A hundred years on, Rua Kenana raid marked

9:23 am on 4 April 2016

A commemoration to mark 100 years since armed police raided Rua Kēnana's settlement in the heart of Te Urewera has sparked calls for the prophet to be pardoned.

On 2 April 1916, the pacifist prophet Rua Kēnana was arrested and his son Toko and Toko's uncle Te Maipi were shot dead during the police operation at Maungapōhatu.

At a re-enactment at the marae on Saturday, rain drifted across the marae grounds and mist shrouded the Tūhoe sacred mountain. While the performance included actors, the emotion was very real as gun shots were fired, the arrest of Rua was re-enacted and women from the settlement wept.

Headstones for Toko and Te Maipi were also unveiled.

Tūhoe kaumātua Lenny Te Kaawa, whose auntie was one of Rua's wives, said it was important for the people of Maungapōhatu to tell their own story.

"It's like the ancestors have come back and are showing the people on the marae exactly how it happened through the eyes of our parents and our grandparents."

Mr Te Kaawa said one of the actors was a descendant of an officer in the contingent of police that included 57 from Auckland and smaller numbers from Whakatāne and Gisborne.

"He started the process of taking that first step, that maybe further down the track, others will start making contact. I think when that happens the healing will start to happen on both sides - not just for us but for the descendants of the policemen too."

It's not clear who fired the first shot but the late historian Judith Binney said the evidence suggested it was the police.

Rua was later cleared of sedition charges but found morally guilty of resisting arrest. The jurors failed to reach a decision on charges of counselling others to murder.

Tūhoe kaumātua Paki Nikora said the Crown had apologised to Tūhoe at Taneatua two years ago but they needed to come to Maungapōhatu and address what had happened at the place where blood was spilled.

"So they need to be held account, to come back and admit that Rua and his family did absolutely nothing wrong."

Mr Nikora called on Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell, who was at the commemoration, to take that message back to the government.

That sentiment was echoed by Mr Te Kaawa.

"One of our uncles, before he died, one of the things he did say to us was that time in the wool has seen that Rua, really, had nothing to answer."

He said Rua was surprised to see police turn up because he had previously received a suspended sentence for supplying alcohol at a large gathering. That fell foul of the law that forbade Māori buying alcohol at an off licence.

Maungapōhatu marae, in the heart of the Urewera.

Maungapōhatu marae, in the heart of the Urewera. Photo: RNZ / Edward Gay

Mr Flavell said he would take the message from Maungapōhatu to Wellington.

He spoke of photographs of the police raid, including one of Rua being dragged behind the horse of a senior policeman.

"Those sorts of photos are pretty telling. And indeed, to understand that even just coming here, knowing that there was a huge, vibrant village here that had its own tikanga - it had its own rules, regulations and ways of looking after itself - to have that destroyed and the effects that are felt today, you know, you've got to wonder..."

Mr Flavell said the hurt was still evident.

"We've got our history right on our back doorstep. Its at Kororāreka, its at Ruapekapeka, its at Pukehinahina in Tauranga ... all these places have been commemorated in the last year or so and really must capture that history for this generation and generations to come or it will simply be lost."

He said if that were to happen, it would be a tragedy.

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