Kiwiosities: The Prophet Rua

A tohunga of the Urewera, Rua 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 2, 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 more 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 including Mihaia: the prophet Rua Kenana and his community at Maungapohatu, by Judith Binney and Rua and the Maori Millennium by Peter Webster.



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

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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.