Native Affairs - Tūhoe and Te Kooti's history reclaimed

By Peata Melbourne

Tūhoe were vilified for providing sanction to the Crown’s number one enemy, Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, but Tūhoe has a different story.

Ringatū founder, Te Kooti wrote a letter to Tūhoe after escaping the Chatham Islands seeking permission to pass through Te Urewera. Quite rightly so, Tūhoe were hesitant. Professor Taiarahia Black of Te Wānanga o Awanuiārangi describes Tūhoe as protecting their own sovereignty and eventually agreed to let him through.

"Every archival scribe will tell you what greater New Zealand want to hear, that Tūhoe provided sanction to the presence of Te Kooti in Te Urewera, I think the wrong term is sanctioned," says Black.

Tūhoe didn't sign the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, but the Crown assumed sovereignty over their territory nonetheless. So when the Crown attempted to capture Te Kooti while he was on Tūhoe territory, Tūhoe needed to maintain their mana motuhake. 

"There was no common sense by the colonial government at the time the only directive was getting these rebels out of here."

Written historical accounts Te Kooti's presence in Te Urewera resulted in the most devasting period for Tūhoe. Professor Black says Tūhoe felt they had to protect their own land from the Crown. It was Tūhoe, not the Crown who had the right to say what would happen in Te Urewera. Therefore they allowed all seventy hapū of the iwi to decide if Te Kooti could pass through, or not.

"There was a greater consensus among the Tūhoe chiefs during that time simply because it was at the back of a prophecy that Te Kooti would come into being and off the back of his own apparition as well from the Ringatū," says Taiarahia Melbourne of Ngāi Tūhoe.