New Zealand in the mid-1800s was a land in turmoil. To the newly
arrived, predominantly English settlers, it was a land rich in potential
and a valuable addition to the British Empire.
To the native Maori, it was a scene of unimaginable change. Their
old ways of living, their rules and their customs were being undermined
by the powerful and more numerous arrivals.
Even though a treaty was signed between many Maori Chiefs and the Government
in 1840, this clash of cultures was to have serious and tragic consequences
At the heart of the problem was land. Maori did not see land as a commodity
that was bought and sold. Land had mana, it had a spiritual as well as
practical value and ownership was complex. When the European settlers
saw New Zealand's landscape, they saw forests, farms, mines and cities.
These differing views inevitably created conflict between Pakeha (white
settlers) and Maori. Land sales also caused major divisions within Maori.
There were disputes over ownership and between those that wanted to sell
and those that didn't.
If this wasn't destructive enough to Maori, imported diseases were rampant
and thousands of Maori died from influenza, tuberculosis, whooping cough
Against this bleak background emerged the first stirrings of the Kiingitanga
(the King Movement).
A powerful Ngati Toa Chief, Tamihana Te Rauparaha had been to England
in 1852 and met with Queen Victoria. The idea of one monarch representing
a whole nation held enormous appeal to Tamihana especially as he could
see how unscrupulous land traders were benefiting from the disunity of
Maori tribes. His view was that a Maori 'King' could speak with one voice
and achieve much more for Maori as a whole.
However, finding a candidate worthy of the position and acceptable to
the many tribes who subscribed to the concept of Kiingitanga was not an
easy task. After years of negotiation, persuasion and diplomacy, the well-respected
and influential Waikato chief, Potatau Te Wherowhero was declared to be
the first Maori King in April 1857.
The idea of a Maori King was not to be a threat to the authority of the
Crown or the sovereignty of Queen Victoria but serve as a partner for
the greater good of all.
"I am called the king, not for the purpose of separation, but
in order that the natives might be united as one race, ever acknowledging
the supremacy of the Queen and claiming her protection."
Matutaera Tawhiao Te Wherowhero - second Maori King
Unfortunately, the government and settlers did not see it that way. They
saw Kiingitanga as a threat to their existence and an obstacle to gaining
even more land.
Before long, in the eyes of the settlers, Kiingitanga followers were simply
troublemakers who were behind every uprising. This sentiment made it very
easy for the politicians of the day to launch a bloody military invasion
of the Waikato and confiscate over 400,000 hectares of extremely productive
Tribes loyal to Kiingitanga resisted against overwhelming odds but were
finally forced to retreat to the isolated and rugged lands to the south
(later to be named, the King Country). During the x difficult years in
exile the belief in Kiingitanga remained strong and the movement survived
intact and re-emerged to once again speak and act for all Maori.
While politics played a major part in the formation of Kiingitana, there
was, and still is also a strong spiritual component. Many of its early
supporters were converts to Christianity and as part of the crowning ceremony
of the first King, Potatau Te Wherowhero, a bible was placed on his head.
This custom has continued, as does the belief in one God.
The position of king is not hereditary, yet the Te Wherowhero lineage
has remained unbroken right through to the present Maori King, Kiingi
Today, the Kiingitanga continues to uphold enduring ideals, customs, traditions
and principles. Its priority is listening to the voice of the people;
to support freedom of worship and speech, and to work together so that
Maori and Pakeha can live in harmony.
May 1858 - June 1860
July 1860 - August 1894
September 1894 - November 1910
November 1912 - October 1933
October 1933 - May 1966
May 1966 - August 2006