The Maori Dynasty

Many people know of the British royalty, the Japanese royalty or the Belgian royalty. However, not many people know that the Maori, living in New Zealand, have their own royalty too, despite having been a British colony! It is time for their history and lineage to be revealed!
First of all, who are the Maori? The Maori are the indigenous polynesian people of New Zealand. They were the first settlers on these islands, after having gotten there by the means of canoes from the polynesian islands. They lived there in isolation for more than seven hundred years, during which their culture and social customs, the basics coming from the polynesian customs, flourished.
They created tribes, a horticulture and later also a strong warrior culture.
The European colonists, mostly of Great Britain, started arriving on New Zealand in the 17th century; An arrival that changed the way of life of the Maori drastically. The Maori tribes, also called “iwi”, started to adopt many aspects of European society and culture.

At first, the relations between Maori and Pakeha (the Maori word for Outsiders) were relatively good, but soon problems arose when the Maori noticed that their land was being taken from them due to the growth of Pakeha population and that their standing in the new New Zealand society wasn't equal to that of the Pakeha.

Kingitanga – The Maori King Movement
There have been many movements from the Maori to make their life and standing better in New Zealand's society, but the Maori King Movement, called Kingitanga, proved to have lasted the longest.
It was founded in the 1850s on the Northern Island with the purpose of having a figure of authority with equal status to that of Queen Victoria, who as the ruler of Great Britain ruled New Zealand as a colony too. The movement was also used as a means to unify the Maori who lived too divided by their tribes and so to stop the alienation they felt towards their land because of the Pakeha.
The idea itself came the Christian convert Tamihana Te Rauparaha, who presented it to the Rangatira (chiefs) after having been in the United Kingdom in 1851. He had been in one of the Queen's audiences and he saw the possibilities for the Maori if they had a similar figure of authority.
The birth of the movement proved to be problematic though, as it appeared to be an alternate government with it's own flag, councillors, magistrates and law enforcement. This obviously didn't please the colonists, they saw it as a challenge to the supremacy of the British Crown. This problem eventually lead to the invasion of Waikato (a region of the upper North Island) in 1863, which was launched with the motivation to neutralise the Kingitanga's power and influence.
After their defeat in 1864 at Orakau, those involved with the Kingitanga, called the Kingite, withdrew into the dense forest of the North Island, a land from then on known as the “King Country”.

How does one become King?
In the title, I called the line of Maori Monarchs a dynasty, but even though theoretically it is true, that is not how the next Kings are chosen.
First of all, the position isn't hereditary in principle. To become the King, one has to be proposed by at least on of the Rangatira of the tribes involved in the Kingitanga movement. Still, to this day  however, every succeeding monarch has been the previous monarch's heir biologically, descending in seven generations from Potatau Te Wherowhero to the present Maori King, Tuheitia Paki. So it might seem that the role of Maori King is hereditary from parent to child, but it is still elective and can be given to any other member of the tribes involved in the Kingitanga movement if the decision is taken.          

First King – Potatau Te Wherowhero: The Beginning
To understand who this first King was, one has to understand the historical and political situation of that time.
After the idea of having a King had been presented in 1851, it took 6 years for a willing candidate to be found, because all of the proposed candidates declined saying that because they had their roots in one iwi (tribe) they couldn't stand as the leader of all tribes.
In February 1857, the elderly and high-ranking Waikato rangatira (chief) Te Wherowhero was proposed. At first he declined, as he was already in his 80s and he felt that he wasn't ready for such new things, but he ended up accepting and was crowned in 1858 at Ngaruawhaia.
As King he adopted the name Potatau Te Wherowhero or simply Potatau.
He had been a very good choice as King, being the descendant of Howora (a strong captain of the Tanui canoe), coming from a line of successful fighting chiefs and having many connections thorough the country. But most important was that he also wasn't averse to outsiders and even called himself a friend of Pakeha.

In his first speech as King, Potatau told his people to hold fast to the spirit of unity and to “hold fast to love, to the law and to the faith in God”. This really spoke to them, giving the Maori a new purpose. The Kingitanga slowly developed into an alternate government to the one in Auckland, but Potatau didn't live long enough to fully witness that and it's consequences. He set the first stone however, by separating his authority from that of the British Governor, setting a boundary between them. This naturally didn't please the Governor, who regularly wrote about his fears that the Maori could be preparing to launch a strike against the Europeans to the Queen.

It was a period of tension, not only between Maori and Pakeha, but also between different iwi, because quite a few living outside of Waikato refused to recognise Potatau as the King of all Maori.
However, as said before, Potatau Te Wherowhero didn't have the time to see this conflict be resolved, as he died in 1860 of the flu. His reign was the shortest of all Maori Kings, being of only 2 years.

Second King – Matutaera Tawhiao: The King in Exile
Tawhiao, son of Potatau Te Wherowhero, was crowned in 1860 into a time of conflicts which were later known as the New Zealand wars.

Very important to know is that a Maori named Tamihana, a strategist revered as the “Kingmaker” (one who helps to choose the next monarch and then assits in the coronation), wrote a letter to the Governor after the First Taranaki War in 1861. He wrote that he saw the Maori as a different nation and that they didn't want to chase away the Pakeha from New Zealand but just make one piece of the land the propriety of the Maori. Sadly, this was seen as an act of disloyality leading to the Governor saying in 1861, that the Kingitanga should be abandoned because it was bad, and then in 1863 to set an ultimatum for all Maori to take an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria or of they refused, to be exiled.
Later the British troops invaded Waikato territory. The Kingite forces tried to fight back, but faced with such man- and fire-power, they had to flee.
So Tawhiao and hs closest followers fled into Maniapoto territory.

As punishment, the Governor managed to get the government of New Zealand to confiscate the land of the Waikato Maori, a heavy blow because both sacred and culturally important sites were located on there and thus were lost to the Maori. This confiscation played the most important role in many of the Maori Kings actions in the following generations. Tawhiao, as the current King at that time, was challenged by many to counter-attack but he refused and named the year 1867-1868 as the “year of peace” and stressed in 1869 that “the slaying of man by man  is to cease”.
Tawhiao himself stayed in exile for 20 years, starting to view himself in an Old Testament kind of fashion, as the leader of a chosen people awaiting deliverance into their inheritance.

In 1870, the government led by the Governor, now Premier of New Zealand, offered Tawhiao peace terms: offering land, economic aid and other rights they lacked. Tawhiao surprisingly refused but came back in 1881 to offer peace using Maori tradition.

He made after that a few petitions for the Maori, but when he was ignored every single time, he set up a Kingitanga parliament  named Kauhanganui in 1892. Tawhiao also created a system of annual Poukais, visits by the King to the marae (villages) belonging to the Kingitanga, in order to draw the people back towards him and their villages. More he couldn't do as he died suddenly in 1894.

Third King – Mahuta Tawhiao: The King who tried his best for his people
Born as the son of the previous King, he had been raised in his father's exile and so spoke only a little bit English and had no European education. Another problem was that because of what happened during his father's reign, the support for the Kingitanga had declined by the time of his coronation in 1894.

Mahuta proved to be very interested in politics, becoming advocate of conciliation between Maori and Pakeha. He was even invited to Wellington as a new member of the Legislative Council (Upper House) and was sworn in in 1903. Many Maori were against this, but he chose to not listen to them. He ended up even giving up his Kingship to his brother Te Wherowhero Tawhiao for seven years,  but took it back in 1910, disillusioned by the political handling with Maori problems.

During his  reign, Waikato suffered economic and social depression. Health problems and diseases spread, unemployment rose, drunkenness widespread too and child schooling rates sank. To fight against this, Mahuta invested a lot in the Health department but soon died in 1912.

Fourth King – Te Rata: The shy but strong-hearted King
Te Rata was Mahuta Tawhiao's eldest son and was crowned in 1912. He was a very shy person and suffered of very poor health, but with the support of his cousin Te Puea, later known as “Princess T Puea”, he could withstand the challenges some Maori made regarding his Kingship.

Te Puea played a very important role, not only by being by the side of the King, but also by building up facilities to revive Maori traditions such as the recitation of tribal history, singing of traditional songs, etc.

In 1914, Te Rata was convinced to petition the Crown again to revoke the land confiscation, but all he go from the audience with King George V and Queen Mary was the assurance that the New Zealand government would discuss it.
Upon his return, New Zealand was already involved in World War I and he chose to discourage Waikato Maori to enlist, saying “They tell us to fight for King and Country. We've got a King, but we haven't got a country. That's been taken off us”. Furthermore, World War I was seen as a Pakeha fight between Pakeha nations, so Maori lacked the motivation to intervene.
However, in 1918 Maori were punished for not having enlisted, but were released in 1919. The Kingitanga Movement was know viewed as traitors and German-sympathisers.

Te Puea strengthened during that time her position as organiser and spiritual leader. She helped development both on rural sites and in the spiritual-cultural department.
When Te Rata died in 1933, Te Puea was proposed to become the next monarch, but she refused saying that Te Rata's oldest son was the rightful heir to the throne.

Fifth King – Koroki Te Rata Mahuta Tawhiao Potatau Te Wherowhero: The Beginning of the End
Koroki was the eldest son of Te Rata and inherited his father's shyness and reservation. He was crowned in 1933, but accepted his role only reluctantly, saying that it wasn't right that they tried to afford a King while many Maori lived in poverty. During his reign he got under the influence of many different parties, his father's brothers for example.
In 1953 he hosted a visit of Queen Elisabeth II, but wasn't permitted to hold a speech in which  he was to make a historical step of declaring loyalty to the British Crown.
He didn't hold a special role in World War II and stayed relatively quiet until he died of poor health in 1966.

First Queen – Sixth Monarch – Te Atairangikaahu: The Queen who made the best out of it
By the time Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu was crowned (1966), the influence of the Kingitanga had lessened drastically and the position of King had now become truly a simply ceremonial role. Nevertheless, she made the best out of it and even got the honour of being appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for outstanding services to Maori people. She was an active supporter of Maori culture and sports and was involved in local and global events regarding indigenous issues. She also met up quite a few times with Queen Elisabeth II with whom she had good relations.
She died in 2006, setting the record of longest Maori reign with 40 years.

Seventh King – Te Arikinui Kiingi Tuheitia: The last King?
Te Arikinui Kiingi Tuheitia, better known as Tuheitia Paki, was crowned in 2006 on the day of his mother's funeral as tradition dictates and is still King to this day.
Tuheitia Paki has had quite a few political issues, for example in 2010 where he threatened to abdicate his title if tribal members “do not fall back into line”. This originated from the critique he received from members of the Te Kauhanganui who questioned his use of tribal funds. There have also been problems with his second son who has been caught drunk driving. But the most shocking thing about the Tuheitia Paki is that he doesn't speak the Maori language, Te Reo. It is said that even for basic protocol he needs the help of other Maori. He also has been ordered to never make any plublic statements by Tuku Morgan, a New Zealand Maori politician. This shows how weak the position of Maori King has become and there have been many voices asking if it weren't better if the Kingitanga were to be abandoned.

In 2013, he announced that he has health problems, namely diabetes, and established a King's Council, called Te Kaunihera a Te Kiingi. He then gave his title over to his son Whatumoana Te Aa Paki who now acts in his stead. As the King's representative, Whatumoana was given the title Te Whirinaki a te Kīngi, the title held by Te Wherowhero Tāwhiao while he acted for Mahuta Tawhiao in the early 1900s.

Still, Tuheitia Paki created a Maori Honours system. He created the Order of King Potatau Te Wherowhero, the Order of Taniwha and the illustrious Order of Te Arikinui Queen Te Atairangikaahu, named after his mother.
He himself was made Officer of the Venerable Order of Saint John in 2007. He was also appointed the Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown of Tonga and in 2010 he became Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Lazarus.

Te Arikinui Kiingi Tuheitia is still the Monarch of the Maori, but his position has become very frail over the years. It is very probable that on the day of his death the discussion will arise if maintaining the Kingitanga is the right decision.

by Milena Hüschen
edited by Emilie Kerstens


  1. First decent post on this page. Culturally and historically rich.

  2. We try to get as much varied content as possible. While not every article is for everyone, we are proud of all of the articles that have been submitted so far. We're glad you enjoyed the article. Lots more coming soon :)