Rua Kēnana - Māori prophet

Rua Kēnana (1868/1869 - 1937), who was also know as Ruatapunui, was a Tūhoe prophet. He called himself the Mihaia / Messiah and claimed to be Te Kooti Arikirangi's successor Hepetipa (Hephzibah) who would reclaim Tūhoe land that had been lost to pakeha / European ownership. Rua's beliefs split the Ringatū Church, which Te Kooti had founded in around 1866/1868.

Ref: George Bourne for Auckland Weekly News, Rua Kēnana, c. 1900-1909, no location, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A3324
In 1907 Rua formed a non-violent religious community at Maungapōhatu, the sacred mountain of Ngāi Tūhoe, in the Urewera. By 1900, Maungapōhatu was one of the few areas that had not been investigated by the Native Land Court. The community, also known as New Jerusalem, included a farming co-operative and a savings bank. Many pakeha believed the community was subversive and saw Rua as a disruptive influence.

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, the settlement of Maungapohatu, April 1908, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A3313
During the First World War the NZ Government was concerned that Rua opposed Tūhoe men enlisting for service against Germany. There were also rumours that he openly supported Germany.

The government used the opportunity to arrest Rua after a 1915 gathering for a hahunga / bone cleansing ceremony where he allegedly supplied liquor without a licence. He was summoned to appear before a magistrate on 19 January 1916. Rua said he was busy harvesting cocksfoot grass but would appear at the February court session. However Rua’s non-appearance was deemed to be contempt of court and preparations began for an armed police expedition to arrest him.

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, police expedition to arrest Rua Kēnana, Ureweras, 1916, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A3797
On Sunday 2 April 1916, 67 police invaded Maungapōhatu. Rua stood unarmed on the marae / complex of buildings including houses and sacred courtyard, to greet the police when a shot was fired. In a short exchange of gunfire two Māori were killed and a policeman injured. The police claimed they had been ambushed but evidence suggests a policeman fired the first shot. Judith Binney - well renowned contemporary historian and author of works about Rua and the Maungapōhatu community, has assessed the events and noted that not only did the evidence support Rua and his followers' version of events but that the arrest warrant was not credible.

Ref: AN Breckon for Auckland Weekly News, members of the armed constabulary advancing close to Hiruharama, Rua Kēnana's house, Maungapōhatu, 13 April 1916, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A3792
Rua was charged with sedition, a type of treason. His trial was the longest held in NZ until 1977. Although the jury found Rua not guilty, Judge Chapman found him’morally’ guilty of resisting arrest. Chapman lectured him that the Māori were a race ‘still in tutelage’ and he must learn that the long arm of the law reached into ‘every corner'. Rua was harshly sentenced to one year’s hard labour followed by 18 months’ imprisonment.  He was released in April 1918.

Ref: AN Breckon for Auckland Weekly News, showing from left in handcuffs: Maka Kanuehi, Pukepuke Kanara, Rua Kēnana, Whatu, Awa Horomona and Tioke Hakaipare following their arrest at Maungapōhatu; the policemen are Bill Neil (back left), Andy McHugh (in helmet beside Awa), Maungapohatu, April 1916, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A3794
Author: Chris Paxton, South Auckland Research Centre


  1. I would like to know how i would be able to get hold of any articles due to Rua Kenana trail in Auckland court and information relating to his arrest in mount Eden prison thank you Areta Orupe great grandson of Rua and his wife Pinepine

    1. Hi Areta, I'm so sorry for this late reply. Your comment was missed. The best place to look for newspaper articles on this trial is Papers Past If you are needing further research assistance, please feel free to contact Auckland Libraries via this web form: Thanks! Zoë - Heritage Collections librarian.


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