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No. 20 (November 1957)
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The time has come to write the story of some of the great Maori leaders of the last century. Our first subject is Te Kooti Rikirangi Te Turuki on whose life Mr Leo Fowler of Gisborne has brought to light many new facts. With the help of Maori scholars and other unpublished evidence. Mr Fowler challenges the old history-book picture of Te Kooti, and does not hesitate to be controversial. Naturally, this magazine does not take responsibility for the author's views.

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Te Kooti according to F. B. Lysnar. Is this picture genuine? Many have doubted it. In our next issue we present some pictures that may be more reliable.

It is important that we should have a new look at some of the leading figures among the Maori leaders of the last century for two reasons. The first reason is that most of them were, inevitably, written of with a bias inseparable from the fact that their critics were too closely associated with them and with the circumstances which projected them into leadership. The second reason is that we are in the last decade when anything like first-hand, or even second-hand information is available from living witnesses.

In no case is this more so than in that of Te Kooti Rikirangi Te Turuki, one of the most picturesque, the most important and the most generally misunderstood and misinterpreted of all those leaders who fought against pakeha power during the years of pakeha-Maori conflict.

Before embarking on an assessment, or a reassessment of Te Kooti however, it would be wise briefly to review the wider field of Maori leadership during the first century of British rule. The rapid spread of pakeha settlement during the nineteenth century produced marked changes in the pattern of Maori leadership which are still playing their part in modern Maoridom. Within this pattern we can place nineteenth century Maori leaders in three main groups, though of course many of them tend to overlap from one classification to another.


In the first group were those opportunists who took advantage of pakeha-introduced methods of extermination, especially the musket, and embarked on bigger, bitterer and more extensive campaigns of mass slaughter. Their motives were the old motives of inter tribal animosity and the personal aggrandisement of the chiefs themeslves.

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In the perspective of modern ideas we tend to see these campaigns in terms of slaughtered thousands, reeking umus, and decimated tribes, but we must remember that these leaders themselves and many of their contemporaries saw them in the accepted tradition of their own custom as laudable and enterprising. The mammoth exterminations of Matakitaki, Totara Pa and Patu-one differed only in degree from the affairs which had preceded them for generations. If the question of culpability comes into it at all, it must be conceded that the pakeha traders who supplied the guns were even more guilty than the chiefs who used them.

Incidentally it is, perhaps, interesting to reflect that the introduction of firearms not only brought in a new concept of warfare, but also caused a change in the whole pattern of Maori living, being the main cause of the abandonment of the old hill-pa sites, as living quarters, in favour of kaingas built on lower levels. According to Dr Thompson (one of the earliest pakeha historians), this made them susceptible to an incidence of chest and lung diseases which wiped out more thousands than all the slaughter-experts put together.


In the second group we find leaders of a different calibre who, each in his own degree, were the champions of an emergent Maori nationalism. These leaders were men who recognised that the fates of individual tribes were inseparable from the fate of the Maori as a whole people, and that their continuance, as a race, depended on their adjustments to new conditions of existence, imposed, willy-nilly, by the spreading tide of pakeha settlement. This new nationalism, like all nationalisms, went through many phases. The leaders it threw up were divided between those who believed that the future of the Maori depended on his co-existence with the pakeha, and those who believed that his very existence demanded opposition to pakeha impact and its resultant changes.

Needless to say these two points of view brought many leading chiefs into opposition.

Some, like Hone Heke, consistently opposed pakeha infiltration and domination, others like Tamati Waka Nene were equally unswerving in their support of the pakeha.

Some, like Te Rangihaeata and Rangitaake (Wiremu Kingi), began by co-operating with, and even protecting the pakeha, and ended by bitterly opposing him. Both the King movement, and the Hau-hau movement which succeeded it, produced outstanding leaders on both sides.


There is a third group, much nearer to our own generation, which, at the conclusion of the war, took over the gigantic task of leading a defeated and disillusioned people to a new destiny, within the fabric of, and through the institutions of, a society dominated by the pakeha and his way of life. The names of Carroll, Buck, and Ngata are but a few of the many who worked so hard and so brilliantly for a renaissance of Maoritanga and all that it means.


Te Kooti was the last of the militant leaders who opposed the pakeha and all he stood for Te Kooti fired the last shots in a campaign against pakeha domination which began when Hone Heke fired the first.

It is most unfortunate, but true I think, that those historians who drew his picture did so in a very one sided manner. Although they were mainly contemporaries of Te Kooti, and therefore had access to a mass of primary information which would have enabled them to ascertain carefully all those circumstances and forces which produced him as a leader, they failed to take advantage of this circumstance.

Almost without exception they dipped their pens in bitterness and recorded mainly those facts which would enable them to present him in, to say the least of it, a very one-sided light. Bishop W. L. Williams, otherwise a meticulous and painstaking historian dismisses Te Kooti's early life by saying “the various traders knew him as a somewhat light-fingered and troublesome fellow”. Lambert who does appear to have gathered some intereesting information about Te Kooti's early years no where gives any indication that he has come across anything to Te Kooti's credit and drops here and there such comments as that he was a ‘veritable fiend’ and ‘only a butcher’, this last, sardonically enough in comparing him with Ropata.

This is not to impugn the integrity of these historians and it must be admitted that it is to the research and painstaking enquiry of contemporary writers that we have a detailed accounting of one of the most important and most interesting of all the campaigns of the Maori wars. Having read these accounts, however, one cannot but conclude that they were written with bias. Even though they give Te Kooti credit for being a shrewd and brilliant tactician, they leave no doubt that they regard him as a brutal ruffian inspired only by hatred and revenge. It is not surprising that they should so regard him, for they but reflect the general opinion of contemporary pakehas.

Even Greenwood, whose fine essay “The upraised Hand” is a careful and sympathetic account of the rise of the Ringatu faith which was founded by Te Kooti, is surprisingly content to accept and repeat the careless estimate of these contemporary historians, and to sum up his career, prior to his deportation to the Chathams, in Williams' phrase that he was “well known as one who was lightfingered and always getting into trouble.” Even the devil, it is said, should be given his due te Kooti has been given much less than his. His repu-

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tation has been tarnished by half, and less than half-truths, and by an almost conscious suppression of much evidence which could, and should have been put forward to enable a correct assessment of his character, and much more important, his stature as a Maori leader, to be arrived at.


The published accounts of Te Kooti's childhood are few and meagre. They were gathered by interested pakehas after Te Kooti became famous. They are highly likely to have been coloured by later events.

Lambert seems to have gathered some material about Te Kooti's childhood from old Maori identities who would have been alive at the time, and J. A. McKay did some assiduous scratching a generation later. Occasionally I have got together with a few old people and have managed to get the subject of Te Kooti introduced and once they got started there has been a flood of minor corroborative detail concerning at least the two main stories told by Lambert and repeated, with added detail by McKay.

The first is the story that a tohunga named Toiroa told Te Kooti's mother while she was pregnant, that the child in her womb was destined for great good or great evil. The second story is that Te Kooti's early childhood was marked by such propensities for evil that the tohunga caused him to be shut away in a ruakumera with the earth piled high against the door to prevent his escape. The boy (his name in those days was Rikirangi te Turuki), is said to have escaped through the intervention of superhuman powers He was then handed over to the missionaries for education.

It is fairly certain that Te Kooti did receive some sort of a pakeha education at the Williams missionary school. Greenwood, in his ‘Upraised Hand’ states that he was educated at the mission-school at Waerenga-a-hika, but this is palpably a mistake, for the Waerenga-a-hika school was not opened until 1857. There is some doubt about Te Kooti's age, his followers stated on his memorial that he was 79 when he died, while McKay does not think he was more than in his mid-sixties. But even taking the latter estimate he would have been a man of 27, if not older, when the Waerenga-a-hika school opened. As nearly as I have been able to ascertain Te Kooti attended the earlier mission school at Whakato, near Manutuke in Poverty Bay, somewhere about the year 1846 at which time he would have been in his teens. I have been told that he was there when Samuel Williams went there to teach, which was in 1846–7. The actual site of the Whakato mission is now marked by the grounds of a fine carved house, named Whakato, which was erected about 1883 to commemorate the site of the first missionary enterprise on that site.

It seems that Te Kooti, or Rikirangi as he then was, was a promising pupil. He appears to have had an ambition to be a catechist, or a Maori lay reader, but the Bishop seems to have rejected the idea on the grounds that the lad was more interested in the warlike tales of the old testament than in the peaceful message of the new.

It is evident, however, that the Williams family held the lad in some esteem for when he was baptised into the Christian faith they bestowed on him the name of Coates, after the Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, James Danderson Coates. It is by the Maori version of this name, Kooti (pronounced kor-tay), that he was ever afterwards known, his full name after baptism being Te Kooti Rikirangi te Turuki.

In my next article I will re-examine the evidence concerning Te Kooti's character and reputation prior to his unjust deportation to the Chatham Islands.


The Maraenui Maori School has sent to us this version of a famous story about Te Kooti's childhood.

Tenei pakiwaitara mo Arikirangi, ara ko tetahi o ana ingoa ko Te Kooti, a ko te kai korero ko Paora Teramea.

He tangata rawahanga a Te Kooti i a ia e tatama ana, a i ana mahi rawahanga ka mea tana matua ki te patu i a ia.

No tetahi ra ka mea atu te matua ki tana tama kia haere raua ki te whakama i te poka wai mo


This story, told by Paul Delamere, is about Rikirangi, better known as Te Kooti.

As a young man Te Kooti was very mischievous. He caused so much trouble that at last his father decided that he must be got rid of. He thought of a plan. He told his son that they must go and clear out a certain well, ready for the coming winter. This well was among the sandhills of the Gisborne coast.

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te (makariri).

Te poka nei i roto i nga oneone a i te taenga ka mea te tangata nei kia heke a Te Kooti ki roto i te poka ki te keri i nga oneone ki waho.

I papahia nga taha kia kore ai e horo a no te nuinga o nga kete one one i puta mai i te poka, katahi ka whiu te tangata nei i te kete oneone ki runga i tana tama a hinga ana te tama ki ana turi. Katahi ka tanumia ki nga oneone e te matua.

Engari i ora a Te Kooti i nga papa nei ina hoki i whai wahi a ia hei whakatatanga i tona manawa.

I a ia e takoto ana mahara tonu atu a ia ki tetahi manga haere tika mai i to pa ki taua poka. Katahi a ia ka wawahi i nga papa ka keri i roto i te oneone tae atu ana ki te manga nei. Kua po i tenei wa haere ana a ia ki te whare o tana matua keke no te mea i reira a ia e noho ana. I te taenga atu haere ana ki te pataka ki te tiki kai. I a ia i reira ka rongo a ia i tana matua e mea atu ana ki tana matua keke kua haere a ia ki te mahi i tetahi mahi. Engari i whakaaro tana matua keke kua taka kino hia tana potiki, tangi ana.

No tenei, katahi a Te Kooti ka heke iho i te pataka awhihia ana e tana matua keke ano he tangata i hoki mai i te mate.

Kahore e mohiotia ana i korero pehea a Te Kooti ki tana matua, a mehemea i rapu utu a ia mo tona tanumanga.


Arriving there, the father sent his son down into the well, which was boxed in with wood, to dig out the sand. When the father thought he had enough kits of sand he suddenly threw them at the young man, knocking him down to his knees, then piled in loose sand and buried him.

But Te Kooti found that the wooden boxin gave him space to breathe in, and as he thought about it he remembered an old trench that ran from the pa almost to the well. Breaking away the old boards he began to burrow his way through the sand, and at last broke into the trench. It was dark by then, so he made his way to his uncle's house, where he lived, and climbed up into his uncle's pataka to get some food. While there, he heard his uncle and his father talking together. the father was saying that the son had gone on message, but the uncle was sure the young man had come to some harm, and began to tangi for him.

At this, Te Kooti came down from the patak to be embraced by his uncle as one returned from the dead.

The story does not tell what Te Kooti said to his father, or whether he required any utu for being buried alive.

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