Maori benefited from 1840, but problems remained
By John Robinson
Around 1840 Maori across the country began the adjustment to the new culture and the new form of government, with peace agreements among previously warring tribes and resettlement of deserted lands, freedom for slaves and economic development.
They were growing crops, trading and shipping.
However, differences remained. While many Maori wanted law and order under the new system, others wanted a separate law or a return to old divided tribal ways.
Some became dissatisfied when the promised stability was not provided by the over-cautious colonial government, as arguments among Maori were often violent yet not policed.
Would a Maori king bring stability?
It was thought that a Maori king could bring control and settle disputes.
Others supported the idea of a king for very different reasons, either to prevent land sales or as a separate power from colonial government.
There was opposition to these ideas. Many wished to sell their land, a right that was promised by Article Two of the Treaty. Many recognised that a separate king would be a clear challenge to the reigning Queen, and would lead to conflict.
However, the king movement supporters believed that they were speaking for all Maori.
When a tangi in 1857 at Rangiriri provided the opportunity to set up the king, they gathered at the meeting place with their new flag flying, confident in their position.
Contentious debate and division
What next happened was well reported at the time. “They seemingly did not anticipate much opposition. There they sat for half an hour; a bystander would have thought that the Queen was not going to be represented at all. But at last a Union Jack was seen displayed on a little hill about a quarter of a mile off. Another soon appeared a short distance inland.
Shortly afterwards a procession advanced from the hill, headed by Waata Kukutai, bearing the Jack, and occupied the side of the square opposite to that taken by the King party, immediately after which another body advanced bearing the Union Jack No. 2, and took possession of the ground to the left of the other party, when both Jacks were planted in the ground opposite to the white flag with the red cross.”
In that dramatic fashion differences among Maori were made evident. The following debate was contentious.
The renowned warrior chief Te Wherowhero, who had been chosen as King Potatau, was elderly and unwell. He took little part and appeared confused. He agreed with the loyalists that he should be a paramount chief only and then agreed with his supporters that he should be a king.
He was a friend and adviser to the British Governor. Te Kereihi recognised this in his opposition to the new flag. “I shall stick to the Governor: I remember his talk with Potatau at this place. I asked him for laws – for a director, for an assembly. He agreed to it. I am holding fast to this.”
Te Kereihi was referring to the meeting shortly before when Governor Brown had promised to support the runanga that Waikato Maori wanted, and when “Potatau declared that he would be guided by the Governor’s advice. He was a dying man, and should bequeath his people to the Governor’s care.”
Consensus was impossible and there was no coronation.
Standoff over the king and complaints
There was a repeat the following year, which again ended with a standoff between the two opposing groups. On that occasion the king movement ignored the opposition and moved off to a nearby site where they proceeded to anoint Potatau.
Their actions had already bothered many of their fellow tribesmen. A number of approaches were made to the Governor, both proclamations of loyalty to the Crown and complaints against the new movement.
In one such 1857 letter Hekaraka complained that his property at Ngaruawahia was being taken from him as a residence for the king.
Kingi’s interference bring war to Taranaki
Differences among Maori were leading to conflict in Taranaki.
There had been feuds, with fighting and deaths, and when Teira petitioned Governor Brown for the right to sell his own land, Kingi claimed a right to prevent the transaction by force.
He did that, and when fighting began warriors went from the Waikato to join Kingi – against the wishes of Potatau.
Similarly, in 1863 Ngati Maniapoto forced government agent Gorst out of Te Awamutu against the orders of the second king, Tawhiao.
The differences among king supporters were evident at a meeting in May 1860, with arguments both for and against Kingi, and with various suggestions of support for the government, of a desire for peace, and for armed support for the rebellion.
Kohimarama Meeting seeks peace
A great meeting in July at Kohimarama of chiefs from across the country canvassed similar concerns, with a greater emphasis on stopping the fighting.
Significantly two early supporters of the king movement, Tamihana Te Rauparaha and Matene te Whiwhi, were there, now strongly opposed after the fighting in Taranaki.
Differences continued throughout the following times of war, with some Maori coming to support the king party and many others fighting against, either to protect their own lands or in support of government forces.
Those times were in many ways similar to our own, with doves and hawks, and differing political parties, each a coalition of peoples with varying aspirations.
It is false to speak of a ‘Maori’ stance, then as now. There was no simple division by race.