Prophet and pacifist Rua Kēnana. Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library

Prophet and pacifist Rua Kēnana is to be pardoned – The Detail today looks at who he was and how this is related to the government’s announcement on teaching New Zealand history in schools. 

Two landmark announcements by the government have made decades of hard work worthwhile for the descendants of prophet and pacifist Rua Kēnana.

This month the Prime Minister announced teaching New Zealand history will be compulsory in schools by 2022.

On the same day, September 12, Maori Development minister Nanaia Mahuta delivered the first reading of the Rua Kēnana Pardoning Act.

She read, “It is important that the Crown acknowledges its actions caused lasting damage to Rua Kēnana and his descendants.”

Mahuta was the first in a line of MPs visibly emotional when acknowledging the wrongful arrest of the 20th-century prophet.

MPs took it in turn to read his story.

Listening from the gallery in Parliament was Professor Taiarahia Black.

Through his research into Tūhoe waiata, Black had retraced the story of Kēnana – and now almost 40 years of his work was paying off.

Police invaded the pacifist community at Maungapōhatu in 1916, leaving two dead.

The Tūhoe prophet was wrongfully charged with sedition and sly grogging (the illegal sale of alcohol); a charge he had already served time for.

The charges could not be sustained, and Rua was imprisoned for 18 months with hard labour at Mount Eden prison, for resisting arrest.

Black says the government’s announcement on teaching history as part of the school curriculum is an important one.

He says he learned some of his history – about the results of friction between the Crown and Maori – through waiata.

“Having been brought up in Ruatoki, in and around the reo speaking community, my generation was absolutely privileged to see and hear the cadence and rich oratory and sung poetry being performed almost every day on our marae.

“My generation witnessed these music items, but later on I came to understand them as traditional sharing of knowledge, creation of knowledge and reclamation of knowledge,” he says.

Black believes these stories should be taught in a formal setting throughout schools, so they aren’t lost as elders die.

Later this year, 200 descendants of Kēnana will gather again in Maungapōhatu to celebrate his life.

They are planning a hikoi to Wellington for the final reading of Kēnana’s pardon.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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