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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)

The Choosing of the Maori King

The Choosing of the Maori King

The following is an account from native sources describing the efforts of the Maori King and his and their entire independence from the Crown of the confederation of tribes. It differs in some details from and amplifies the narrative in Chapter XVI; it is interesting also for its picturesque Maori idioms and proverbial expressions.

Tamehana te Rauparaha, after his voyage to England, pondered over the question of the good government of the Maori people, and formed the belief that they would be benefited by the setting-up of a King. He suggested to his cousin, Matene te Whiwhi, that they should search for a King for the tribes. This was in 1851–52. They went to the Whanganui and made their proposal to the chief Te Anaua, but he was unwilling to take the kingship, and said, “Inland yonder is Ruapehu the mountain; there is Turoa the man.” So the delegates went up the river and placed their request before Pehi Turoa, the high chief of the Upper Whanganui tribes. Turoa in his turn indicated the ariki of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa Tribe, of Taupo, by quoting the proverbial saying, “Ko Tongariro te page 446 Maunga, ko Taupo te Moana, ko Te Heuheu te Tangata” (“Tongariro is the Mountain, Taupo is the Sea, Te Heuheu is the Man”). Tamehana and Matene therefore travelled to the south end of Lake Taupo and interviewed Te Heuheu Iwikau. He, too, declined, saying it was impossible for him to be King; he had only a small tribe. He suggested the great East Coast chief Te Kani-a-Takirau as a suitable King. The request was made to Te Kani, who replied to the purport that he did not want any foreign titles; he was ariki in his own domains.

Next the offer was made to Te Amohau, of the Arawa, but the chief Moko-nui-a-rangi of that tribe objected, saying, “If Te Amohau is a king, then I am a king too.”

The delegates had also been to Taranaki, and had met with a refusal from Te Hanataua, chief of Ngati-Ruanui. So they were in a dilemma; no one wanted to be king.

At length (1856) a large meeting was held at Taupo, and was attended by representatives of all the tribes. Matene te Whiwhi in an oration unfolded his final proposal in the eloquent and figurative manner of the Maori. “I look far over the sea to the south,” he said, “and what do I see? Mountains covered with snow and ice. I turn and gaze across the land to the east and what do I behold but cabbage-trees? [An allusion to the Kaingaroa Plain.] I turn my eyes to the belly of the Fish of Maui [Taupo]; I see nought but the little kokopu fish and the crayfish that walks backwards (te koura hoki whakamuri). I turn to the west and look over the forests to Taranaki. I see there but broken ropes (taura motumotu). [Meaning, the tribes of that district were suffering from wars and disunion.] I look far northward; I see there a leaking house. Now,” declared Matene, making his point and climax, “I turn my eyes to Waikato. I behold Waikato Taniwha-rau, Waikato of whose river it is said, ‘He piko he taniwha; he piko he taniwha’ (‘Waikato of a hundred dragons; Waikato whose every bend holds a water monster—i.e., a strong and numerous tribe, with many great chiefs’). Yonder is the man who should be King of the Maori people.”

Such was the manner in which Matene directed the attention of the tribes to Potatau te Wherowhero, the warrior chief of Waikato, and soon thereafter Potatau was chosen as King.

At the great ceremonial meeting at Ngaruawahia (1858) for the purpose of installing Potatau as King, Iwikau te Heuheu and Wiremu Tamehana Tarapipipi te Waharoa were the inducting high chiefs. The solemn rite of making the old warrior King of the Maori Kotahitanga took this form:—

Iwaikau said: “Potatau, this day I create you King of the Maori people. You and Queen Victoria shall be bound together to be one (paiheretia kia kotahi). The religion of Christ shall be the mantle of your protection; the law shall be the whariki mat for your feet, for ever and ever onward” (ake, ake tonu atu).

Ae,” replied Potatau. “Yes, I agree, for ever and ever onward.” And the aged warrior King continued: “Kotahi te kohao o te ngira e kuhuna ai te miro ma, te miro pango, te miro whero” (“There is but one eye of the needle, through which the white, the black, and the red threads must pass”).

This declaration was succeeded by the anointing after the Scriptural manner. Wiremu Tamehana poured the oil on Potatau's head, and all the people bowed their heads three times in obeisance at the call, “Whakahonare ki te Kingi” (“Do honour to the King”).

This narrative attests the altruistic aims of the kingmakers. They sought a head to bind the tribes together for the national betterment, in amity with the white Queen, and Potatau himself was anxious to continue his long friendship with the pakeha people.