Maori King movement origins

Page 4 – In search of a king

A candidate is found

The Kīngitanga has often been described as a Waikato initiative, yet its origins can be traced to Otaki on the Kapiti coast.

In 1852 Tamihana Te Rauparaha, son of the powerful Ngati 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 they could achieve unity beyond that of the tribe. As individual tribes they were susceptible to divide and rule in the face of European colonisation.

Te Rauparaha's cousin, Matene Te Whiwhi (Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Toa), investigated the ancestry of possible candidates for the kingship. He then travelled around the North Island to persuade suitable chiefs to put themselves forward for the position. Most of the prominent chiefs he approached declined. Te Kani-a-Takirau of the North Island's east coast best summed up the problem Te Whiwhi experienced in his quest when he said:

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.

Powerful chiefs like Iwikau Te Heuheu Tukino III of Ngati Tuwharetoa refused on two occasions and instead suggested Pōtatau Te Wherowhero of Ngati Mahuta (Waikato).

The elderly Pōtatau Te Wherowhero was approached several times. In February 1857 the Ngati Haua leader Wiremu Tamihana increased the pressure on him to accept. Wiremu Tamihana had been left waiting at the government's Native Office in Auckland for two days, watching as Europeans who visited the office 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 Pōtatau – go back to Waikato and let us consider some tikanga [rules] for ourselves.'

Wiremu Tamihana has often been described as 'the Kingmaker'. His ability to provide the Kingtanga with a clear, logical agenda was vital to its establishment, but he was only one among the many kingmakers.

How to cite this page

'In search of a king', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 11-Jul-2014