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Te Kooti

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Te Kooti

Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki (Gisborne, c. 1832 – 1891) was a Māori leader, the founder of the Ringatu religion and guerrilla.

While fighting alongside government forces against the Hauhau in 1865, he was accused of spying. Exiled to the Chatham Islands without trial along with captured Hauhau, he experienced visions and became a religious leader. In 1868 he led the escape of 168 prisoners, seizing the schooner Rifleman and sailing back to the North Island where he began a series of raids. He was pardoned in 1883.

Early life

Te Kooti's early years are obscure. He was born at Te Pa-o-Kahu in the Gisborne region as a son of Hone Rangipatahi (father) and Hine Turakau (mother), of the Rongowhakaata tribe (iwi). Their hapū was Ngati Maru, whose villages were situated near the Awapuni lagoon, where the Waipaoa River runs into the ocean[1]. Arikirangi is thought to be the original name of Te Kooti. His birthdate is thought to be approximately 1832[2].

A matakite (visionary) of Nukutaurua on Mahia Peninsula, named Toiroa Ikariki (Ikarihi), prophecied the birth of Te Kooti (as well as the coming of the white men, the Pākehā):

Tiwha tiwha te pō.
Ko te Pakerewhā
Ko Arikirangi tenei ra te haere nei.
Dark, dark is the night.
There is the Pakerewhā
There is Arikirangi to come.

The song is dated 1766. The Pakerewhā where strangers with red or white skin and Arikirangi was a grandchild of Toiroa, still to be born[3].

Te Kooti is understood to be his Christian baptismal name[4].

Te Kooti was apparently a very troublesome boy to his father, who tried to kill him. Te Kooti escaped and hid in the house of an uncle[5]. Te Kooti's behaviour appears to have been quite maladjusted. There was a time that he could no longer control his body, nor even sit still. He gathered friends around him, and they gained a bad reputation[6].

He was sent to the Mission School at Whakato, near Manutuke. In 1846 – 1847 he was taught by Samuel Williams. Samuel and his uncle, William Williams “helped the boy to find a new world in the Bible”[7].

But his reputation was still suffering, also after contacts with the Reverend Thomas Grace, who was to replace William Williams for a few years (1850 – 1853).

He had to leave home and went to sea on different ships that traded along the coasts of the North Island.


In 1865 while fighting with government forces to suppress the Pai Marire (or Hauhau), he was arrested as a spy and exiled to the Chatham Islands, together with the rebels he had been fighting against. He was never tried and took every opportunity to demand a trial. Some say he got his name from this, "Kooti" pronounced "Courty", others that it was a Māori version of the last name "Coates". If he did supply the Pai Marire with guns as is alleged, he also took part in a battle against them. There are allegations he fired blanks on this occasion.

While in exile Te Kooti experienced visions and became a religious leader. He also performed some sleight of hand, such as using matchheads to set his hand on fire above the altar during a church service. These tricks swayed the Māori prisoners on Chatham Islands, and when some of the chiefs present on the island were sent back to the mainland, Te Kooti took advantage of the situation to become the local leader. Only Te Kooti's uncle was not impressed by these tricks, which he saw right through. Nevertheless, Te Kooti established a faith named Ringatū [Upraised Hand] which gained many followers, and is still present in New Zealand society today.


Expecting a resupply boat, Te Kooti prophesied that two boats would soon arrive to take them off the island. On July 4, 1868, Te Kooti led a dramatic prison break, and with 168 other prisoners seized the schooner Rifleman, with supplies and rifles, scuttled another vessel and set off back to the North Island. This was a bloodless coup, on Te Kooti's strict orders, except for one Chatham Island sergeant who was killed because of a personal grievance. The Pākehā sailors were allowed to live and set sail for the coast of New Zealand with help from the Māori. The sailors attempted to sail towards Wellington, but with Te Kooti's expertise at sailing were caught and told they would be thrown overboard if they did not keep a course for the East Coast. On the fourth day at sea, the ship was becalmed and Te Kooti declared that a sacrifice was needed. Te Kooti had his sceptical uncle thrown overboard and soon afterwards the ship made headway again.

Upon their arrival at Whareongaonga in Poverty Bay, Te Kooti asked the Māori King Movement and the Tuhoe tribes for refuge but was rejected. He also sought dialogue with the colonial government but was rebuffed. He sent a statement to the effect that if the government wanted a war, he would give it to them in November.

At war


On November 10, 1868, Te Kooti and his followers attacked the township of Matawhero on the outskirts of Gisborne. Some 54 people were slaughtered, including women and children. The dead included 22 local Māori as well as European settlers. This was probably a revenge attack, motivated by Te Kooti's false imprisonment as a spy.

Te Kooti was then pursued by colonial and sympathetic Māori forces. His community was surrounded at Ngatapa, but Te Kooti and his warriors managed to escape.

From there, Te Kooti was chased to Te Porere. There, he set up a pa and withstood an attack from the British forces, including some opposing Maori troops, under Major Kepa. After much fighting, the British broke through into the pa and Te Kooti had to abandon it, leaving many dead and wounded. Te Kooti himself was shot in the finger on his escape.

From there, Te Kooti escaped into the Urewera and made an alliance with the Tuhoe leadership.

From 1869 to 1872, Te Kooti and his followers raided throughout the central North Island while being pursued by their colonial and Māori enemies. His power was only broken once his Tuhoe allies were systematically conquered by his enemies. But once again Te Kooti managed to escape, this time to the King Country where he spent the next decade under the protection of the Māori King. Te Kooti used this time to develop his religion.

Pardon and later life

In 1883, Te Kooti was pardoned by the government and began to travel New Zealand. His followers grew and he decided to return to his old home. However, his past deeds had not been forgotten and the local magistrate arrested him and imprisoned him, citing an anticipatory breach of the peace. Te Kooti was released on the condition that he never again try to return to his old home. Te Kooti appealed this decision, and was initially successful, but in 1890 the Court of Appeal ruled that the terror and alarm that Te Kooti's reappearance would have entailed justified the magistrate's decision. No doubt the Court was influenced by Te Kooti's preferred mode of transport, a white charger, and his large entourage.

See also


  1. Binney 1995, p. 16 and Beaufoy 2006, p. 9
  2. Binney 1995, p. 16
  3. Binney 1995, p. 11. Most of the written sources on the predictions by Toiroa go back to Te Kooti himself, directly or indirectly.
  4. Binney 1995, p. 16. The first reference of the name in European sources is found in 1852
  5. Binney 1995, p. 18
  6. Beaufoy 2006, p. 23
  7. Mitcalfe 1963, p. 46


  • Beaufoy, Betty – Conflict: The Story of Te Kooti and the Settlers. Publ. Dorset Enterprises, Wellington 2006. ISBN 0473110156
  • Binney, Judith - Redemption songs: a life of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1995. ISBN 186940131X, ISBN 9781869401313. Available online at Google Books
  • Mitcalfe, Barry – Nine New Zealanders. Christchurch 1963. The chapter "The Tohunga and the testament: Te Kooti – with a Bible in one hand, a gun in the other" (p. 45 - 50)

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