Kawiti (‘Te Ruki’)

Heke, Hariata, Kawiti - colour
Heke, Hariata, Kawiti

Kawiti (?-1854), probably born in the 1770s in northern New Zealand, was a notable Ngā Puhi chief and warrior and a skilled military tactician (hence the nickname given him by Europeans ‘The Duke’ or Te Ruki).

In 1840, when William Hobson arrived in New Zealand, Kawiti vigorously resisted British rule. He did not agree to the Treaty on 6 February, when others signed at Waitangi, but his people pressed him to sign, which he did, albeit reluctantly, at a special meeting with Hobson in May 1840.

On 11 March 1845, though, he joined forces with Hone Heke at Kororāreka when his men created a diversion while the flagstaff on Maiki Hill was cut down for the fourth and last time.

The northern war of 1845-46 involved the forces of Kawiti and Heke against British troops and Māori allies. The British launched three major expeditions into the hinterland of the Bay of Islands. The first, at Puketutu, was a Māori victory, despite British claims to the contrary.

At Ōhaeawai, he constructed a carefully designed pā that withstood a British attack on 1 July 1845. Outnumbered six to one, the Māori forces nevertheless inflicted a serious defeat on the British. For five months fighting ceased while Governor Robert FitzRoy tried to arrange a peace but Kawiti rejected the peace terms. When George Grey arrived in November 1845 to replace FitzRoy, he gave Kawiti and Heke five days to respond to the peace offer and organised an expedition against Kawiti’s new pā. Kawiti drew British troops to battle on a fairly inaccessible site at Ruapekapeka, which took nearly a month for 1100 men to cover the 15 miles from the Bay of Islands. After heavy bombardment over two weeks, British troops entered the pā on Sunday, 11 January 1846 to find it apparently deserted (although other accounts say that some Maori were at prayers). Detachments of Kawiti’s men had slipped away to lure the troops into the bush. The British suffered 45 casualties while 30 Māori were killed or wounded. The pā was abandoned, and although it was not an outright victory for the British, Kawiti and Heke negotiated a peace at the end of January. These victories were the result of Kawiti’s skill at trench warfare and military tactics.

Kawiti died at Waiomio on 5 May 1854.

http://www.treatyofwaitangi.govt.nz, 2005-06 (edited).

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