KawitiTe Ruki Kawiti was a prominent Maori chieftain (c1770 -1854), with Hone Heke he successfully fought the British in the First Maori War.
Descended from Nukutawhiti and Rahiri he was born in the north of New Zealand to the Ngati Hine hapu, one of the subtribes of the Ngapuhi. From his youth he was trained in leadership and warfare. He was present at the Battle of Moremonui when many of the Ngapuhi were slughtered by the Ngati Whatua, then almost twenty years later, in 1825, he was at the Battle of Te Ika a Ranganui when it was the Ngapuhi's turn to slaughter the Ngati Whatua. However he took captive a number of Ngati Whatua and refused to hand them over to Hongi Hika prefering instead to return them to their own people.
Kawiti refused to sign the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February, 1840 seeing that it would, inevitably lead to further European encroachment and the loss of Maori land. However he eventually yielded to pressure from his own people and signed the Treaty in May 1840, right at the top, above those chiefs who had signed earlier.
However he soon grew disenchanted with the course of events and supported Hone Heke in his protests against British rule. When in March 1845 Heke cut down the flag pole at Kororareka for the fourth time thereby initiating the First Maori War Kawiti created a diversion by attacking the town.
By now well into his seventies Kawiti was a very experienced warrior, between them he and Heke fought and probably defeated the British.
The first serious engagement of the war was the Battle of Puketutu Pa. While Heke occupied the Pa itself, Kawiti and his men were skirmishing in the scrub and gullies around the Pa. They successfully prevented the British from launching a coordinated attack on the Pa but at quite a heavy cost in casualties.
At the next engagement, the Battle of Ohaeawai Pa Kawiti provoked the British into a disastrous frontal attack that cost them very heavy casualties. Having achieved his purpose he then evacuated the Pa. Following this there was a lull of several months for peace negotiations that went nowhere. Then towards the end of 1845 the British launched a major expedition against Kawiti's new Pa at Ruapekapeka. The Pa successfully withstood the siege and bombardment for several weeks before Kawiti made a tactical withdrawal; luring some of the British troops into a complex ambush behind the Pa.
The British had not fought alone in this war. They had been allied with the important chief, Tamati Waka Nene. After Ruapekapeka Kawiti and a reluctant Heke made their peace with Waka Nene who in turn insisted that the British accepted it.
This was Kawiti's last war. He died at Waiomio 5 May 1854 lamenting the disunity of the Ngapuhi people. The meeting house, marae complex at Waiomio Caves is his memorial.