Te Kooti Rikirangi Te Turuki

(1832 - 1893)

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Te Kooti was born at Te Pa-o-Kahu, a Ngāti Maru settlement near the old Waipaoa river mouth in 1832. It is said his birth was predicted by the matakite Te Toiroa Ikariki of Nukutaurua who associated Te Kooti’s birth with darkness and the coming of strangers to the land as stated in his prophecy, tiwha tiwha te pō, ko te Pakerewhā, ko Arikirangi tēnei ra te haere nei . His father was Hone Te Rangipatahi and his mother Turakau who were descendants from Rongowhakaata and his senior wife Turahiri. His first wife was Irihapeti Puakanga and his son from this marriage, Wetini Rikirangi, was born circa 1860. Ngā uri o Te Kooti Rikirangi are direct descendants of the children of Wetini and his wife Oriwia Nihipora Kunaiti.

Te Kooti grew up during a time of European settler growth in Tūranga; increasing trade; the influence of missionaries; the Crown’s desire to acquire land and assert its dominance through any means; and hapū efforts to retain their mana, tikanga and stewardship over their whenua. However, it was the arrival of the Pai Mārire movement into Tūranga and the battle at Waerenga-a-hika that set in motion a series of events that would see Te Kooti estranged from his whānau, hapū and turangawaewae for the remainder of his life.

Te Kooti was eventually arrested on suspicion of conspiring with the ‘enemy’ at Waerenga a Hika as a ‘Hauhau spy’ when in fact he had been talking to his brother, Komene. Te Kooti asked to be tried more than once, even signing himself Te Kooti, “Queen’s Maori” in a letter to the authorities. But no trial was ever held for him that resulted in a finding of guilt, despite those requests. Te Kooti and the Whakarau were then exiled to Wharekauri-Rekohu on 5 June 1866 and remained incarcerated for two years in harsh conditions and with limited support for their needs and wellbeing. Most were held without trial.

The escape and the return to Turanga July 1868

As the natural leader of the group, and following what he confirmed were divine revelations, when the moment presented itself, Te Kooti seized the opportunity to break out of captivity and to return home. As an experienced sailor and supercargo, and with the support of the crew of the Rifleman along with those who had been imprisoned with him, Te Kooti and the Whakarau made their way back home, landing at Whareongaonga, between Turanga and the Mahia peninsula on 9 July 1868.

Despite sending messages that he only sought refuge outside of Turanga and into the King Country – Te Rohe Potae, government officials like Major Reginald Biggs, appointed to oversee land confiscations in the district, were intent on pursuing Te Kooti and the Whakarau. Then there was the issue of lands at Matawhero which Biggs, Read and others had obtained while Te Kooti was imprisoned. The forced confiscation of the Ngāti Kaipoho and Rongowhakaata whare tīpuna Te Hau ki Turanga in 1867 was also a key and relevant event. In addition, there were the clumsy attempts to secure land from Māori deemed ‘rebels’ through the East Coast Land Titles Investigation Act 1866 and its subsequent incarnations. Biggs secured his place in history by threatening the tribes that if they did not come to terms over land then he would bring in ‘Te Kooti Tango Whenua – the land taking court’ as the Native Land Court had come to be described. On 10 November 1868, Te Kooti struck at Matawhero in a carefully planned and executed attack which resulted in the death of Biggs and his family as well as approximately fifty-eight other settlers and those Māori who Te Kooti considered had sided with the government to deprive him of his land and liberty. This single event would mark Te Kooti out for generations as the ‘arch rebel’ responsible for the ‘massacre’ at Matawhero. He became the Bin Laden of his time, utterly reviled with a visceral hatred by an outraged government and their settler supporters.

The Aftermath

In summary, the government and its supporters pursued Te Kooti and the Whakarau with a dogged determination. But they could not catch him. Following a series of skirmishes and pitched battles, including the execution of unarmed prisoners without trial at the siege of Ngatapa and a scorched earth campaign through Te Urewera, Te Kooti eventually sought refuge firstly amongst Tuhoe and ultimately with King Tawhiao and his Tainui kin in Te Rohe Potae. There he would remain for a decade, from 1872 until, at the insistence of Ngāti Maniapoto, he was included under the Amnesty Act 1882. From that time forward, following a hui with Native Minister John Bryce at Manga-a-Rongo, on 12 February 1883, Te Kooti was free to go wherever he wished. That was the theory in any case. It proved to be not an entirely accurate theory since, in 1889, some six years later, Te Kooti was once again imprisoned at Opotiki for daring to attempt to return home to Turanga. He was convicted of ‘unlawful assembly’ and shipped off to prison, this time in Auckland. Eventually, he was released but no until Rewi Maniapoto had engaged lawyers to assist Te Kooti and local leaders like Hāmiora Mangakahia of Hauraki and Kihirini Reweti of Ngāti Whātua had provided sureties of five hundred pounds each. His legal battle would travel all the way up to the Court of Appeal where, in 1890, the original conviction against him was upheld. Despite those experiences, Te Kooti remained stoic and returned to strengthen and solidify the faith, as his influence continued to spread well into the early 1890s before his death in 1893.


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