A candidate is found
The Kīngitanga has often been described as a Waikato initiative, yet its origins can be traced to Ōtaki on the Kapiti coast.
In 1852 Tāmihana Te Rauparaha, the son of the powerful Ngāti Toa chief, met Queen Victoria in England. When he returned home he sought to establish a monarchy for Māori. He believed that Māori would be better off if iwi (tribes) could achieve unity at a higher level. As individual tribes they were susceptible to divide-and-rule tactics by European colonisers.
Te Rauparaha’s cousin, Mātene Te Whiwhi (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa), researched the ancestry of possible candidates for the kingship. He then travelled around the North Island seeking to persuade suitable chiefs to put themselves forward for the position. Most of the prominent chiefs he approached declined. Te Kani-a-Takirau of Ngāti Porou summed up Te Whiwhi’s main problem:
You are correct, I am a chief, a descendant of your ancestors. However, the problem is that my pedigree adheres to only one people. My mountain, Hikurangi, does not move. I do not agree.
Iwikau Te Heuheu Tūkino III of Ngāti Tūwharetoa turned Te Whiwhi down twice and instead suggested Pōtatau Te Wherowhero of Ngāti Mahuta (Waikato).
The elderly Pōtatau Te Wherowhero was approached several times. In February 1857 the Ngāti Hauā leader Wiremu Tāmihana increased the pressure on him to accept. Tāmihana had been left waiting at the government's Native Office in Auckland for two days, watching as Europeans were immediately attended to. He told the Taupiri missionary B.Y. Ashwell: ‘We are treated like dogs – I will not go again. I then went to Mangere and I said to Potatau – go back to Waikato and let us consider some tikanga [rules] for ourselves.'
Wiremu Tāmihana has often been described as ‘the Kingmaker’. His ability to provide the Kīngitanga with a clear, logical agenda was vital to its establishment, but he was only one among many kingmakers.