|Reign||25 June 1860 – 26 August 1894|
|Coronation||5 July 1894|
|Predecessor||Pōtatau Te Wherowhero|
|Father||Pōtatau Te Wherowhero|
|Died||26 August 1894|
|Religion||The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints|
Tāwhiao I, Māori King (Matutaera Te Pukepuke Te Paue Te Karato Te-a-Pōtatau Tāwhiao), (May 1822 – 26 August 1894) was leader of the Waikato tribes, the second Māori King and a religious visionary. He was a member of the Ngāti Mahuta iwi (tribe) of Waikato.
Tāwhiao was born at Orongokoekoea Pā (near Taumarunui) during the Musket Wars. His father, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, was the leader of the Waikato people. In 1858 Pōtatau was installed as the first Māori King, his purpose being to promote unity among the Māori people in the face of Pākehā encroachment.
Pōtatau died in 1860 and was succeeded by Tāwhiao who reigned for thirty-four years during one of the most difficult and discouraging periods of Māori history. During this period there were de jure two governments; English law and governance prevailed within the British settlements and Māori law or custom over the rest of the country. However the Pākehā population was increasing rapidly while the Māori population was either static or declining. This was also the period when the British felt they had a manifest destiny to rule the world. The presence of an independent native state was seen by many as intolerable particularly as it occupied most of the territory of the North Island and thus had the potential to undermine the colonial government's sovereignty.
In 1863 on very slim pretexts and in defiance of the Treaty of Waitangi the Colonial Government, backed by some fourteen thousand Imperial troops, invaded the Waikato, King Tāwhiao's territory. The Waikato people put up a strong defence but inevitably were forced to retreat. The conquered land was confiscated, altogether about a million acres (4,000 km²).
Tāwhiao and his people moved southwards, into the territory of the Ngāti Maniapoto, the area of New Zealand that is still known as the King Country. He was a pacifist, or perhaps he was simply a realist who recognized the futility of trying to fight the Colonial government. Over the next twenty years he travelled among his people reminding them that war always had its price and the price was always higher than expected. But he also predicted that the Māori people would find justice and restitution for the wrongs they had suffered.
In 1878 the New Zealand Government with George Grey as Premier approached Tāwhiao with the proposal that some of their Waikato land would be restored to them if they would accept the integration of the King Country with the rest of New Zealand. On the advice of his council Tāwhiao rejected the offer. However it was accepted three years later in a modified form.
Denied justice in New Zealand, King Tāwhiao travelled to London to see Queen Victoria to try and persuade her to honour the Treaty between their peoples. Not surprisingly he did not get beyond Lord Derby, Secretary of State for the Colonies, who said it was a New Zealand problem. Returning to New Zealand the Premier, Robert Stout, insisted that all events happening prior to 1863 were the responsibility of the Imperial Government.
Thoroughly disillusioned Tāwhiao tried various initiatives to promote the independence and welfare of his people but he had been effectively marginalized. His problems were not solely due to the attitude of the New Zealand Government. The King Movement had never represented all the Māori people and as it lost its mana or standing they became even more disunited. During the remainder of his life Tāwhiao was respected and even entertained as royalty by many of the Māori people. But he was allowed almost no influence over political events, as he had been truly marginalized.
Tāwhiao is buried at Taupiri.
In the 1880s, a New Zealand newspaper quoted Tāwhiao as claiming a belief in Mormonism:
I was some time ago converted to a belief in the Mormon faith, and I now altogether hold to it. My people in the North are believers also in Mormonism, and it is my wish that all the Maori should be of that faith.
Although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no record of Tāwhiao being baptized, other Māori joined the LDS Church based on a prophecy they claimed Tāwhiao made in the 1860s — that messengers of God would come from over the Sea of Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean), traveling in pairs and teaching the Māori people in their own language. When some who heard Tāwhiao's prophecy observed pairs of Mormon missionaries from the United States teaching in Māori language, they immediately accepted Mormonism.