Tuhoe’s Bloody Sunday

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Police approach Maungapohatu through the rugged Te Urewera forest. / Alexander Turnbull Library

On this day 100 years ago a notorious arrest took place.

It happened at Maungapohatu—Tuhoe’s sacred mountain and site of a messianic community established by prophet Rua Kenana.

On Sunday April 2, Police Commissioner John Cullen led a column of 57 sweating constables, armed with automatic pistols and carbines, up a steep path from the valley below. They had walked all the way from Ruatahuna, deep in the forest heartland of Te Urewera, to apprehend the prophet on charges of sedition and resisting arrest.

In a show of contempt, Cullen flouted protocol and rode his horse on to the marae and up to a newly built wharenui where Rua stood with two of his sons. Cullen demanded Rua’s immediate surrender.

From somewhere, a shot was fired—it has never been determined from which side—and a short but disastrous exchange of fire left Rua’s son Toko and his uncle, Te Maipi, dead, and several on both sides injured.

Further horror followed. Descendants speak of rape and torture. Several men were mock-buried in an open grave. Jewellery, money and greenstone taonga were pillaged as trophies.

The events of that day have seared Tuhoe’s memory, and continue to do so, despite Crown apologies and a landmark treaty settlement.

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