent of his campaigns of 1867 were conducted in 1885–6. These attracted up to 1200 followers as he pledged to ‘shower peace upon the people until the end of time’.

This was not ‘supine acquiescence’. Tītokowaru refused to accept any rent payments for his land that had been compulsorily leased through the Public Trustee. He was arrested again in July 1886 after a protest near Manaia. This was to be his final incarceration. His health declined and on 17 July 1888 he died at his home at Ōkaiawa. Some 2000 Maori attended his tangihanga, after which he was buried secretly.

Tītokowaru in perspective

The extent of Tītokowaru’s war was soon downplayed. Within a few years some colonists were writing of the absurdity of the ‘hysteria’ during his campaign.

Native Minister Donald McLean admitted that Tītokowaru’s military reputation protected central Taranaki as (in effect) an independent Māori state for most of the 1870s. Only the invasion of Parihaka ended his resistance. His military prowess had been recognised by the colonial press in the late 1860s, with the Daily Southern Cross observing that ‘Tito has evidently been out-generalling our generals to a lamentable extent’. George Whitmore would later suggest that many had overreacted to the threat posed by Tītokowaru. James Belich disagrees, believing that although he was overshadowed by first Te Kooti and then Te Whiti, Tītokowaru was the ‘greatest threat to European dominance in the history of New Zealand’.

How to cite this page

'A return to peace', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/titokowarus-war/a-return-to-peace, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 26-Oct-2021