Colonialism and the Vagaries of Scripture:

Te Kooti in Canaan

A Story of Bible and Dispossession in Aotearoa/New Zealand


David M. Gunn

Texas Christian University


And the Lord your God, he shall expel them from before you, and drive them from out of your sight; and ye shall possess their land, as the Lord your God hath promised unto you. (Josh 23:5)

So Joshua smote all the country . . . he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded. (Josh 10:40)

And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out. (Judg 1:27-28)

Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to prove Israel by them . . . to teach them war . . . . (Judg 3:1-2)



When a nation extends itself into other territories the chances are that it will there meet with other nationalities which it cannot destroy or completely drive out, even if it succeeds in conquering them. When this happens, it has a great and permanent difficulty to contend with. The subject or rival nationalities cannot be perfectly assimilated, and remain as a permanent cause of weakness and danger. It has been the fortune of England in extending itself to evade on the whole this danger. . . . [However] it is only in . . . the Australian colonies that the statement is true almost without qualification. The native Australian race is so low in the ethnological scale that it can never give the least trouble, but even here, since we reckon New Zealand in this group, we are to bear in mind that the Maori tribes occupy the Northern island in some force, much as in the last century the Highland Clans gave us trouble in the northern part of our own island, and the Maori is by no means a contemptible type of man. Nevertheless the whole number of Maories is not supposed to exceed forty thousand, and it is rapidly diminishing. (Sir John Seeley, The Expansion of England, 1883 [1922 edn., pp. 55-56]).


“The great threat to the Maori-European symbiosis,” argues historian James Belich, speaking of that period in the mid-nineteenth century before the European zone of occupation in Aotearoa/New Zealand had come to predominate, “was less a material conflict of interest than a conflict of aspirations”:

A situation of parity with, or inferiority to, peoples like the Maori simply did not accord with British expectations. The British were not satisfied with part of the land, part of the economy, or part of the government. But the persistent stereotype of the fat and greedy settler has always been a scapegoat for less tangible factors. British expectations arose, less from individual greed, than from the racial and national attitudes that were part of the Victorian ethos. (Belich, The New Zealand Wars, p. 304)

For many Europeans in that century (and since) it was in the natural order of things that the Maori should give way to the Europeans and their claims to the land, as the inferior gives way to the superior. This was the age of Darwin and “progress.” And inasmuch as the Maori did at least selectively begin to adopt European (more particularly English) ways—in commerce and agriculture, in their rapid move to literacy, and in the willingness of many to think favorably of Christianity—the more they were liable to viewed as “salvageable” for civilization. Resistance, on the other hand, tended to confound those who believed that the indigenous race could learn to emulate European civilization and discover true religion (the position of many of the early missionaries), and to confirm those who had always viewed such a possibility with deep scepticism. White people quickly latched on to armed resistance and especially Maori “atrocities” involving the killing of civilians as “proof of [the Maori’s] fundamentally unregenerate character” (Belich, p.328). As a newspaper editorial in 1863 put it:

We have dealt with the natives of this country upon a principle radically wrong. We have conceded them rights and privileges which nature has refused to ratify. . . . We have pampered ignorance and misrule, and we now experience their hatred of intelligence and order. The bubble is burst. The Maori is now known to us as what he is, and not as missionaries and philanthropists were willing to believe him. [In reality, the Maori is] a man ignorant and savage, loving darkness and anarchy, hating light and order; a man of fierce, and ungoverned passions, bloodthirsty, cruel, ungrateful, treacherous. (Southern Cross, quoted by Belich, p.328)


Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you . . . Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you. (Josh 23:12-13)

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way . . . Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling . . . .(1 Sam 15:2-3)


My particular interest, in the present essay, lies in the place of the Bible in this ideology of Victorian colonialism. A perusal of documents relating to the European settlement of New Zealand suggests that the Bible was implicated in at least the following main ways.

First, the notion of the “chosen people”—ubiquitous in biblical texts—is ubiquitous in British (especially English) thought during the nineteenth century. It is, if you like, the English version of “manifest destiny.” The term “destiny” crops up repeatedly, often in a specifically Christian understanding (behind which lies the Christian co-option of the biblical “people of Israel”) but not infrequently in more secular versions where “civilization” has largely taken the place of “Christianity” (which nevertheless usually sits alongside it) and the spirit of progress (often in the guise of Providence) looks fair to supplant God. The promised land may be one particular land or it may be the many that it was the duty and destiny of the chosen British race to populate and/or govern. Election, then, is one of the essential doctrines of British colonialism.

It is impossible to resolve these facts [viz., that the most numerous in the religions of the empire are first, pagans; second, Mohammedanism; third, Protestants; and fourth, Roman-Catholics] without receiving a deep impression, that the moral state of England is of immeasurable importance to the whole human race. God has placed her in a position to advance or retard the highest interests of our species, such as a nation never occupied before; such as involves a high and unappreciable trust . . . Let it be the cherished hope of your heart, that, in ages to come, the people of other lands will refer to the English, not as the invaders who crushed their ancient dynasty, to introduce a foreign yoke, but as the benefactors who, bringing the light of truth, cast a radiance on the path of their benighted fathers, by which they discovered first of all the way to God, and then to the arts, laws and institutions of civilization; to the interchanges of friendship, and the endearments of home. (Rev. W. Arthur, “The Extent and Moral Statistics of the British Empire,” 1846, pp. 75, 79)*


Thus saith God, the Lord . . . I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. (Isa 42:5-7)

Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. (Isa 45:22-23)


The conviction of election sustained the settlers in the face of the hostility of the indigenous peoples. The following items were written in New Zealand during the land wars of the 1860s:

A divine mission was given to the colonial subjects of the Crown when New Zealand was given over to the sovereignty of Great Britain, a mission to mature and complete the civilization and Christianity of the native race, which, alas! has been of late years chequered with the renovated rise of heathenish maxims and customs. (Letter from “A Patriot,” Nelson Examiner, March 6th, 1861)*


As to the sentimental side of the question—the right of a civilized race to colonize a barbarous country,—it is not worth disputing about. If necessary, it might be justified upon the very highest grounds. The fairest portions of the globe were not intended to remain for all time to come the hunting grounds of cannibals. It is the highest duty of a powerful nation to extend the blessings of civilization and Christianity to the utmost of its means. Our right to New Zealand is precisely what our right was to New Holland or to the continent of North America . . . (New Zealand Herald, 31st March, 1864; reprinted from Australia and New Zealand Gazette, 9th January, 1864)

The great civilizing peoples of the earth seem to have been deliberately chosen out and allowed to increase out of all proportion to their means of sustenance at home, for the very end that, driven abroad, they might carry civilization to all parts of the world in the train of Christianity. . . . Our present war then is waged in the cause of civilization, and against, not Maoris, but barbarism. (“Our Colonial Scheme,” Southern Monthly Magazine, April 1864, p. 80)*

The reverse side of destiny is the fate of those chosen not for a high and noble end but for doom. Providence, God’s will, can raise some and crush others, and against that determination there is no recourse. In the hands of the faithful, this is powerful theology. There were no few Scottish Calvinists in New Zealand in the 1860s.

What Noah did on his being made aware of his son’s wickedness, flowed not from his paternal displeasure, but from the impulse of the Spirit of God, who is righteous in all ways. His providence shows, that parents not unfrequently are punished in the misery of their posterity; and from the subsequent history it will appear, how the Canaanites were terribly enslaved by the posterity of Shem and of Japhet, according to the tenor of Noah’s curse. . . . Noah’s curse was not causeless, and therefore it came. And it has descended from generation to generation; as no distance from the seat of Canaan’s original settlement has hid the people of the curse from its operation, so no interval of time has weakened its power. The tribes of Africa appeared for ages to have escaped it. But when Japhet’s posterity discovered and seized on the new world, they supplied themselves with servants from Africa, and the groans and oppression, the tears and the blood of Afric’s sons, all proclaim that they own Ham for their father. To this day the slave trade is not suppressed, and the black population of both Americas, yet kept in degrading bondage, testifies to the same truth. Christians justly labour for their freedom, but till the curse remove, the expectation of success is vain. The origin of the original tribes of America, now so nearly exterminated, hangs in great doubt, but if we could trace them to Canaan, their fate would at once be accounted for. (From “Canaan” in Brown’s Dictionary of the Holy Bible Corrected and Improved According to the Advanced State of Information at the Present Day, by the Rev. James Smith, 1859; this book was carried from Scotland in 1862 by my great-grandfather, Farquhar MacDonald Gunn, on his journey to New Zealand)

A second main area of biblical and colonial complicity concerns the land itself. Expressed in numerous contexts is some version—even if it be one that coyly denies its scriptural warrant—of the biblical passage in Genesis 1:27 where God commands the humans to multiply, subdue the land, and make it fruitful. It is the unquestionable conviction of the colonizers that they have the fundamental right and, indeed, obligation to “improve” the land. Constantly the land to be taken is judged to be wild and desolate, egregiously neglected by the native inhabitants. It is the God-given right of the British to take the land in order to fulfill the commandment and make the desert bloom:


Though by virtue of our great Circumnavigator’s discovery and surveys; though by virtue of that great unwritten law which declares that the earth is God’s gift to man, and that a handful of savages shall nowhere lock up millions of acres of a wild garden wherein they pluck no fruit, a body of hard-working, half-starved Englishmen had a right to plant their little Settlements in New Zealand, and to take a portion of the immense unused wilderness to the plough, yet they did not do this. (Charles Hursthouse, New Zealand—the “Britain of the South”, 2nd edition, 1861)*

We cannot hesitate for a moment to say that emigration is according to the will of God. Given a world like this, with conveniences in every part for the habitation of man, and one original pair appointed to be father and mother of a race—a single centre and not many centres of human increase, and a command such as we read in Genesis, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth”—and emigration follows as a necessary consequence. (Reverend J. Stoughton, Anglo-Saxon Colonies, 1853, p. 343)*

[The author asks whether the trappings of Empire—wharves, mills, ships, mines, foundries, farms, are inconsistent with religion. He continues:] Quite the contrary. We see in all this man pursuing his divinely appointed vocation, and God’s design in process of fulfilment. “Replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over everything that moveth upon the earth.” (Reverend L. Wiseman, Things Secular and Things Sacred, 1856, pp. 364-65)*

Why should immigrants who have come hither, and who will still come hither, to cause the wastes to bloom and blossom, and give bread to their fellow men to eat and to spare—why should such be “branded” as greedy, grasping and overreaching, because church missionaries are sympathisers in the land league [i.e., sympathetic to Maori land rights], and are opposed to everything that does not square with their own idiosyncratical philanthropy? (Editorial: “False or True!,” Auckland Register, May 5th, 1860)*

A third source of biblical inspiration for the colonial enterprise comes with the image of the empty land. The Bible reiterates its “promised land” or “Canaan” theme often without mentioning its corollary, namely the promise of dispossession for the indigenous inhabitants, and indeed usage of these “promised land” texts in nineteenth century British Christianity suggests that commentators, preachers and the instructors of youth were often disposed to speak of the promise without reference to the violence of dispossession. Such rhetoric readily produces an empty land. With talk of land as “wilderness” the elision of inhabitants is further facilitated, for Israel in Canaan becomes superimposed upon Israel in the wilderness—Israel on its way to Canaan—and the wilderness is, by popular account, uninhabited. Land use is judged wholly by nineteenth century European norms of agricultural and industrial use, and by that measure a wilderness is clearly empty. (This rhetoric served other European incursions powerfully, too, notably into the American west and later into Palestine.)

It did seem an anomaly that in this wide world there should be, as Seeley puts, it, “On the one side men without property, on the other side property waiting for men.” The problem was how to provide outlets for the starving people, and open up waste lands for their possession and use. (Reverend James Chisholm, Fifty Years Syne: A Jubilee Memorial of the Presbyterian Church of Otago, 1898, p. 12)

Without protective institutions [i.e., British rule], such a country is also without all those things which are calculated to flourish under their protection. No arts or manufactures, or next to none—no general distribution of the people into trades or professions—no diffused appearance of regular industry—no commerce, domestic or foreign—no coin or other circulating medium;—these are a few of the more conspicuous deficiencies that must strike even the most ignorant observer of savage life, who have been accustomed to another condition of society. They will force themselves upon his attention, in fact, as looks even upon the landscape around him. The country is nearly a wilderness,—all swamp or woodland, except a few scattered patches by the sea side, or along the courses of the rivers; the only cultivation to be seen is in the heart, or the immediate vicinity, of the villages; and these (how unlike the populous cities and towns of a civilized country, with their streets of palaces, and intermingled spires, and towers, and domes!) are merely small groups of hovels that dot the earth like so many mole-hills, each a shelter from the weather, only one remove from the caverns of the Troglodytes. Then there are no roads, those primary essentials of all improvement; and, it is needless to add, no artificial means of conveyance from one place to another. To make a journey of any length is an enterprize of labour and peril, which can only be accomplished by the union and co-operation of a band of travellers. There is not an inn throughout the land—nor a bridge—nor a direction-post—nor a milestone. The inhabitants, in fact, have not, in any sense of the word, taken possession of the country which they call their own; and they are merely a handfull of stragglers who wander about its outskirts. (The New Zealanders, in The Library of Entertaining Knowledge, London, 1830, pp. 396-97)


I was born in 1942 in a little country town called Te Awamutu (“The End of the River”). It lay in the upper Waikato district between the Mangapiko and Puniu rivers, at the border of the King Country. It was part of the land the British confiscated from the Maori—Waikato, Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Ruru—after the British invaded the Waikato in the war of 1863-64. The British forces were for a time headquartered in the town. At nearby Paterangi, Rangiaowhia, Hairini Hill, Kihikihi, and (most famously) Orakau, desperate battles were fought. A few miles across the valley to the southwest, Kakepuku’s indigo-blue volcanic cone rises up. The town itself sits in a valley plain, around it land that rolls gently, offering sheltered valleys, leisurely winding streams, dotted with small lakes. It was known years ago—I don’t know if it still is—as “the old Maori garden lands,” though after the confiscation the farms and groves that covered it were Pakeha cultivations. In the days before the war the population was wholly Maori apart from a few missionaries and their families and several traders and other “pakeha-Maori.” Communication with the lower Waikato and Waipa valleys was by canoe, a three day journey. The first roads were pushed through by the military to facilitate the war.

In 1852, young Heywood Crispe made the canoe journey into the interior and years later related his story. The Maori at Rangiaowhia gave his party a royal welcome. After a good night’s sleep he took in his surroundings:

There was a line of whares [houses] erected on the crown of Rangiaowhia Hill, from which we could obtain a fine view of the surrounding country, and it had a grand appearance in our eyes. There was a long grove of large peach trees and very fine fruit on them. . . .One never sees such trees of peaches now. We, the Europeans, must be the cause by the importation of pests from other countries. A large portion of the ground round the hill was carrying a very good crop of wheat, for the Maoris believed in that as a crop, and they used to convert it into flour at the various flour-mills they had. It was of a very good quality, and some of the Waikato mills had a name for the flour they produced, a good deal of which was put on the Auckland market, being taken down the Waikato, via Waiuku and Onehunga. . . .

The Maoris provided all their pakeha friends with a most excellent meal on the ground, and peaches galore, as well as horses to ride. We rode some distance round to view the county, the Maori flour-mills, and cultivation. There were a lot of good cattle and horses about, and the crops of wheat and patches of potatoes were particularly good, although no bonedust was used in those days. (Quoted by James Cowan, The Old Frontier, 1922, pp. 18-19)

In later years, too, Mrs Crispe, Heywood’s widow, described life in the Upper Waikato as she saw it as a girl at school for two years in the Rev. John Morgan’s mission school in Te Awamutu. The wheat fields were enclosed by hedges of hawthorn. The wheat grown and ground (in water-driven flour-mills) by the Maori of the district was bagged and sent down by canoe to the white settlements for sale. The proceeds went to clothes, blankets, tea, sugar, and all kinds of European goods. James Cowan continues her reminiscences:

In front of Mr Morgan’s mission house at Te Awamutu there was a row of almond trees. These almonds—so seldom seen in a New Zealand orchard now [1922]—were widely distributed among the natives; hence the remarkably large trees, up to about thirty feet in height, which grew on the old Maori cultivations at Orakau and elsewhere, and survived long after the land had been confiscated by the Crown and settled by white farmers. (Cowan, p. 21)

In 1859 Dr Ferdinand von Hochstetter, an Austrian geologist, climbed Mount Kakepuku and from the summit viewed the valley of the Waipa:

The beautiful, richly-cultivated country about Rangiaowhia and Otawhao lay spread out before us like a map. I counted ten small lakes and ponds scattered about the plains. The church steeples of three places were seen rising from among orchards and fields. Verily I could hardly realise that I was in the interior of New Zealand. (Quoted by Cowan, pp. 21-22)

This prosperous agricultural life of the Maori was destroyed by the war. The neatly arranged streets of thatched houses, shaded by groves of peach and apple trees, were abandoned. The inhabitants were driven off the land and settlers took their fields and orchards.


I arrived at Te Awamutu at daybreak on the 21st [February, 1864], and immediately pushed on to Rangiaowhia, which I found nearly deserted. The few natives who were in the place were completely taken by surprise, and, refusing to lay down their arms, fired on the Mounted Royal Artillary Forces and the Colonial Defence Force, whom I sent on in advance of the column. The natives were quickly dispersed, and the greater part escaped; but a few of them, taking shelter in a whare [house], made a desperate resistance, until the Forest Rangers and a company of the 65th Regiment surrounded the whare, which was set on fire, and the defenders either killed or taken prisoners.

I regret to say that several casualties occurred on our side, and amongst them Col Nixon, commander of the Defence Force, who was severely wounded in endeavouring to enter the whare. Our loss was two killed and six wounded. About twelve natives were killed and twelve taken prisoner.

I have detained 21 women and children who were found in the village. Immediately after the settlement was cleared I marched the troops back to Te Awamutu. (General Cameron’s dispatch to Governor Grey; from Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1864, E-3; quoted by Heretaunga Pat Baker, The Strongest God, p. 239)

When it came to the time of the murder at Rangiaowhia, then I knew, for the first time, that this was a great war for New Zealand. Look also: Maori have been burned alive in their sleeping houses . . . . When the women were killed at the pa [fortified village] at Rangiriri, then, for the first time, the General advised that the women should be sent to live at places where there was no fighting. Then the pa at Paterangi was set aside as a place for fighting, and Rangiaowhia was left for the women and children. As soon as we arranged this, the war party of Bishop Selwyn and the General started to fight with the women and children. The women and children fell there . . . . It was the affair at Rangiaowhia that hardened the hearts of the people. The war was Rangiriri; a murder; Rangiaowhia; a murder . . . . (Wiremu Tamihana, chief of Ngati Haua, who lost several close relatives at Rangiaowhia; a document in English and Maori; from Appendices to Journals of the House of Representatives, 1864, G-5; quoted by Baker, pp. 239-40)


The story of the Bible in the colonization of Aotearoa/New Zealand takes, however, some other turns, as I now relate.

The Bible, for many, was the hallmark of civilization (besides roads, milestones, and steeples). The missionaries brought it to the “benighted” and the “benighted” were apt students. Maori became a written language.

The language in which Maori [learned] to read and write was the Maori language. By the 1850s Maori had much higher rates of literacy than the European settlers, although because it was in Maori it had limited usefulness as the Pakeha society became more dominant.

For the Protestant missionary societies the Bible had ultimate significance as the textbook for life and faith. Great energy went into its translation, printing and distribution. By 1837 the complete New Testament was available in Maori. It was not until 1868 that the whole Bible was printed. The Bible had a profound effect on Maori. They learnt the Bible off by heart, they wove its message into their own beliefs in ways that did not always easily cohere with the missionaries’ message.... There was an unexpected impact.... (Allan K. Davidson, “The Interaction of Mission-ary and Colonial Christianity in Nineteenth Century New Zealand,” 1996, p. 148)

From the early days of European involvement in New Zealand most of the missionaries—in particular the (British) Church Missionary Society (CMS)—had opposed white settlement. Evangelicals, missionaries and “humanitarians” were influential in making representations to the select Committee of the House of Commons which reported in 1837 that “all past colonization had for non-European peoples been a calamity involving oppression or even extermination” (Keith Sinclair, A History of New Zealand, 1969, p. 63).The CMS hoped to keep British interference in the country to a minimum in order to keep the country as a pristine preserve of the missionaries. The hope was for an eventual Christian Maori state. Thus, along with the likes of James Busby, British Resident in 1833, and Captain William Hobson, R.N., sent to protect settlers in 1837, Dandeson Coates, the Lay Secretary of the CMS, proposed that the British Government should recognize the “Native Authorities” and take the country under its “protection” with a view to controlling the existing European settlers and contacts between Maori and settlers. Coates spoke against “the curse of colonization,” and urged that further British settlement not be encouraged. “So long as New Zealand remained Maori territory, he thought that any Europeans could do little harm because they lived on sufferance, with no government to back them up and perhaps to oppress the Maoris in the event of trouble” (Sinclair, p. 63). Most of the missionaries in the field agreed. In the end, however, this policy failed to carry the day, despite a significant measure of support in the Office of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. In 1839 settlement became (politically) inevitable.

The upshot of this struggle was a continuing uneasiness, if not at times an actual rift, existing between settlers and missionaries (as opposed to the settler churches). (“[S]ympathy for the missionaries working among the Maori, let alone an interest in Maori Christianity, was very limited in the settler society” [Davidson, p. 156]) In the difference lay two visions of New Zealand society—a replica British society and a utopian Christian one. As war broke out the pressures on the missionaries, regarded as “soft” on the Maori, became intense. Few (T. F. Grace was one) managed to retain their alliance with their flock. One point of contention that arises in the bitter controversy brought on by the war concerns the Bible. Putting the Bible in the hands of the Maori, argued many settlers, was a dangerous thing. These “savages” could not be trusted to read it the right way:


We do not deny the use or advantage of such monitors [i.e. missionaries to the Maori]; but when we find the natives taking up their teachings and describing us as Ahabs, and themselves as Naboths, we fear the effect of the seed they sow; and foresee a crop in which thistles are likely to gain the upper had, as much as in the deserted cultivations of Taranaki [where war waged]. They have encouraged ideas and expectations in the native mind, which have matured into a struggle for independence. (Editorial in Nelson Examiner, January 26th, 1861)*

Let the General Assembly send the Maoris a message to say ‘We wish to help you; but we will bring you to your senses if you resist Her Majesty’s authority. We will give you the best assistance we can, and will teach you to do something more than misquote Scripture—to keep the Decalogue, which you have never done; to love your neighbour as yourselves; to give compensation when you do an injury.’ When they did this they might be called British subjects. (Mr. Wilson, New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Want of Confidence Debate, July 3rd, 1861, pp. 115-116)*

[The following writer, under the title of “Priestly Influence,” is addressing the topic, What do the Maori get from the Bible? His barbs are directed at the missionaries—who have urged the Bible on the Maoris.] Two doctrines will, no doubt, be to their taste—that of revenge; that of blood for blood in the Old Testament; that of equality in the New. . . . Far more intractable, therefore, are the Maories, than if they had never been converted. We do not say that their conversion was wrong; but it was a fatal gift if they are to live in permanent severance from the colonists. They will, from ignorance, transmute Christianity into a principle of antagonism. This is an element in future contests which has been altogether overlooked. The Maoris have set up a king; ere long they may have fanatical prophets among them, urging them, by examples from the Bible, to indiscriminate slaughter of their hated foes. (The Taranaki Herald, April 20th, 1861; reprinted from the New Zealand Examiner [London])*

Indeed, this last statement was to prove prescient, though whether the slaughter was any more or less indiscriminate than the killing of the inhabitants of Jericho or the massacre of the Amalekites is a moot point, as indeed is the question whether the prophets deserved to be compared to Samuel in terms of fanaticism. At any rate, the general point was well taken. The Bible was a subversive document.


A whole month, the month of October, 1868, was spent in finalizing his preparations. The recitation of passages of Scripture to stimulate the fire and enthusiasm of the raiders was part of the proceedings. One of these passages was from the Book of Joshua, chapter 23, verses 5 and 6, which reads as follows:

𠇊nd the Lord your God, he shall expel them from before you, and drive them from out of your sight; and ye shall possess their land, as the Lord your God hath promised unto you. Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left.”

With a religious zeal such as that which characterizes the fiercest of crusaders or the administrators of the inquisition, the massacre was committed in the early hours of the morning of 10 November, 1868, four months after the landing from the schooner Rifleman at Whareongaonga. The position of the various settlers’ residences was obtained, and the raiders divided into several attacking parties, each led by a man appointed by Te Kooti. Among those killed were some of the leaders of those who originally sent the prophet into exile. Thus the massacre served the double purpose of inflicting a blow upon the enemy, and of executing vengeance upon those who were responsible for sending a man into exile without even the semblance of a trial.

Among those killed were Major Biggs [who, with Captain Wilson, had presided over Te Kooti’s deportation] and his wife and baby together with two servants and a half-caste girl; Captain Wilson and his wife, three of their four children, and a servant named Moran; two sheep-farmers named Dodd and Peppard; Lieutenant Walsh together with his wife and child; and many others, in all thirty-three Europeans and thirty-seven friendly natives. (William Greenwood, The Upraised Hand, 1942, p. 25; cf. Hugh Ross, Te Kooti Rikirangi, pp. 62ff.)

. . . [I] returned to New Zealand to hear of a most lively massacre at Poverty Bay, perpetrated by three hundred Maori gentlemen, very well up in their Old Testaments and extremely practical in the use of the New (they made cartridges of them) . . . . (The Earl of Pembroke, from his Introduction to the Australian edition of Old New Zealand: A Tale of the Good Old Times, by A Pakeha Maori, 1893, p. ix)


Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki was born about 1830 and educated at a mission school near his home in the Turanga (Gisborne) area up the East Coast of the North Island. “His name, Kooti, is a Maori version of Dandeson Coates, the lay secretary of the CMS after whom he was named” (Davidson, p. 151). It would seem that during the wars of the 1860s he was a kupapa (Maori forces in the service of the colonial government), employed as an ammunition carrier against the “Hauhaus,” the fighting men of an indigenous religious movement called Pai Marire (“the Good and the Peaceful”).


Prospects of peace, however, were shattered by the rise of the Pai marire religion or Hauhauism, a cult which mingled the worst elements of primitive religion with a debased form of Christianity. Its adherents made a rallying point for the implacable sections of the Maoris. (The Cambridge History of the British Empire, 1933, p. 138)


In 1865 he was arrested, at the instigation of a chief friendly to the settlers, on a charge of spying for the enemy—a charge for which no good proof was forthcoming, so that he was released. With the suppression of the Pai Marire forces on the East Coast, some of the captured “rebels” were allowed to go free. Others were deported to a penal settlement on the Chatham Islands, a desolate location 400 miles to the east of New Zealand. Te Kooti was re-arrested and deported along with them. They were men, women and children from several tribes, about three hundred in all. This was in early 1866. Te Kooti attempted to appeal to the Superintendent at Napier. No answer was ever returned.

During his captivity Te Kooti fell into serious illness and despair. As Gabriel had appeared to Te Ua, the prophet of Pai Marire, so the spirit of God spoke to Te Kooti (Bronwyn Elsmore, Like Them That Dream, 1985, p. 141):

When I became conscious my corrupt spirit and this sinful body became separated then the spirit of God raised me and said, Arise, God has sent me to bring you to life to make known His name to His people who are in captivity in this place so that they may know that Jehovah drove them out into this place.... (Te Kooti MS, February 21, 1868; quoted in Ross, p. 31; for other encounters with the spirit at this time, see Ross, pp. 32-33)

Recovering, he began to read his Bible, especially the Books of Joshua and Judges and some of the Psalms. He held religious services morning and evening. His fellow prisoners began to recite Psalms (Psalm 64 was a daily devotion—“Hear my voice O God in my prayer: preserve my life from the fear of the enemy . . .”) and prayers that contained passages from Scripture (Greenwood, p. 21; Ross, p. 34).

Te Kooti wrote a prayer:

O God, if our hearts arise from the land in which we now dwell as slaves, and repent and pray to Thee and confess our sins in Thy presence, then, O Jehovah, do Thou blot out the sins of Thy own people, who have sinned against Thee. Do not Thou, O God, cause us to be wholly destroyed. Wherefore it is that we glorify Thy Holy Name. (Translated by Bishop Colenso, Fiat Justitia, Napier, 1871, p. 23; quoted in Elsmore, p. 142)

He made careful note of the Scripture (Elsmore, p. 143) which said:

Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Sam 15:3)

So New Zealand was the homeland and the Chatham Islands the house of bondage. The Maori were the Israelites and their enemies the Canaanites or Amalekites. Te Kooti prophesied that soon an ark of salvation would appear and be their means of deliverance (Greenwood, p. 22). On June 30th, 1868, a government schooner and a ketch arrived bringing provisions. With remarkably little bloodshed Te Kooti’s followers overpowered the guards, seized the schooner, beached the ketch, took arms and supplies from the garrison, and sailed for home. After a stormy passage they arrived at Whareongaonga ten days later. They unloaded the ship and released the crew.

When the Europeans on the coast learned of the escaped prisoners’ arrival, they sent a force to demand their surrender. Te Kooti refused but stressed that his intentions were peaceful—had his people not treated the garrison and the crew with consideration? He and his people then moved inland, heading from the alluvial coastal plains of Poverty Bay into the relative safety of the high country bordering the Urewera mountains and Lake Waikaremoana. The colonial authorities refused to let him alone. Strong forces (of settlers and kupapa) were sent to intercept him and there was several fierce engagements (see Belich, pp. 216-26). Te Kooti, wounded, made his escape and his people fortified themselves in a mountain village. In November, the fugitive turned into the hunter: abandoning his base at Puketapu, “he descended on the British and Maori settlements at Poverty Bay and destroyed them” (Belich, p. 227; see pp. 227-34; Greenwood, p. 24-26).


The story of Te Kooti continues long beyond the attack on Poverty Bay (see Belich, pp. 258-88; Greenwood, pp. 27-28). Pursued from place to place, his people fought bravely for their independence. In the end they lost and for many of them that meant their lives. When in early 1868 Te Kooti lost Ngatapa Pa to an overwhelming force of Pakeha and kupapa, he and others escaped down a precipice. Of some 500 people in the Pa, perhaps 300 or more were women, children, and Poverty Bay prisoners. About 135 women and children and 140 men were taken prisoner. “Some 120 of the male prisoners were then killed . . . The men were collected and executed in batches ‘after a few questions’” (Belich, p. 266). In 1872, with five men and one woman, Te Kooti made his way into the King Country, where he remained “still bitterly hated and feared by colonists and kupapa, and still with a price of £5,000 on his head, but securely protected by the King Movement. In 1883, he was finally pardoned as part of a government attempt to open up the King Country by peaceful means” (Belich, p. 286). He died ten years later.

In Te Kooti’s captivity on the Chatham Islands, the land of bondage, was born the Ringatu religion, a major spiritual force in Maori life up until the present day. The Ringatu, the Sign of the Upraised Hand, signified to Te Kooti, the prophet, not the power to ward off bullets (its meaning to Pai Marire) but an act of homage to God.

Come my people enter thou into my chambers and shut thy doors about thee.

And none shall go out the door and will not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses and smite you.

I laid me down and slept, I awakened for the Lord sustained me. Now the Lord is that Spirit and where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.

(Panui 7, quoted by Wi Tarei, “A Church called Ringatu,” p. 64; in Elsmore, p. 145)


The name of the woman taken in adultery was Herita.

The blind man whose eyes were anointed with clay was Tapaineho.

The fig tree that was cursed was Hiona.

Naboth’s vineyard belonged to Tanupera. (Te Kooti, 1868; in Ross, p. 33)


“But when we find the natives taking up their teachings and describing us as Ahabs, and themselves as Naboths, we fear the effect of the seed they sow . . .”



* I am greatly indebted to Michael Grimshaw, Knox College, Dunedin, for so generously providing the primary sources indicated with an asterisk.


Works Cited

Arthur, Rev. W. 1845-46. “The Extent and Moral Statistics of the British Empire.” Exeter Hall Lectures, 1845-46.

Baker, Heteraunga Pat. 1990. The Strongest God. Whatamonga Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound, NZ: Cape Catley Ltd. [A novel]

Belich, James. 1988. The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict. London and Auckland, NZ: Penguin Books [First pub. 1986 by Auckland University Press]

Chisolm, Rev. James . 1898. Fifty Years Syne: A Jubilee Memorial of the Presbyterian Church of Otago. Dunedin: J. Wilkie & Co.

Cowan, James. 1922. The Old Frontier. Te Awamutu: The Story of the Waipa Valley. Te Awamut, NZ: The Waipa Post Printing and Publishing Company.

[Craik, George Lillie (?)]. 1830. The New Zealanders. The Library of Entertaining Knowledge. London: Charles Knight.

Davidson, Allan K. 1996. “The Interaction of Missionary and Colonial Christianity in Nineteenth Century New Zealand.” Studies in World Christianity 2/2: 145-66.

Elsmore, Bronwyn. 1985. Like Them That Dream: The Maori and the Old Testament. Outumoetai, Tauranga, NZ: The Tauranga Moana Press.

Greenwood, William. 1942. The Upraised Hand or The Spiritual Significance of the Ringatu Faith. Polynesian Society Memoire, No. 21. Wellington, NZ: The Polynesian Society.

Hursthouse, Charles. 1861. New Zealand—the “Britain of the South.” Second edn.

Ross, W. Hugh. 1966. Te Kooti Rikirangi: General and Prophet. Auckland, NZ: Collins.

Rose, J. Holland, et al., gen.eds., and J. Hight, advisor for NZ. 1933. The Cambridge History of the British Empire. Vol. VII. Part II: New Zealand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Seeley, Sir John Robert. 1922. The Expansion of England. Two Courses of Lectures. Boston: Little, Brown & Company. First edn. pub. 1883.

Sinclair, Keith. 1991. A History of New Zealand. Fourth rev. and enlarged edn. London and Auckland, NZ: Penguin Books [First edn. 1959].

Stoughton, Rev. J. 1853. Anglo-Saxon Colonies. Exeter Hall Lectures, 1852-53.

Wiseman, Rev. L. Things Secular and Things Sacred. Exeter Hall Lectures, 1855-56.

Other Works

Two historical novels written about Te Kooti, recommended:

Witi Ihimaera. 1986. The Matriarch. New Zealand: Heinemann Publishers; repr. 1988, Auckland, NZ: Picador, Pan Books.

Maurice Shadbolt. 1986. Season of the Jew. New Zealand: Sceptre (NZ) [Hodder & Stoughton]; pub. In the USA by David R. Godine, Publisher [Boston], 1990; first U.S. edn. W. W. Norton & Company.

Two major books which were not available to me for this essay:

Belich, James. 1996. Making Peoples. Ringwood, Australia: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press.

Binney, Judith. 1996. Redemption Songs: A Life of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki. Auckland, NZ: Auckland University Press.


Copyright 1996 © David M. Gunn


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Updated: 08/29/2002