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Tainui is a tribal waka confederation of New Zealand Māori iwi. The Tainui confederation comprises four principal related Māori iwi of the central North Island of New Zealand: Hauraki, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Raukawa and Waikato. These iwi share a common ancestry from Polynesian migrants who arrived in New Zealand on the Tainui waka, which voyaged across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiki to Aotearoa (North Island) approximately 800 years ago.



Tainui were the tribe responsible for the setting up of the Kingitanga in 1858-a pan Māori movement aimed at establishing a Māori nation with a Māori King.The key aim was the refusal to sell land to the government. The first Māori king was the great Waikato warrior Te Wherowhero who came from a great line of rangatira. Tainui, who had conquered much Taranaki land ,sent warriors to help fight the settlers and British soldiers in Taranaki to prevent minor chiefs selling land to the government. Missionaries at Te Awamutu told the Kīngitanga they would be considered rebels by the government after they refused to take an oath of allegiance to the crown. Te Awamutu was a missionary settlement built by the missionaries and Māori Christians in July 1839 after they observed Tainui cannibals who had been fighting at Rotorua, return with 60 backpacks of human remains and proceed to cook and eat them in the Otawhao Pa.[1]

Contact with Europeans

During the late 1840s and early 1850s missionaries introduced Tainui to modern inventions such as the mill and gave then instruction in how to raise various European crops, potatoes were particularly widely planted. They set up a school in Te Awamutu to educate young Tainui so they became literate and taught the basics of numeracy. Two mills were built to grind the wheat into flour-one near Cambridge on a stream leading to the Waikato River. Some parts of the mill are still visible. During this time large numbers of new migrants came to Auckland and Te Wherowhero established a house in Mangere so he could oversee trade and get advice from the government. For a brief period until the mid 1850s Tainui made a good return from selling food to the new settlers but this all came to a sudden end when traders realised they could get food-especially flour, much cheaper from New South Wales. Tainui people were expelled from the Auckland area in 1863 because of their refusal to take the oath of allegiance to the crown.

Onset of conflict in the Waikato

Missionaries, who had been advising the government that Maniapoto in particular were collecting guns and powder, were expelled from Te Awamutu.Rewi Maniapoto and his followers tried to kill Missionary Gorst but his life was saved as he was absent.The rebels stole his property and burnt down the mission and the native school .All of the peaceful farmers and missionaries who had lived in peace for many years were threatened and forced out of the Waikato .Wiremu Tamihana the kingmaker,who was considered a moderate wrote a series of threatening letters to Governor Grey.He was an educated Christian who had lived with Governor Grey as a youth,and tried to stop Tainui fighting. At Rangiriri he went to the defensive line and tried 12 times to persuade the warriors to leave but they refused. After their defeat in 18 battles at the hands of the British and the loyal kupapa Māori, who fought alongside the troops, the remaining rebel Tainui retreated south of the Punui River and set up a quasi-autonomous community based around the Kīngitanga.

Living in the King Country

They established their own press, police force,laws and governing body. Europeans who entered to Kīngitanga area were killed. However because the country was unproductive and the people cut themselves off from European civilization they struggled to develop the Kīngitanga ideal.Drunkenness became a problem among the kingitanga supporters south of the Puniu. Friction broke out between the Maniapoto hosts who wanted to engage with the European settlers and the conservative Kīngitanga adherents who wanted to retain power and remain isolated.


Over time the more forward thinking ideas of Maniapoto prevailed, land was sold to the government and work was given to Tainui men on roads and on the main trunk line railway. Māori men were given the vote and Māori were given four members in parliament who all argued strongly for modernisation and acceptance of the benefits of Pākehā civilization. Following this schools, stores and churches were built. Some of the Tainui leaders were employed by the government as advisors or given government pensions in recognition of their change of heart and willingness to engage with the government. Tainui continued to work behind the scenes to recover the remainder of the land they believed was wrongly confiscated(120,000 acres was returned by 1873) from them after their defeat during the land wars. Some land or reserves were given back to Tainui but this act caused intra-tribal friction for many years because most of the land retained by the government was in the north and central Waikato. None of the Maniapoto land was confiscated, despite the fact they were the most actively hostile iwi in Taranaki and during the Waikato campaign, and this annoyed the other Tainui iwi.

The Return of Confiscated land

120,000 acres of land was returned to the rebels a few months after the British victory.In 1926 a government commission agreed to pay an annual payment of 3000 pounds.In 1946 an additional payment of 5000 pounds(later $15,000) per annum was made in perpetuity -this was a full and final payment. Since the 1990s Tainui have been actively seeking a resolution to their ongoing grievance over land confiscation. This has resulted in Tainui being gifted many millions of dollars worth of government-owned land and substantial financial compensation.

Tainui Business

At first many of the investments made were poor such as a fisheries deal, the purchase of a Rugby league team and a hotel in Singapore which all failed. A financial overhaul and the separation of the Kīngitanga from Tainui business enterprise has paid dividends. The construction of The Base shopping complex has been a winner for the iwi, drawing many retail customers from the Hamilton central business district. Tainui business supports the Kīngitanga financially, as well as fostering tertiary education for tribal members with grants. Tainui has very close links with Waikato University and each year the university closes down during major Tainui celebrations. From 2002 until 2008 Tainui was also the name of a Māori electorate in the New Zealand parliament. It was replaced by the Hauraki-Waikato electorate.


  1. ^ A Lone Hand in Cannibal Land James Cowan The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 6 (September 1, 1934) NZETC

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