Kotahi ano te kohao o te ngira 

E kuhuna ai te miro ma te miro whero me te miro pango 

A muri i a au kia mau ki te ture ki te whakapono ki te aroha

Hei aha te aha! hei aha te aha!

“There is but one eye of the needle,

Through which the white, red and black threads must pass.

Hold fast to the law, hold fast to faith, hold fast to love

Forsake all else!”

These words were spoken by the first Maaori King, Pootatau Te Wherowhero to his son, Tukaroto Matutaera, who would become known as Kiingi Taawhiao after he was raised up to the Kingship on the death of his father, in 1860.

In many ways this whakatauki, with its message of unity and holding fast to ideals and principles, is as relevant today as it was more than 150 years ago.

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 for Maori.

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 and measles.

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 land.

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 Tuheitia.

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.


King Potatau Te Wherowhero
May 1858 – June 1860

King Tawhiao Matutaera Te Pukepuke
Tukaroto Te-a-Potatau Te Wherowhero
July 1860 – August 1894

King Mahuta Tawhiao Potatau Te Wherowhero
September 1894 – November 1910

King Te Rata Tawhiao Potatau Te Wherowhero
November 1912 – October 1933

King Koroki Tawhiao Potatau Te Wherowhero
October 1933 – May 1966

Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu
May 1966 – August 2006

King Tuheitia
August 2006