The Short Story
• The Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) is one of New
Zealand’s longest-standing political institutions. Founded in
1858, it continues today.
The idea of a King
• There was no single Māori sovereign when
Europeans first came to New Zealand. Instead, Māori
tribes functioned independently under the
leadership of their own chiefs. However, by the
1850s Māori were faced with increasing numbers of
British settlers, political marginalisation and growing
demand from the Crown to purchase their lands.
Māori were divided between those who were
prepared to sell and those who were not.
• Some Māori attributed the power of the British to
their one sovereign. This idea was particularly
common among men who had travelled to England
and had seen British institutions, industry and law
and order in operation, such as Piri Kawau (Te Āti
Awa), who met Queen Victoria in 1843, and
Tāmihana Te Rauparaha (Ngāti Toa), who met her in
1852. They believed that a pan-tribal movement,
unifying the Māori people under one sovereign equal
to the Queen of England, could bring an end to
intertribal conflict, keep Māori land in Māori hands
and provide a separate governing body for Māori.
• Both Kawau and Tāmihana initially thought they
might become king. However, Kawau had
admitted to Queen Victoria that Pōtatau Te
Wherowhero of Waikato was the most powerful
chief in New Zealand, while Tāmihana was
reminded by his father, the famous chief Te
Rauparaha, that his people had been forced to
leave Kāwhia by the powerful Waikato.
• Traditionally Māori had no centralised monarchy. Tribes were
independent and were led by chiefs.
• In the 1850s there were growing numbers of European
settlers and demand for Māori land, and Māori lacked political
power. Some Māori wanted to unify the tribes under a
• In 1853 Mātene Te Whiwhi and Tāmihana Te Rauparaha began
travelling round the North Island looking for a chief who
would agree to become king. However, most chiefs declined.
Reports to London
• In 1841 Governor William Hobson had reported to London
that Pōtatau was the most powerful chief in New Zealand.
Mātene Te Whiwhi of Ngāti Raukawa had canvassed the
genealogical experts Te Hūkiki Te Ahukaramū and Te Whīoi of
Ngāti Raukawa, who believed that Pōtatau was the most
suitable candidate. He had extensive genealogical connections
with many iwi and his kingship could be well supported by the
fertile lands and resources of the then wealthy Waikato. The
wealth of Pōtatau was important, as his people would host
many gatherings.
The reluctant 1st King: Pōtatau
In 1856, at Pūkawa, on the
shores of Lake Taupō, the
Waikato chief Pōtatau Te
Wherowhero was nominated
as king. At first he refused,
but later agreed.
In 1858 he was declared king
at Ngāruawāhia. Declaring ‘E
Ta, kua tō te rā’ (o sir, the sun
is about to set), meaning that
he had not much longer to
Hereditary Kingship
In response to Pōtatau
comment it was suggested
that on his passing (death)
his son, Tāwhiao, could carry
on the kingship, which might
then become hereditary.
With this idea, Pōtatau
accepted the kingship.
On 25 June 1860 Pōtatau
died, at his home in
Ngāruawāhia, within 2 years
of his appointment.
Tāwhiao, 1860–1894
When Pōtatau died in 1860
his son, Tāwhiao, became
Tāwhiao was proclaimed king
on 5th July 1860 under
Pōtatau’s investiture.
The first two years of
Tāwhiao‘s reign were
dominated by war.
The Waikato War
Governor Thomas Gore
Browne demanded Tāwhiao
submit 'without reserve' to
Queen Victoria.
Meaning Māori were to
pledge allegiance to Queen
Victoria not Kingitanga.
Browne viewed Waikato
Māori as a problem; because
Kingitanga were antilandselling
Waikato War Map
Loss of Land
In 1863 government troops
invaded the Waikato, and war
followed. Waikato were
defeated, huge areas of their
land were confiscated, and
Tāwhiao and his followers
retreated into the King Country.
In 1881 they returned to
Waikato. Tāwhiao worked
unsuccessfully for the return of
confiscated lands, and travelled
to London in 1884 to look for
support from Queen Victoria.
He had no luck in London.
Returning home Tāwhiao began
poukai, annual visits to
Kīngitanga marae, to comfort
the widowed, bereaved and
This tradition still continues to
take place. 30 marae hold
poukai and are visited by the
Tāwhiao continued his quest for
mana motuhake (Māori political
independence), setting up the
Kauhanganui, a parliament, in
It had a council of 12 tribal
representatives (the Tekau-mārua), as well as ministers.
Tupu Taingākawa, the second
son of Wiremu Tāmihana (and
kingmaker at the time), was the
tumuaki (premier).
Tāwhiao was offered, and
accepted, a government
pension. There was much iwi
concern about the implication
that he had given up his
independence, and the pension
was paid back, with interest.
• Mahuta became king in 1890 after the death of Tāwhiao, his
father. In the 1890s the Kīngitanga tried unsuccessfully to
unite with the Kotahitanga (Māori parliament) movement.
From 1903 to 1910 Mahuta was a member of the Legislative
Council, appointed by Premier Richard Seddon.
Te Rata and Te Puea
• Mahuta died in 1912 and his son, Te Rata, became king. Te
Rata was often ill. In 1914 he and three others travelled to
England. He met King George V, but was told that the land
confiscations were an issue for the New Zealand government.
• Te Rata’s cousin, Te Puea Hērangi, became a Kīngitanga leader.
She opposed participation in the First World War, and worked
to rebuild an economic base and to establish Tūrangawaewae
marae at Ngāruawāhia.
• Korokī reluctantly became king in 1933 after his father, Te
Rata, died. At Tūrangawaewae he hosted important visitors,
including Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Te Ātairangikaahu
• After Korokī died in 1966, his
daughter, Piki, was crowned
as Queen Te Ātairangikaahu,
the first Māori queen. She
was made a dame in 1970.
One of the most important
achievements during her
reign was when Tainui–
Waikato signed a settlement
with the government in 1995
over the land confiscations. Te
Ātairangikaahu died in August
2006. She was the longestserving Māori monarch.
• Te Ātairangikaahu’s
son Tūheitia became
king in 2006.
Te Ara – The Encyclopedia
of New Zealand
NZ History

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