Kiwiosities: The King Country

Named for the political phenomenon of the Maori King movement. In the late 1850s, several Maori tribes in the central North Island associated themselves under an elected king and parliament to oppose the British settlers who wanted to buy their land. When British and colonial troops responded to their resistance, tribes loyal to the king fought defensive battles against the British, withdrawing up the valleys of the Waikato and Waipa Rivers.

As ‘punishment’ the Crown took the lower Waikato lands, North of the ‘Aukati’ (Confiscation Line). The Waikato people withdrew on to the remaining lands of Maniapoto to the South, which became the country of the Maori King Tawhiao.

Te Kooti Rikirangi, too, took shelter there in 1872 after his raids in Poverty Bay, living among the Maniapoto Maori at Te Kuiti, where he developed further his Ringatu religion. So secure were these forests that European  settlers could not enter them; the King Movement was the Government. Some surveyors who crossed the line were murdered.

In 1881 King Tawhiao and the chief Wahanui symbolically laid down their arms at the border  township of Pirongia and sought settlement of the disputes. During the 1880s, things changed as Kingite  Maori  entered into trade across the border or left to work on farms. Maniapoto leased or sold farms to settlers and the railway pushed down country. Yet the European history of the King Country is comparatively brief, its towns largely dating from the development of the North Island Main Trunk in the early 1900s.

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.