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Topic: Biography of Rua Kenana

Rua, known as Te Rua or Tai to Tuhoe, was born in 1869 at Maungapohatu. He grew up in Hawke's Bay, the Bay of Plenty, and Gisborne and had a firm grounding in the precepts of the Ringatu faith and the predictions of Te Kooti Te Turuki. One of those predictions stated: 'A child will appear in the Mataatua area and he will turn the canoe upright. He is the one to complete my work.' Another was: 'A prophet will rise after me. He will break the faith (pakaru whakapono), break the land (pakaru whenua), and break the customs (pakaru tikanga).'

One day, an apparition directed Tai to climb the sacred Maungapohatu. He and his wife Pinepine climbed the mountain together. There, according to our traditions, Whaitiri, a female ancestress of Tuhoe, and Jesus Christ appeared before them. They led the couple to see the fabled diamond of Te Kooti. Tai saw this event as a sign that he was the fulfilment of Te Kooti's prediction.

Tai then travelled the eastern Bay of Plenty seeking recognition as Te Kooti's successor. He built a wharenui (meeting house) called Te Poho o Mataatua on Hokianga Island, near the place on Ohiwa Harbour where Te Kooti had died. This symbolised the rising of Te Kooti in the person of Tai - an act that drew many people to him.

In 1906, Tai and his followers went on a pilgrimage to Gisborne, the birthplace of Te Kooti. Te Kooti himself had attempted to return to Gisborne in 1887, but his homecoming had been blocked by his opponents living there. Tai fulfilled that return. During his visit, Tai entered the sacred house Rongopai, built near Gisborne for Te Kooti's return. This act confirmed Tai's position as the chosen one. Eria Raukura, the most senior tohunga (priest) of the Ringatu church, baptised him Hepetipa - Hephzibah - a biblical name that Te Kooti had given for the person who would 'make the land fertile'.

Later, Tai made a prediction of his own - that King Edward VII would visit Gisborne to restore the mana of the land to Maori. When King Edward failed to show, Tai announced that he, Tai, was really that king. By declaring himself spiritual king, he fulfilled the conditions of the prediction by Te Kooti.

In 1907, he and his followers sold all their possessions and moved to Maungapohatu - for them, the promised land of the scriptures. Those of his followers who were reluctant to leave their homes and land soon did so when Tai predicted that a huge flood would destroy all low-lying places.

At Maungapohatu, his followers became known as Iharaira - Israelites. They built a round temple and named it Hiona, the Zion spoken of in the Bible. At the entrance to the pa (secured village), the word Mihaia (Messiah) was inscribed - the mantle that Tai was to assume. He took twelve wives from the hapu (sub-tribes) of Tuhoe in an attempt to unite Tuhoe under him. By these acts, and by changing Ringatu doctrine and introducing new protocols, he fulfilled the pakaru whakapono (broken faith) part of Te Kooti's prediction.

Tai's ambition was for the community at Maungapohatu to prosper economically as well as spiritually. He wanted to encourage the government to build roads to Maungapohatu, and to get money to help develop his community. In 1910, he arranged for the sale of over 16,000 hectares of Tuhoe land. This was the first of various land transactions that he undertook, willingly or otherwise. The pakaru whenua (broken land) part of Te Kooti's prediction had come to pass. In the end though, Tai's plans came to nothing. His people could not sustain themselves at Maungapohatu. They became sick from lack of food and poor housing, and began to leave the community.

In 1914, they returned, and a new era of reconstruction began. They pulled down Hiona and built a conventional meeting house in its place called Tanenuiarangi. Food could be eaten in this house, in direct contradiction of local custom. This was the first of many tapu-lifting rituals undertaken by Tai and his people. The pakaru tikanga (broken customs) of Te Kooti's prediction was now a reality.

But there were powerful people in the government and among Maori who wanted to suppress Tai's influence in Te Urewera. In 1916, a large band of police came to Maungapohatu to arrest Tai on charges (very dubious) of illegally selling liquor. Shots were fired and two people from Maungapohatu died - Toko, one of Tai's sons, and Te Maipi. After a long trial, Tai was jailed for two years. By the time he was released, Maungapohatu had declined. Despite Tai's efforts, the community never thrived again. Tai died in February 1937 at Matahi.

Text originally published in Tai Awatea, Te Papa's onfloor multimedia database.

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