Te Kooti - Villian or Hero?

By Te Ao Māori News

Māori prophet Te Kooti Rikirangi te Turuki has been portrayed in New Zealand culture as a violent outlaw who fought against colonial forces.

As part of the 'Ko Rongowhakata' exhibition at Te Papa museum, descendants and scholars challenged the myth.

As the welcoming of the one-day symposium opened at Te Papa in Wellington, descendants of Te Kooti te Turuki held the prophets battle flag known as Te Wepu, [The Whip] and just like his life, Te Kooti descendant Peter Moeau says the images tell many interpretations.

“He wasn't a menace, he was a spiritual leader and military strategist.”

Te Kooti has long been portrayed in history as a rebel who was pursued relentlessly by colonial forces for nearly four years. Many Māori see him as a prophet whose teachings still echo in his songs.


“Te Kooti was a visionary. He prophesised many things during a time of war and he defended the sale of Māori land to the pākeha. He told Māori to hold fast to your land, your land is your lifeline, without it your independence will be lost.”

To start a discussion around the legacy of the 19th-century Māori prophet and Ringatū faith leader speakers from a number of iwi challenged the myths by sharing kōrero about his positive influence in their lives over generations. Some of these stories have not been shared publicly before. 

Moeau says he has been defending a distorted public perception of Te Kooti since he was young.

“My teacher once told me Te Kooti was a murderer, I was only 6 years at the time and I stood up and told him not to talk about my ancestor like that again. I understood him to be a good man who desired to be left alone.

Since 2016 Rongowhakaata have been sharing their history and stories within their region.

Puawai Cairns the Head of Matauranga Māori at Te Papa Museum, is delighted to give Rongowhakaata the space to co-create an exhibition to talk about a history of an iwi. “Rongowhakaata as a people were very determined that they would tell their stories within their own rohe first, so the genesis of the exhibition started with a series of marae exhibitions.

Cairns says there is a discussion to continue the stories of Te Kooti on a regional and national level.