Riwha Tītokowaru’s legacy
152 years ago today, on 9th June 1868, Tītokowaru’s War began in South Taranaki, led by Ngā Ruahine leader Riwha Tītokowaru. His campaign to resist land confiscations during the wider New Zealand Wars almost brought the British government to its knees as he won a series of battles against the much larger colonial forces. Preacher, prophet and peacemaker, as well as a great military leader, he is one of New Zealand’s most important nineteenth century figures. His story lives on in our newest museum, Te Rau Aroha, which commemorates Māori sacrifice in wartime.
Born in 1823, Tītokowaru came to prominence after the brutal campaigns of 1865-1866 to clear the Taranaki tribes from their lands, first by British then by colonial troops. Tītokowaru had fought in wars throughout the region, but in 1867 he called for peaceful resistance, strongly influenced by the new Māori religious movement pai mārire , tradtional tīkanga and Christian teachings. His hopes for negotiation and reconciliation were dashed when the colonial authorities would not yield and confiscations continued.
Forced to defend his lands and people, Tītokowaru launched his own war with an initial force of 150 fighters. By 1869, he had won back 110km of territory, his force grew to around 1000 and the government considered returning confiscated lands.But at the height of its success, the campaign fell apart through Tītokowaru’s own wrongdoing which caused him to lose his mana (authority). His forces abandoned the fight and he was at first pursued by government forces, then left alone by them.