The Origins of the Maori King Movement - An Insider's Account

There are multiple accounts as to the origins of the Kingitanga, or Maori King Movement, which came to prominence with the instalment of Potatau Te Wherowhero as the first Maori King in 1858. Much less common is a detailed insider’s description of the emergence of the movement and its aims and objectives. Honana Te Maioha belonged to Ngati Mahuta and was a cousin of Matutaera, better known as King Tawhiao, the second Maori King. He was intimately involved in the Kingitanga and had been active in its formation. In 1882 he gave a detailed description of how the movement had come about. It emerged at a time when the Kingitanga was at the forefront of public attention. The year before King Tawhiao had laid down his arms at Alexandra (Pirongia) and declared an end to the war fought in the 1860s. Subsequent to this he travelled to a number of European settlements, includiing, in January 1881, to Auckland. There, Tawhiao and his entourage, including Honana Te Maioha, were feted by a grateful public and it was during this time that Honana was interviewed by a reporter from the New Zealand Herald on the origins of the movement. It was reproduced in a number of colonial newspapers under the heading ‘Story of the King Movement, Told by a Maori Chief’. This is his account:


On the occasion of the recent visit of the Kingites to Auckland, a reporter from the Herald interviewed Honana te Maioha – one of Tawhiao’s near relatives, who took an active part in the commencement of the King’s movement – with the view of having recorded facts respecting that singular series of events.

Honana states that the people of Kawhia were the first, so far as he knows, to entertain the idea of a King for the Maoris. Those who first spoke about the subject were the Ngatihikairo, the chiefs being Waikawau and Pikia. This was before Te Rauparaha was taken by Sir George Grey [in 1846]. The objects of the King movement were these: - 1. To form a bond amongst all the tribes of New Zealand. 2. The desire to form a land league, to stop the reckless alienation of land. 3. To prevent fighting and bloodshed among the Maoris. Honana continued: Potatau, when spoken to by the people of Kawhia, said, “It would not be right for you to call me to be a king, because I am simply a connection of Waikato, and a great many other tribes are interested in a matter of that kind.” At that time Potatau was living at Awhitu, on the Manukau. He would not consent to be made a king. Afterwards, Tamehana te Rauparaha and Matene te Whiwhi, of Ngatiraukawa, at Otaki, went to Rotorua. Their action was quite separate from that of the people of Kawhia. At the great meeting at Rotorua, the speaking was to this effect: - Ko Rotorua he moana kopuapua – Rotorua is a place of ponds, meaning that the sun would soon cause them to evaporate; ki Taupo, he moana papaku – Taupo is a shallow sea, meaning that the people were not many, and more scattered; ko Waikato, he awa taniwha – Waikato is a giant river. The meaning of all this was that the king should be selected from Waikato. This was during the first Governorship of Sir George Grey. Hikairo had then been spoken of as king. Then was the time that Heuheu te Iwikau built the great pataka (storehouse), which he called “Hinana ki uta, hinana ki tai” – staring inland and staring to the sea. Potatau was invited to the meeting. He was then living at Whatawhata. He started to go to Taupo, but when he had got to Orakau, he had a fall from his horse, and was in consequence unable to proceed. Tawhiao (the present king) went, Honana te Maioha, Paratene te Maioha, Takerei, Te Huirama, Waikawau, Pungarehu, Hikuroa. The name of Tawhiao was then Tapuke (not Te Pupuke, as we have already printed it). There was present the Roman Catholic priest who resided at Rangiawhia, Father Garavel, and the Rev. Mr Grace, who was the resident minister of Taupo. Representatives of the Ngatiraukawa, the Ngatikahungunu, the Arawa, the Ngatituwharetoa, and other tribes attended. A post was erected by order of Te Heuheu, and ropes fastened to the post. One rope pointed to Taupiri, in Waikato, one to Hawke’s Bay, and so on. Tongariro was the post itself, and the various ropes represented numerous tribes, including the Waikatos. Rewi was at that meeting. Te Heuheu ordered the ropes to be placed in the hands of different men, and before they did so, said “Potatau is King.” Patara te Tuhi said, “Why do you ask your son to stand as king? You should be the king.” Rewi rushed forward and took one of the ropes, and Matuahu took one and called out the chorus, “Toia te waka” (Drag the canoe). Hawrua [sic], one of the Ngatimaniapoto, spoke on that occasion and said he desired that Potatau should be king. He came forward with a sovereign in his hand and presented it to Potatau, in order to declare to him that our own native feuds were at an end. The Whanganuis joined, and there was perfect unanimity. Turoa was the representative of Whanganui, and Tareha and Paora Kaiwhata of Ngatikahungunu. The arguments of Te Heuheu for establishing a king were that the Maoris might hold the land, and that the shedding of blood by native quarrels might be avoided. Te Rangikaharua came forward and sung the ngeri, “Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru.” That referred to Potatau. We were unanimous at that meeting that Potatau should be elected. (An extract from the Rev Mr Buddle’s book was here read by Honana, where the author states that at the Taupo meeting “the most violent party advocated a clear sweep of all the pakehas, governor, missionaries, pakeha maories (settlers) – all.”) That is not true. Mr Buddle was not present at the Taupo meeting. There was no such thing advocated. We did not want to interfere with the Europeans. The movement was for our own people only. It was not till after this that someone said that the Europeans would be angry if we elected a king. It was replied, “Why should they, seeing that we in no way interfere with them?” Another meeting was held at Patea, between Hawke’s Bay and Tongariro. It was decided that the whole of the Rangitikei river should be offered to the king to be protected. Potatau had not agreed to accept at that time. Then a meeting was called at Rangiawhia, and there it was unanimously agreed that Potatau should be king. By this time he had gone to reside at Mangere. Up to this point William Thompson had not taken any part in the king movement. Potatau did not consent as he was not sure of the opinions of the whole people. He never desired the office, thinking that his own dignity as a chief was sufficient. Tawhiao was then living with him at Mangere. This next thing was the meeting at Waiuku. Potatau made a speech, saying “Adhere to Christianity, and to love, and to the law. Formerly the God of the Maoris was the man-eating Uenuku, but now our God is the Great King of Heaven. These treasures are not purchased, but are given freely. Adhere to Christianity, love, and the law.” There were many Europeans present at that meeting. From there Potatau was taken to Ngaruawahia. Before he left Mangere he communicated with Governor Browne regarding his visit to Waikato, and the Governor assented to his going. After the return to Waikato, the tree for the king flagstaff was cut at Taupiri mountain. It was a kauri. The whole of Ngaruawahia was once a kauri forest. We floated the tree up to Ngaruawahia. It there began to be rumored [sic] amongst the Maoris that the pakehas would be angry on account of erecting this flag as a symbol of kingship. The Maoris said, “Why should they be angry? We do not interfere with them. It is a matter which concerns ourselves only.” The staff was then erected, where the public-house now stands on the banks of the Waipa. The lower Waikatos thought that the title Potatau should assume should be “Matua” (Patriarch), but the others did not agree to that. It was then decided that he should be called “King,” as that name was in the Bible. William Thompson brought out the Bible, and put it on Potatau’s head, and certain quotations were uttered at the same time. While this was being done, minor flags were hoisted, and after the anointing, the great flag was pulled up. I hoisted the main flag. I went up on the stays, and said, “This represents the North, the South, the East, and the West, and all the people.”

(‘Story of the King Movement, Told by a Maori Chief’, Timaru Herald, 1 March 1882, reproduced from the New Zealand Herald, 18 February 1882).


  1. i like your information
    very nice post

  2. Is the original document that was signed by te arawa and other chieftain representatives available for viewing? I would prefer a copy but then I would have to contact the Maori king? All I want to know is whether it was signed by my great grandmother or her husband as I'm collecting info on my whakapapa.


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