Wiremu Tamihana was a Christian chief who played a key role in founding the first nationalist Maori organisation, Kingitanga (the King Movement). His beliefs in the laws of God, compassion and peace were tested in the 1850s when New Zealand entered a tumultuous period of its history.
In his youth Tamihana went on several war expeditions in Taranaki and Waikato. Later, under the influence of Christian teachings he abandoned fighting and turned his focus on teaching and preaching. He adapted European ideas to suit Maori needs in the new reality of colonial New Zealand, taking ideas from Bible text and books, one of which was an outline in Maori of the laws of England.
In 1838 Tamihana became the leader of Ngati Haua. By the 1850s Maori resistance to land sales was growing. In Waikato, Tamihana tried to get political accord among tribes to present a unified front against encroaching settlers. He wanted autonomy and conceived of having a Maori King to co-exist with Queen Victoria.
Tamihana believed that if Pakeha needed a royal monarch then Maori should also have one to protect their people and lands. In 1858 the Waikato chief Potatau Te Wherowhero of Ngati Mahuta became the first Maori king.
Tamihana believed Maori and Pakeha could live side by side but the refusal to sell any more land angered Europeans. In 1860 the Taranaki War began and he went to negotiate a truce between local Maori and Governor Gore Browne.
George Grey returned to New Zealand as Governor in 1861. Tamihana watched with increasing alarm as Grey built a series of military forts and a military road from Auckland that pointed directly at the Waikato.
The Waikato Maori responded to the military threat by declaring the Mangatawhiri Stream an aukati (a boundary). The Maori King had defined his ground and warned that if the road crossed the aukati, it would a declaration of war.
Despite Tamihana's efforts, war broke out again in Taranaki in 1863. In July Grey ordered Imperial troops into the King's territory. The Waikato wars had begun. Tamihana continued to promote peace but fighting continued. By 1864 the Waikato was under British military occupation.
In the last few years of his life Tamihana wrote letters to officials and petitioned the government. He remained involved with tribal affairs, the Native Land Court and mediations and died in 1866.