Friday, February 25, 2005

Sedition by Example V: Rua Kenana

(Being an ongoing series on those persecuted under the law of sedition)

A Herald story on the Waitangi Tribunal's last hearing into the Tuhoe claim caught my attention for its mention of the Tuhoe Prophet, Rua Kenana. The hearing was held at Maungapohatu, a site of immense significance to Tuhoe because of the clash that occured there on April 2nd, 1916 between Rua's followers and the New Zealand police. But while the Herald talks about the clash (but not its messy legal aftermath), it omits one interesting fact: Rua Kenana was prosecuted for sedition.

The charges stem from the attempted arrest for contempt of court. Two policemen attempted to arrest Rua at Te Waiiti; he refused to go with them on the grounds that he had already served time for the charge in question. One of the police officers, District Constable Andy Grant, reported the subsequent conversation as follows:

"The English are no good. You have no country and no King." he said "I have influenced 1400 men not to enlist" "Any money that I have I will give to the Germans, the English are no good, they have two laws one for the Maori and one for the Pakeha" At the same time he said "You have no right to this country" to Sergeant Cummings. "This country belongs to us the Maoris."

His compatriot, Sergeant Cummings, gave a more inflammatory version:

"You got no king now", "You got no land" and I said "Oh yes, we have got a King in England Rua" "Oh" he said "He no good he beat" "The Germans win" "When the German win, I'm going to be the King here" "I be the King of the pakeha and the Maori"

Two months later, with the police desperate to establish a conspiracy by Rua to justify the bloodshed that had occured at Maungapohatu, these rather odd words were turned into a charge of sedition. The jury acquitted him on this charge, which caused the judge to comment that the police's account of what was said at Te Waiiti was completely untenable. In other words, they had made it up.

(Other charges against Rua, stemming from the clash at Maungapohatu, were dismissed by the judge as the arrest warrant was unlawful, and therefore Rua was entitled to use force in self-defence. He was however found guilty of "morally" resisting arrest for refusing to go with Grant and Chapman - for which he was sentenced to 12 months hard labour to be followed by 18 months imprisonment in order to reform a member of a race "still in tutelage". This grossly disproportionate sentence so incensed the jury that they petioned Parliament for clemency)

As a final interesting note, one of the exhibits submitted as evidence of Rua's sedition was his flag, a Union Jack stiched with the words Kotahi te ture mo nga iwi e Rua Maungapohatu - "One law for both peoples". I guess its only seditious if Maori say it...

(Source: Mihaia: The Prophet Rua Kenana and His Community at Maungapohatu, by Judith Binney, Gillian Chaplin, and Craig Wallace)