Kiwiosities: Rua Kenana

Kiwiosities coverExcerpts from Kiwiosities, a book by Gordon Ell on the traditions and folklore of New Zealand.

A tohunga of the Urewera, Rua Kenana came to believe that he was the  reincarnation of  John the Baptist and on occasions, the Holy Ghost.

Building  what he called the new Jerusalem at remote Maungapohatu, he was frequently at odds with the Crown, placing himself apart from the law.   Charges of sly-grogging against him led to a series of events  involving  contempt of  court charges and the subsequent  ‘invasion’ of Maungapohatu by armed and mounted police on April 12, 1916. As police moved in to arrest Rua,  his supporters in the scrub opened fire. The gun battle lasted half an hour. Two Maori, including a son of Rua, were killed.   Several more Maori were wounded as were four police.

Rua was sentenced  to prison for a year for  resisting the police, but the jury could not  agree on charges  of counselling to murder and bodily harm. Rua remains a distinguished prophet of the Ringatu church and has been the subject of study for a number of  books.

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Gordon Ell, a former journalist and wildlife film-maker, is the author of many popular books about New Zealand's historic and natural heritage.