Maori King movement origins

Page 3 – The land issue

A line in the sand

The pressure to sell land was a key factor in the creation of the Kīngitanga. Consider the following:

  • In 1840 there were approximately 2000 permanent European residents in New Zealand, compared with 70,000 Māori.
  • By 1858 Pakeha outnumbered Māori for the first time.

Before European settlement Māori could not sell land, and few chiefs had the mana or authority to tuku (gift land). The Treaty of Waitangi gave the Crown pre-emptive or sole right of purchase of Māori lands. This might have protected Māori custom and interests, but the Crown used this monopoly to aggressively purchase Māori land.

Initially land purchases were discussed in open meetings, but by the late 1840s secret deals with government officials were occurring. Deals with individual Māori or groups who did not represent all the owners dragged Māori into disputes with each other. In 1854 hui (meetings) held in Taranaki and Waikato resolved to retain intact all the land within certain boundaries. Those who joined swore to maintain a tapu on the land on pain of death.

When Māori living at Manukau attempted to sell their claims on the lower Waikato river banks, they were confronted by a large armed party that had travelled down the river to set up boundary marks beyond which no sales were permitted. In August 1854 Rawiri Waiaua and four others were killed near New Plymouth for attempting to sell land. In response to what was labelled the Puketapu feud, British troops were stationed in New Plymouth to protect European settlers.

The year 1854 was significant in many respects. Many settlers now had direct political representation under a constitution that created an elected House of Representatives. In the minds of proponents of the Kīngitanga this heightened the need to find a suitable candidate to be king, and quickly.

How to cite this page

'The land issue', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 11-Jul-2014