I’ve danced with a man, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales. –From a song written in 1927 by Herbert Farjeon 

Dancing with Eva Perón

By Roger Childs

Eva Peron 1I recently visited the Library to get out Michael Belgrave’s Dancing with the King. I asked the lady on the Information desk for the Dewy number. She said, “I’ve never danced with a king, but my father danced with Eva Perón.” This was when she was the President of Argentina. Her dad was in the navy and while in Buenos Aries they attended a formal government function. His mates egged him on to ask Eva to dance, and eventually he did. She graciously obliged, and no doubt that night he won a lot of money from his friends! 

Dancing with the King

Dancing with the KingThis is a fascinating book by Massey academic Michael Belgrave about a period of our history which is not well known. After the “New Zealand Wars” the Kingites under Waikato chief Tawhiao retreated to the southern Waikato and an area that became known as the “King Country”. This was also Ngati Maniapoto territory and the paramount chief Rewi is best known for much over-played 1864 Battle of Orakau. He should be better remembered for the Waitara peace agreement of 1869 where he cemented his friendship with experienced colonial politician, Sir George Grey.

Dancing with the King” is about the diplomatic jockeying between the New Zealand governments and the Maori “king” Tawhiao from 1864 to 1885.  His father, the legendary warrior Te Wherowhero, reluctantly became “king” in 1857. Some Maori leaders of the time such as Tamihana Te Rauparaha and Matene Te Whiwhi from the Kapiti area, thought having a king who worked with the colonial government would be good for Maori.

However, when the Kingite movement became rebellious, they and scores of other chiefs rejected the idea. Tawhiao of Ngati Mahuta in the Tainui confederation of tribes kept the title of  “king” but it was meaningless, and still Tawhiao 1is today, as the vast majority of iwi never recognised it.

Delicate negotiations

The colonial governments didn’t accept Tawhaio’s “kingship”, but they needed to negotiate with him because he controlled an area necessary for completing the main trunk railway line and for further white settlement. So the two parties engaged in what Belgrave describes as a dance of diplomacy. 

One of the sore points for Tawhaio and his supporters was the land confiscated by the government after the Kingite Rebellion. A key issue for the government was obtaining Tawhiao’s acceptance of the overarching sovereignty of Queen Victoria. There were many meetings and protracted negotiations including four hui between Grey and Tawhiao during 1878-79.

George GreyAt Hikurangi in May 1878 Grey made a generous offer related to the return of confiscated Waikato land. As Belgrave comments:  Whether they understood it or not, Grey had agreed to almost everything Tawhiao had demanded and more. Unfortunately some of the “king’s” advisers didn’t seem to want a detente, and this basis for a very fair settlement was not taken up. 

Ultimately things were sorted out and the King Country was opened up for settlement and transport development, but only 26% of the confiscated Waikato land was returned or purchased, compared with 72% in the Bay of Plenty.  It could have been much more.

Dancing with the King is an absorbing book which breaks new ground on the history of the late 19th century. It is overly sympathetic to the Kingite movement and does make a case for seeing Tawhiao as royalty which he patently was not. Nevertheless Belgrave has done his research and writes fluently on the patient and lengthy process of trying to achieve a peaceful outcome to the delicate diplomatic situation which could easily have seen renewed conflict. One excellent chapter covers Tawhiao’s visit to England where the establishment made a great fuss of him. The “king” has taken the abstinence pledge, after an earlier period of drink problems, and this impressed the English.

Belgrave is occasionally guilty of unsubstantiated value judgements and inaccuracy, for example

  • Describing Grey and Sheehan as two of the slipperiest of colonial politicians.
  • On Parihaka: … where peaceful protestors resisting the confiscations were attacked by a military force — It was an occupation and not an attack; there was no conflict and no-one was killed or injured.
  • He writes Kereopa and Mokomoko were executed for their role in the war. Kereopa had murdered missionary Karl Volkner on his Opotiki church.

Nevertheless, this is a book well worth reading to understand how patience in negotiations between the races was rewarded in late 19th century New Zealand.

Dancing with the King by Michael Belgrave is available from the Otaki and Paraparaumu Libraries.