100 years ago – 2 April 1916 – 57 heavily armed police invaded Maungapōhatu, Te Urewera to arrest the prophet and community leader Rua Kēnana Hepetipa … who claimed to be the spiritual successor of Te Kooti Arikirangi, founder of the Ringatū religion.
Rua Kēnana had established a religious community at Maungapōhatu, with one of his primary goals being to return the lands that were confiscated after the wars of the Urewera – and which had left so many Tuhoe alienated and dislocated from their birthright. The government considered both Rua and his people to be a threat.
The police arrived at Maungapōhatu expecting a fight, but there was no resistance from the community. Rua went to meet the police peacefully, together with his two sons Whatu and Toko. They were all unarmed.
Accounts of what happened next differ, but there seems little doubt that a member of the police contingent fired the first shot. The end result was that two members of the community were killed – Toko & his best friend Te Maipi Te Whiu.
Rua Kēnana was arrested (as were Whatu and four other members of the group) and he was subsequently charged with sedition (treason).
After a 47 day trial in Auckland, Rua was found not guilty by the jury – but the judge alone found him guilty of ‘morally’ resisting arrest
The same judge then sentenced him to 12 months hard labour followed by a further 18 months imprisonment. A harsh sentence. Eight members of the jury petitioned Parliament to have this arbitrary sentence and punishment reduced.
Following the trial, the Maungapōhatu community were made to pay for the costs not only of the the trial defence, but also of the police raid itself.
To do this they had to sell much of their land and their stock – which caused an enormous amount of suffering, grief, poverty and starvation. Their pleas for help from the government of the day were largely ignored.
When Rua Kēnana was finally released in 1918, he returned to a depleted, indebted and depressed community. Some stayed with him, and together they did their best to rebuild over the following years.
There is much more to this kōrero, with the most accurate knowledge of these events and times held by Tūhoe themselves.
In the end though, Rua’s simple hopes were that Ngāi Tūhoe could regain and reclaim what they had lost and eventually live once again on their own lands – Te Uruwera and the surrounding rohe – supporting themselves and taking control of their own lives and destinies.
Exactly 100 years after the events of Maungapōhatu, this dream held by Rua and subsequent generations of Tūhoe elders, is closer than ever to realisation.