The King Country (Māori:Te Rohe Pōtae) is a region of the western North Island of New Zealand. It extends approximately from the Kawhia Harbour and the town of Otorohanga in the north to the upper reaches of the Whanganui River in the south, and from the Hauhungaroa and Rangitoto Ranges in the east to near the Tasman Sea in the west. It comprises hill country, large parts of which are forested.
The King Country per se is not an entity in local government. It forms part of two local government Regions, Waikato and Manawatu-Wanganui, and all or part of four districts: Otorohanga, Ruapehu, Taupo and Waitomo.
The greater part of the region's economy is involved in farming (especially pastoral farming) and forestry, with some supporting services. There are some areas of tourist significance, such as Waitomo Caves. The King Country also contains areas of conservation estate, especially Pureora Forest Park.
During the Invasion of Waikato starting in July 1863, the British colonial government, supported by loyal Māori, attacked the rebel Kingitanga movement in the Waikato with Imperial, colonial troops and loyal Māori forces. In 1861, the King Movement, led by Rewi Maniapoto, ambushed and killed soldiers in Taranaki, tried to kill a missionary at Te Awamutu, burnt down the Te Awamutu mission and the Māori trade school there and launched at least eight attacks on settlers in Auckland, including the major conflict at East Pukekohe, in which the rebel Kingitanga forces received a decisive defeat. The rebels were beaten in a long series of 18 battles in Auckland and the Waikato. Defeated, they retreated southwards from the Waikato, eventually being forced to flee to Maniatoto land, later called King Country, after the final battle at Orakau.
At this time, the region received a Māori name, Rohe pōtae. This name translates as "Area of the Hat", and is said to have originated when the second Māori King Tāwhiao put his white top hat on a large map of the North Island and declared that all land covered by the hat would be under his mana (or authority). This was later the cause of bitter dispute with the resident tribes, especially Maniapoto, who still considered they had mana(authority) over their own land. The white hat, with a wide black band, was originally owned by Te Heuheu of Tuwharetoa who was asked to be the Māori king. Te Heuheu,of Tuwharetoa,who was the dominant leader in the central North Island, passed the hat to various other chiefs, who all refused the position of king. After long debate, the hat was taken to Te Wherowhero, the great Waikato chief, and placed on his head. He was reluctant to accept the position as he was old but was eventually persuaded by Wiremu Tamihana (the king maker), who was a clever orator, and others to take the hat which had come to symbolize the Maori monarchy. The hat was a white Bell topper.
In the aftermath of the suppression of the king movement, the colonial government, having confiscated Kingitanga land in the Waikato valley, was content to leave the King Movement alone as they believed that the immediate threat to Auckland had passed. The King Country, mountainous, poor and isolated, was not a very attractive conquest, and the thought of fighting the rebels in a mountainous region despite well developed supply lines from Auckland to the Waikato via the Waikato river and the construction of a telegraph system cannot have appealed to General Cameron who was busy in Tauranga. King Tāwhiao and his followers were able to maintain a rebel Māori monarchy in exile and a refuge for rebel Māori opposed to the government for more than a decade although living conditions were very poor. This may be partly due to the large influx of about 3,500 Waikato people who swamped the resources of the approximately 800 Maniapoto living in the rohe. During his rampage through the North Island in the late 1860s, the rebellious Te Kooti, whose guerrilla gang had murdered at least 100 settlers and loyal Māori,including killing children and women, twice went to the Māori king to seek his support. The first time, the king refused to have anything to do with him as Te Kooti had vowed to take over leadership from the king when he first landed at Gisborne in the hi jacked ship. Later when Te Kooti was on the run and many of his Tuhoe supporters had either deserted him or had died in battles, Rewi Maniapoto agreed to give him sanctuary, initially against the will of the king. The king helped the government Māori troops locate Te Kooti by giving them free passage through his rohe (territory). This was another factor that led to the breakdown of relations between the king and Maniapoto. Maniapoto gave Te Kooti shelter in the remote Mokau valley without the king's consent. In the mid-1870s, Tawhiao reluctantly agreed to give Te Kooti formal protection provided Te Kooti kept the peace, after Te Kooti had tried to get involved in an armed conflict with a North Taranaki tribe Ngati Mutunga, over gold prospecting in the Mokau valley. Te Kooti had been allowed to the river mouth by Rewi to collect kai moana (sea food)and observed prospectors and Ngati Mutunga at the river mouth. During that time, Te Kooti developed his Ringatu cult further and further developed his fondness for alcohol and women. The king was never entirely at peace with Te Kooti's far more aggressive attitude.Gilbert Mair who acted as government agent in the 1870s to try to establish a working relationship with the Kingites ,observerved the frosty relationship between the 2 men with Tawhaio refusing to acknowledge Te Kooti's presence or eat with him. As both the king and Te Kooti were guests of Maniapoto there was little he could do. Te Kooti preached the Ringatu faith around the North Island, watched closely by the government. When Te Kooti left the King Country to try to restart his rebellion in Poverty Bay in the 1880s the government was quickly able to locate him at Waioeka Pa and sent an artillery unit arrest him with information provided by more friendly Māori leaders.
Finally, in 1881, as a result of ongoing friction with his hosts over the question of land sales, and a general amnesty being granted to the rebels, Tāwhiao emerged and laid down the King Movement's arms and by 1883, after successful negotiations between the government and Wahanui, Rewi and Taonui, the King Country was made accessible to Europeans and opened to road surveying, but with a prohibition on the sale of alcohol throughout the district. The alcohol ban lasted until 1953 – as a young man, John A. Lee was jailed for smuggling alcohol into the area around 1910. The ban on alcohol was possibly the result of the arrival of Te Kooti, who was well known as a drunkard in his youth and seems to have returned to this practice by the late 1870s.
When the Native Land Court was legislate individual Maori could, for the first time, gain legal title to land. Prior to this only chiefs controlled land and legal boundaries were often disputed. Disputes arose from the total lack of written or maps to show precise boundaries and also the ongoing inter tribal and inter hapu wars that had flared between 1805 and 1843. In 1883 King Tawhiao set up the kingitanga bank to deposit the capital from all the land sold by individuals. Prior to this capital had been deposited in the various commercial banks of New Zealand. At the same time the king decided he would go to England with a group of supporters to visit Queen Victoria. He withdrew all the capital from the bank to pay for the trip without consulting the depositors. On his return the depositors stormed the bank, ransacked it looking for their money and finding none, burnt the bank down.
About that time, the colonial government began considering plans for a railway from Auckland to Wellington, and began to send surveyors into the King Country to look for a favourable route. Construction of the railway line began in 1885 and finished in 1908. The completion of the railway greatly improved transport and communications in the King Country and promoted settlement and farming in the area, as well as assisting in the growth of rural service towns such as Taumarunui. Behind the scenes Pakeha[who?]who supported a policy of assimilation, encouraged employment of young Māori men on the railway scheme. As a process of reducing Maori dependence on hapu and iwi traditional economies, this would further dislocate Maori from their culture and promote the assimilationist policies of the New Zealand state. When the rail industry declined towards the middle of the twentieth century, this would result in vast unemployment for many now impoverished and landless Maori. With support from King Country Maori the main trunk railway line was completed in 1901 with Taumaranui becoming an important railway depot during the steam age, which lasted until the 1950s.
Throughout the 20th century, the history of the King Country was largely uneventful, as for many areas of rural New Zealand.
- Stories Without End.J. Binney. Bridget Williams.2010.
- "The Māori King movement". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 4 March 2009.
- Tom O'Conner article. Waikato Times.Sept 2012.