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Maungapohatu, city of the mist 1908.jpg
Maungapohatu is located in New Zealand
Location of Maungapohatu
Coordinates: 38°34′14″S 177°05′43″E / 38.57056°S 177.09528°E / -38.57056; 177.09528Coordinates: 38°34′14″S 177°05′43″E / 38.57056°S 177.09528°E / -38.57056; 177.09528
Settled by Māori 1907
Elevation 600 m (2,000 ft)

Maungapohatu is a settlement in the Bay of Plenty Region of New Zealand's North Island. Located in a remote area of the Urewera bush country about 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Lake Waikaremoana, it was founded by Rua Tapunui Kenana in 1907. At its peak... but today...

It lies at the foot of the mountain of the same name, which is sacred to the Tūhoe iwi.[1]

Urewera Ranges[edit]

Lake Waikaremoana and Te Urewera from the south

Te Urewera is a sparsely populated and thickly forested hill country to the northeast of Lake Taupo. It is the historical home of the Tūhoe, a Māori iwi known for their stance on Māori sovereignty. Today, much of the land is contained within Te Urewera National Park. The State Highway 38 is the only major arterial road that crosses it, running from Waiotapu near Rotorua via Murupara to Wairoa.

Because of its isolation and dense forest, Te Urewera remained largely untouched by British colonists until the early 20th century; in the 1880s it was still in effect under Māori control and few Pākehā were prepared to risk entering the area.[2]

Rua Tapunui Kenana[edit]

Rua Tapunui Kenana, also known as Te Mihaia Hou, Moses, Rua Kenana Hepetipa[1] and Ruatapunui[3] was a Māori prophet, faith healer and land rights activist. Rua claimed to have been born in 1869 at Maungapohatu, although this is disputed.[3]

Brought up amongst the Tūhoe + others[3] He left in 1887 and worked on sheep stations in the Gisborne and Bay of Plenty districts and as a member of a shearing gang on the east coast. He was drawn to religion and studied the bible during this period of his life.[4]

Rua's later activities should be understood against the wider background of Māori land activism. Following the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and the protracted New Zealand Wars that took place from 1845 to 1872, the longest-standing Māori grievances generally involved land. In the century after 1840 the Māori lost possession of much of their land, sometimes purchased legitimately from willing sellers, but in others the transfer was legally and/or morally dubious. The return of lost land became a major focus for Māori activists, and generally united the older, more conservative generation with a younger protest generation.

Rua emerged from among the Ringatū, the followers of Te Kooti, shortly after the latter's death in 1893 and he became a divisive figure amongst the members of this church. After a mystical experience on the mountain of Maungapohatu, Rua claimed to be the successor to Te Kooti and the Māori brother of Christ. On 12 April (the sacred day of the month for Ringatu) 1906 he prophesied that on 25 June he would "ascend the throne" and that King Edward VII would arrive at Gisborne. When the King failed to appear, Rua announced: "I am really that King. Here I am, with all my people."[3]

Rua then returned to Maungapohatu where he set himself up as a prophet of the New Testament type and announced his plan for the creation of the City of God at Maungapohatu.[3] His messianic dreams for his people incorporated a range of schemes aimed at improving the welfare of his followers and he called his proposed self-sufficient new community the “New Jerusalem".[citation needed]

Founding philosophy[edit]

Rua Kenana meets with New Zealand Prime Minister Joseph Ward on Whakatane Beach, 23 March 1908.

The construction of Maungapohatu was a conscious recreation of the biblical city of Jerusalem.[1] The population called themselves the Iharaira, the Israelites, and Rua took the name "Moses". The construction of the community marked the beginning of their trials and test their faithfulness. Maungapohatu was, their "City of Redemption. Here, one day, the promises would all be completed and the confiscated lands and the autonomy of the people restored".[1][3]

Settlement history[edit]

First phase[edit]

Rua arrived at this isolated outpost as the winter set in. Those who were there can still remember the harshness of that first year: the potato crop failed and there were no pigs to be had. Tatu, one of the Riwaiti, had to go back to Te Whaiti to collect 6 sows to start their own breeding colony. At least fifty people died that winter, most of them children, from the inadequacy of the houses, an outbreak of typhoid which came from the valley camps, and a measles epidemic which devastated the community. Sometimes there was nothing to eat but huhu, and the coarse toi leaves, normally used only for clothing. But from this inauspicious beginning, the community struggled on to a first summer of great plenty. Two groups had come together to build te pa tapu o te atua, the sacred of the Lord: about half the entire Tuhoe tribe; and the Whakatohea, who through confiscation were almost landless. To signify the union between these two Mataatua tribes, Rua constructed the "House of the Lord", Hiruharama Hou, built with two gables. One side was for the Tuhoe and the other for the Whakatohea.[5] Built between 1907-1908, "it was an impressive settlement with its own courthouse, bank, and council room. The streets were lit with oil lamps and it had its own water system, with separated pools for washing and cooking. The families set up their own rules of conduct, which were enforced through a council of elders and their prophet leader. In these first years, about 500 or 600 people lived at Maungapohatu."[1]

However, by the close of 1913, Maungapohatu had declined. The Whakatohea had left and it had become a community of about 30 families. In 1914 the community broke up of its own accord and 20,000 acres which the Tuhoe had set aside in 1907, to be “a habitation for God and man”, were partitioned. Rua left and his circular community house called Hiona (or Zion), which had been consciously modelled on the Temple of Solomon was abandoned and became used as a hay store. A new meeting house in a more traditional style was built - Tane Nui A Rangi.[6]

The prophet at Maungapohatu[edit]

Rua standing on the rock in the centre.

He attempted to create a new system of land ownership and land usage. He organised a strong communal basis in all the settlements he founded but also emphasised the concept of family ownwership of property. He cast aside all traditional Māori tapu practices and replaced them with new forms specifically associated with the faith in himself as the Promised Messiah.

His followers vested their lands in Rua and he had these surveyed and sold back to them. The settlement was administered by the prophet's own parliament. He also formed a Māori mining company to exploit the mineral resources of the Urewera. At the prophet's command, 5 miles of forest were cleared and a prosperous farming community grew up under his leadership. Rua acted as his people's banker and took tithes of all they earned. In return, he gave them a prosperity they had never before known.

Rua built a curious two-storied circular temple of worship at Maungapohatu, called the Hiona (Zion) that also became his parliament from where the community affairs were administered. This circular meeting house, built in 1908, was decorated with a design of blue clubs and yellow diamonds, and stood within the inner sanctum of the pa. This was Rua's “Council Chamber and Court House” – also known as “Rua's Temple”. Rua thought it was modelled on the Jerusalem Temple (even though his chamber was not to be a place of worship), but the actual model was the present day Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, a Muslim holy site and one of the most sacred of Islamic shrines. Its unique cylinder shape would make it one of a kind[7] He grew his hair long and affected a bushy beard in the patriarchal tradition fashioned on the Jewish Nazirite. As his reading of the Bible appeared to prescribe seven wives, Rua kept to this number and immediately replaced any who died or ran away. In all he had 12 wives and over 70 children.

From the King-ite tradition he inherited the idea that Māori possessed a separate nationality, and this, together with the success of his community, aroused the jealousy of local chiefs and incurred the Government's enmity. Through his personal vision his messianic religion promised the return of Māori lands and mana to Māori, and the end of their subjection to pākehā rule. He wanted to remove the Tuhoe people totally from European influence and induced many to sell all their stock and farming interests.[8]


By 1908 Rua's struggle for power had brought the Tuhoe to the brink of civil war and the Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward intervened to curb the prophet's influence. The Government had organised a meeting in March 1908 at Ruatoki of all the Tuhoe tribes in an attempt to sort out the political differences between the two main Tuhoe factions, that of Rua Kenana and Numai Kereru, chief of the Ngatirongo and the main opponent among the Tuhoe of Rua's Christian-Judaic religious movement.

Rua and four of his wives

Because conflict was expected, the New Zealand Prime Minister had decided to informally visit both parties before the conference. At a dramatic encounter with Sir Joseph Ward on the Whakatane beach front on 23 March 1908, Rua and Joseph Ward exchanged words. Rua, flanked by some of his wives and supporters while seated on a chair that had been borrowed from the pub, acknowledged Joseph Ward approaching. Ward addressed both parties publicly, asking for their assistance in reconciling the differences in the forthcoming meeting at Ruatoki. To Rua's followers Ward said that he could not accept all that Rua had asked for. In particular, his request for his supporters to be placed on the European electoral role (presumably because they were outnumbered in the Eastern Māori electorate) was unacceptable, for Māori have "special representation of their own.” To Rua's request to have a special Māori government, he said, “I told Rua... that in New Zealand King Edward is king, and is represented here by his government or king. There can’t be two suns shining in the sky at the same time.” Rua replied to Ward, "Yes, there is only one sun in the heavens, but it shines on one side – the Pākehā side – and it darkens on the other.”[9]

Rua had become a political embarrassment, and there arose the need by the Government to make an example of this man widely seen as an agitator, hoping a crackdown would discourage other Māori activists. The mainstream Anglican church encouraged the Government to suppress Rua Kenana. In 1907, the church passed a motion that supported "the recent action of the Government in the direction of the suppression of tohungism (traditional Māori healing), and trusts that it may be possible for the Church to make more aggressive action among the tribes which are specifically affected by this evil." Authorities saw Rua Kenana as a disruptive influence and targeted him with the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907, which banned traditional Māori healers from using herbs and other healing methods which were part of their traditional medicine.[10] The Tohunga Suppression Act was designed to neutralise powerful traditional Māori leaders and tailor-made as a political weapon specifically against Rua Kenana and his movement of dessenting Māori.[11]

As a result of a number of charges of obtaining alcohol in 1910, Rua was fined for sly grogging and, in 1915, served a short gaol sentence for a similar offence. On his release he resumed his sly grogging.

Rua insisted that his people boycott military service, pertaining it was immoral to fight for a Pākehā King and Country given the injustice meted out on Māori under the British crown. Rua said, "I have 1400 men here and I am not going to let any of them enlist or go to war. You have no king now. The King of England he is no good. He is beat. The Germans will win. Any money I have I will give to the Germans. The English are no good. They have two laws. One for the Māori and one for the Pākehā. When the Germans win I am going to be king here. I will be king of the Māori and of the Pākehā."[12] This was taken by the establishment as sedition and finally gave the Government and Rua's detractors the incentive to intervene against Kenana and the Maungapohatu community.

=Third Phase[edit]

On 2 April 1916, 70 heavily armed police officers arrived at Maungapohatu to arrest Rua for sedition. Because Rua's village was so remote, the police had to take a lot of equipment and camped on the way. They moved like a small army with wagons and pack-horses. So as not to alert the Maungapohatu village of their intention to spring an attack they did not wear their police uniforms till just before the raid. They were convinced that when they reached Maungapohatu there would be an ambush. There was no violent resistance from Rua personally.[7] There are conflicting versions of what took place. Rua refused to submit to arrest, and his supporters fought a brisk half-hour gun battle with the police. In this exchange, Rua's son Toko and a Māori bodyguard were killed and two Māori were wounded. Four constables were wounded. After a battle lasting half an hour, Rua was arrested and transported to Rotorua, his hair and beard removed. He was eventually found not guilty of sedition but sentenced to one year's imprisonment for resisting the police.[13]

When he returned to the Urewera, the settlement at Maungapohatu was broken, divided, and the lands overgrown and much of the community having relocated. The Presbyterian Mission under Rev. John Laughton had moved into Maungapohatu and was teaching Presbyterian Christianity and Pākehā value systems. This shocked Rua, as he had banned pākehā schools from the original community. The costs of defence at the various trials had ruined the community financially as it had to sell stock and land to meet the debt. The community was even ordered to pay the costs of the entire police operations and raid at Maungapohatu. Even though the supreme court had found Rua's arrest illegal and a legal petition had been drafted to Parliament on 1 May 1917 on behalf of the Maungapohatu people calling for a full public inquiry into the events of 2 April 1916, and the behaviour of the police there and later intimidating witnesses, no compensation was ever offered to Maungapohatu.[14] Eventually Rua moved downstream to Matahi, a community he had founded on the Waimana River in the eastern Bay of Plenty in 1910, where he lived until his death on 20 February 1937. He was survived by five wives, nine sons, and 13 daughters. Belief in his divinity did not long survive him, however, as he failed to fulfill his promise to rise from the dead. Little now remains of Maungapohatu, and his church (Te Wairua Tapu) boasts few followers. The Urewera Country is peaceful, a contrast to what it was in the days of the Prophet Rua.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Binney (1983) p. 353
  2. ^ King (2003) p. ??
  3. ^ a b c d e f Binney (1996) p. 1
  4. ^ a b McLintock, A. H. (1966) "Rua Tapanui Hepetipa, or Kenana Rua Hepetipa" Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 13 February 2015
  5. ^ Binney et al (1979) pp.45–56).
  6. ^ Binney (1983) p. 354
  7. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference TipunaProfiles was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  8. ^ Rua Kenana – Let the white man, fight the white mans war!
  9. ^ Mihaia : the prophet Rua Kenana and his community at Maungapohatu (Judith Binney with Gillian Chaplin and Craig Wallace. Oxford University Press, 1979. pages 45–56).
  10. ^ Church apology after 99 years – Hawkes Bay Today – 2006-09-18 11:58:00.0 – localnews
  11. ^ A Return to the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 – [2001] VUWLRev 17; (2001) 32 VUWLR 437
  12. ^ Sheehan, Mark (1989), Māori and Pākehā: Race Relations 1912–1980. MacMillan, New Zealand.
  13. ^ Binney et al (1979) pp. 119-124
  14. ^ Binney et al (1979) pp. 131-132


External links[edit]

[[Category:Māori history] [[Category:Ngāi Tūhoe] [[Category:Intentional communities] [[Category:Populated places in the Bay of Plenty Region]

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