The Elusive Te Kooti

Of all the Māori leaders who opposed the early Pâkehâ settlers in New Zealand, Te Kooti was the most elusive and most awe inspiring. He was born at Matawhero, near Gisborne, in the early 19th century. As a young man he fought with government troops in a local uprising, but he was accused of treachery and deported without trial to the remote Chatham Islands in 1866. While detained on there, he experienced visions and initiated a creed he called Ringatu ("raised hand," for the practice of raising the right hand after prayer). Ringatu is still practiced by several thousand people in New Zealand.

With his charismatic personality, Te Kooti became the de facto leader of the island's more than 200 prisoners. After two years he engineered their escape by capturing a ship and forcing the crew to sail them back to Poverty Bay. With arms seized from the ship, Te Kooti led his followers to the Urewera Mountains, fighting off government troops as they went. In the years that followed, he was relentlessly hunted yet continued to carry out vicious raids on coastal settlements. His last stand (and the last major engagement of the New Zealand wars) was at a fortified position at Te Porere, which you can still see near the road between Turangi and Te Urewera National Park. Te Kooti was defeated but escaped again. He eluded capture and spent the late 1870s in Te Kuiti, near Waitomo, under the protection of the Māori king. The government formally pardoned him in 1883; he died a decade later.

—Bob Marriott

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