A pacifist community in the heart of Te Urewera played witness to the final armed dispute between Tangata Whenua and the Crown - an invasion the Waitangi Tribunal later determined to be one of the most enduring grievances raised by Tuhoe claimants.

On April 2, 1916, three contingents of armed policemen converged on the small village of Maungapohatu, breaking tikanga, dismantling a community and leaving two men dead.

The invasion to arrest Tuhoe prophet and leader Rua Kenana has since been described in a Waitangi Tribunal report as an "unjustified invasion, carried out with excessive force", but today the Crown will officially sign his pardon.

It was with the offer of a cup of tea that Rua welcomed the first trio of armed police into Maungapohatu.

The second party, eight police from Gisborne, arrived a few hours later as a feast was being prepared.


The third and final wave of police, 57 officers, ignored the Tuhoe prophet's request for a meeting and rode straight into the marae.

As Rua saw the men approaching from Ruatahuna he said to his sons: "He aha nga karere e kawe nei i te hau e pupuhi mai na?" - what is this news that the wind is blowing? - and advised his followers to stay indoors.

It is not clear who fired first.

But two Maori men - Te Maipi Te Whiu and Kenana's son Toko Rua - were shot dead, while three other Maori men and four police officers were left wounded.

Rua was punished and the invasion left lasting scars in the Tuhoe community.

Kiri Tuia Tumarae-Teka - the granddaughter of an original disciple, said her dad was only 14 when the invasion happened and he found the entire thing very scary.

"He was frozen, like he couldn't move, because Rua told them to go inside not to move and not to come out," she said.

"When he saw them coming up with their guns, that's when he told his people to hide away, he already knew."

The invasion of Maungapohatu lasted three days. During that time, many of the children fell ill and nobody was allowed to leave the building, even to change their clothes.

Police detained 31 men, including Rua and his son Whatu.


"Rua Kenana and his other son, a pit was dug for them, and my dad showed me exactly where," she said.

"They were made to spreadeagle on their stomachs, and they were going to be shot.

"If another officer hadn't shouted down, they would have shot them."

Six men, including Rua, were arrested.

All charges against him, except resisting arrest, were dismissed in a trial that, until 1977, was the longest in New Zealand's history.

Rua served 18 months' imprisonment in Mt Eden prison.

Te Taura Whiu Kau - A waiata written by Rua Kenana during his imprisonment.
Te Taura Whiu Kau - A waiata written by Rua Kenana during his imprisonment.


Since the invasion of Maungapohatu, the whanau of Rua Kenana have fought for his pardon, and they said the journey will not end with today's signing.

Ashanti Neems, (left) Kirituia Tumarae-Teka, Toko Hitaua Miki and Te Ururoa Flavell release a summary agreement which will progress a statutory pardon for Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana. Photo/Ben Fraser
Ashanti Neems, (left) Kirituia Tumarae-Teka, Toko Hitaua Miki and Te Ururoa Flavell release a summary agreement which will progress a statutory pardon for Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana. Photo/Ben Fraser

For Mrs Tumarae-Teka, it was a challenge passed on to her by her great-uncle, the last chief of Maungapohatu, who said it was for the rangatahi that they must get justice.

"What we're doing now is what he handed down to us," she said.

"When they shot Rua's son, in cold blood, it has not been recompensed."

His descendants filed a claim with the Crown that traversed issues relating to the pursuit of Rua and the denigration of his faith.

The invasion of Maungapohatu left scars which dismantled the 1000-strong community.


The legal costs of his trial were a significant financial drain and, by 1950, only two or three families remained living in the village.

The last children in the Maungapohatu community in the 1950s. Photo/Supplied
The last children in the Maungapohatu community in the 1950s. Photo/Supplied

Mrs Tumarae-Teka said without their leader, the community was lost and people began going elsewhere to find jobs.

"He was the one they believed in," she said.

There are six generations between Mrs Tumarae-Teka's granddaughter Atamira Nuku and Rua, but Miss Nuku said it was a story she had heard her entire life.

"Even in words unsaid you could feel it, and you could see it within the family, it's sort of an intergenerational thing," she said.

"The positive and the negative impacts that have come to us."


She said it was now up to her generation to help move forward and to rebuild a prosperous community.

"To reconnect all the families that were disconnected, back to their land and their identity."

Today, the tribe is expecting more than 1000 people to return to their land as Minister Te Ururoa Flavell signs a pardon on behalf of the Crown.

The Crown will formally apologise for "the lasting damage to the character, mana and reputation of Rua Kenana" as well as the "deep hurt, shame and stigma" his people suffered as a result of the invasion.

Mr Flavell said the impact of what happened trickled right down through Rua's descendants.

"It's a part of New Zealand where we have to own up to what happened," he said.


"This is about moving towards reconciliation."

The Crown and descendants of Rua Kenana and Nga Toenga o nga Tamariki a Iharaira me nga uri o Maungapohatu will sign the agreement at Maungapohatu on Saturday which brings the statutory pardon a step closer to reality.


Rua Kenana was born in the mist of Te Urewera in late 1868 and grew to be a significant, influential and sometimes controversial Tuhoe spiritual leader.

At the age of 25 he announced himself a descendant of prophet Te Kooti Arikiranga and gave himself the title Te Mihaia hou - the new messiah.

In June of 1907, he took his followers to a form new community at the foot of the tapu mountain Maungapohatu.

His followers were drawn into his prophecies and his charismatic teachings, they adopted the name Iharaira - Israelites.

It was a hard life to forge in the dense native bush, but by 1908, they had cleared hundreds of acres of land, planted orchards, diverted a stream for water and constructed wooden houses along two main streets.


Mrs Tumarae-Teka said unless you had seen the place you could not truly understand how they could have done it.

"There was no marae there before, it was just trees growing everywhere," she said

It was a disciplined community but they had achieved their goal of independence.

At the time, Rua drew attention from the media who were intrigued by his radical teachings, striking appearance and the fact he was known to have 12 wives.

Reports from those who visited Maungapohatu were favourable and talked of the innovative architecture of its remarkable round meeting house called Hiona (Zion) decorated with a design of blue clubs and yellow diamonds.

"My dad said it was beautiful," Mrs Tumarae-Teka said.


"There were times when it was cold, but when visitors came to the village, they felt the warmth.

"It was a hard life, but they loved it."

In those early years Rua had not permitted smoking or drinking among the Iharaia, but as the community grew, the restriction of alcohol became difficult.

He made requests for a liquor licence but there was no possibility of obtaining one.

Although a 1910 law legalised the sale of alcohol to Maori, a licence was beyond the reach of anyone in Te Urewera.

An advocate for equal rights Rua considered the laws to be racial discrimination and, having failed to get a licence, proceeded to sell liquor anyway.


"He tried his best to do it in a legal way, but in that day, no Maori could," Mrs Tumarae-Teka said.

On February 21, 1911, he appeared before the Whakatane Court on five charges of 'sly-grog selling' or selling liquor without a licence.

At his trial, Rua said he did not like whisky being sold to his people by others.

"If a negro wants liquor, he may buy it; if a Chinese wants it he may do the same, but we, the owners of the land, are forbidden to do so, why should we be treated differently to other people?"

He was fined on four of the offences, which he paid on the spot, but on the fifth he was convicted of the charge and ordered to appear for sentencing when called upon.

This suspended sentence would prove to be at the crux of the issue.


He was brought before the court again in May 1915, where he faced five charges including supplying liquor to natives and introducing liquor into a Maori pa.

Convicted of all five counts, Rua was ordered to come up for sentencing when called upon, however, received a sentence for the fifth of his previous charges.

Given three months' imprisonment with hard labour, he returned to his community in August of 1915.

In January 1916 he was called before the court, however, the harvest which the Maungapohatu community was dependant on had begun, so asked for an adjournment.

On January 22 he was charged in absentia.

After an attempted arrest and failed negotiations with Police Minister Alexander Herdman, a major police operation to have Rua arrested was set in motion.