Rua Kenana, sometimes known as Ruatapunui, has usually been considered to be the posthumous son of Kenana Tumoana of Ngati Kahungunu, who was killed fighting for Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki at Makaretu sometime between November 1868 and January 1869. Rua's paternity has been questioned within his family, as has his statement that he was born at Maungapohatu. His mother was Ngahiwi (Harai) Te Rihi, of the Tamakaimoana hapu of Tuhoe at Maungapohatu.
Rua was brought up among Tuhoe, and Kenana's people at Te Aute, Pakipaki and Waimarama. Rua described the time with Ngati Kahungunu as a period of exile, but also said that when he returned to his mother's people (at about the age of nine) he was rejected by them. From both families he learnt of Te Kooti's history, and absorbed his religious predictions which envisaged the One who would come after him tocomplete his work by redeeming the land for Maori. Rua claimed to be this man.
He emerged from among the Ringatu, the followers of Te Kooti, within two years of their leader's death in 1893. In claiming to be the 'son' of Te Kooti, Rua divided the Ringatu world irrevocably. His greatest support came from his mother's tribe, Tuhoe, as did his most formidable Maori opponent, the chief Kereru (Numia Te Ruakariata). His authority would not be accepted until he had completed a series of quests in 1905–6.
Rua's statement that he was the successor to Te Kooti was first announced through an experience that he underwent on Maungapohatu, the sacred mountain of Tuhoe. The oral narratives tell how Rua and his first wife, Pinepine Te Rika, were directed to climb the mountain by a supernatural apparition, later revealed to be the archangel Gabriel. There they were shown a hidden diamond, the guardian-stone of the land, whose bright light was shielded by Te Kooti's shawl. Rua, in his turn, covered it again to protect it. In some versions of the narrative Rua met both Whaitiri, the ancestress of Tuhoe, and Christ on the mountain. Rua would soon claim to be the Maori brother of Christ.
Following this revelation, in 1906 Rua undertook further tasks. In March he made a pilgrimage to Poverty Bay, Te Kooti's birthplace. There, he entered the sacred meeting house, Rongopai, erected to receive Te Kooti in 1887, when he was prevented from returning to Poverty Bay by the government. It is said that Rua entered the locked house by means of Te Kooti's white horse called, in this narrative, Te Ia. Following this miraculous event, the leading Ringatu tohunga, Eria Raukura, baptised Rua in the waters of the Waipaoa River with the name that Te Kooti had given for the One who would make the land fertile again, Hepetipa (Hephzibah).
From Gisborne Rua went to Maungapohatu, where on 12 April (the sacred day of the month for Ringatu) he reiterated his own prophecy that on 25 June he would 'ascend the throne [and] the king will arrive at Turanga [Gisborne]'. The pilgrimage to Gisborne took place in May–June 1906. Rua rode his white horse; with him he carried a large box strapped to a pack-horse by day and guarded in a tent at night. Some said it was the ark of the covenant, others that it was a second diamond which he was taking to give to the King, Edward VII. The diamond (in some versions money) was to be the means by which the land, conceded to Queen Victoria, would be redeemed from her son. Rua's mission was to seek the peaceful restoration of authority to Maori. When the King failed to appear, Rua announced: 'I am really that King.' 'Here I am, with all my people.'
Rua now initiated a new cycle of events, the creation of the City of God at Maungapohatu. This cycle was created from scriptural history, but its immediate purpose was to prevent the alienation of the Urewera for mining or European settlement. Tuhoe's land was being made available for prospecting without their consent, contrary to protective legislation passed in 1896. Tuhoe and Te Whakatohea, the two tribes who committed themselves to Rua in the 1906–8 period, saw the issue in even wider terms. They sought to re-enter their confiscated lands in the eastern Bay of Plenty, identifying them with the lands that God had promised, by his covenant with Israel, to restore to later generations.
In 1907 Rua constructed his new community at the foot of the mountain. The people called themselves Iharaira (Israelites) and, like Rua, grew their hair long in imitation of the Nazarites, the people separated unto God. The meeting house, which was circular and decorated with a design of blue clubs and yellow diamonds, was called Hiona (Zion). Built in imitation of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, it stood within the inner sanctum of the pa and was Rua's council chamber and 'parliament'. The entrance to the pa bore the bold sign 'Mihaia' (Messiah), Rua's stated identity. His home within the inner sanctum was called Hiruharama Hou (New Jerusalem). It was a European-style gabled house, but it had two entrances from its verandaed porch: one for Tuhoe, the other for Te Whakatohea.
By April 1908 Rua had seven wives, fulfilling, as he said, the vision of Isaiah 4:1. Ultimately he married 12 women. They came from Tuhoe, and from Ngati Raka, who lived mingled with Tuhoe. With his first wife, Pinepine, from Ngati Kuri of Ruatahuna, he had (according to their eldest grandson) 17 children. She was known as 'our Holy Mother', because she had shared the vision on the mountain. Rua's other wives were Pehirangi (Rehe) Kanuehi of Hamua from Ruatoki; Te Akakura (Patu) Ru of Ngati Rongo, who came from the Ruatoki chiefly line of descent and was known to his followers as the 'Queen of Sheba' – she to whom King Solomon gave all her desires; Te Aue (Kiritiatia) Heurea of Ngati Koura from Ruatahuna; Mihiroa (Tatai) Te Kaawa, of Ngati Kuri from Ruatahuna; and Wairimu (Martha Vercoe), a part-Maori of Hamua hapu. Whirimako (Teo) Ereatara of Hamua, Ngapera Rini of Te Mahurehure from Ruatoki, Kiha (Te Hororoa) Tahu of Te Whanau-a-Pani from Ruatoki, Waereti Irohia of Ngati Raka from Te Waimana, and Te Aomakarani (Meri) Wi Kamaua, also of Ngati Raka, soon joined the others. His last and youngest wife was Piimia (Te Atawhai) Onekawa of Upokorehe, another tribe living with Tuhoe. She married him after his return from his prison sentence in 1918.
Rua had children by all his wives. The Whakatohea people were linked to Tuhoe by early arranged marriages with Rua's two eldest sons, Whatu and Toko. The death of Whatu's wife, Whaitiri Rewiri, about 1911 caused many from that tribe to leave Rua, and Toko's first wife, Taupaki Te Kora, also left. However, Toko's second marriage, to Tawhaki Awa, was just as important politically, for she was the daughter of Awa Horomona, one of the five men who had secretly exhumed and reburied Te Kooti in 1893 and who alone knew where he lay.
In 1910 Rua was invited onto the tribal committee for Tuhoe lands, and through it he sold 40,000 acres to the government for £31,000. His objective was to raise the capital needed to develop his community and thereby retain the heart of the Urewera; that is, the 20,000 acres which he had been given by Tuhoe in 1907. He also hoped to develop mining through a company that he had formed in 1908. He thought that European settlement would speed the completion of the partially constructed stock route from Poverty Bay, and open up another from the eastern Bay of Plenty, meeting at Maungapohatu. From there the track would pass through to Rotorua, making his community economically viable. In 1906 a railway was also scheduled to come inland from Gisborne through Maungapohatu. Rua had gathered the people there through his visions and predictions of catastrophic floods on their low-lying lands. They had sold all their possessions on his instructions; now he hoped to sustain them under their mountain.
By 1911 this task was becoming increasingly difficult. None of the planned routes were developed. Maungapohatu suffered (and would continue to suffer) from high mortality, particularly among its children, due to the harsh winters, inadequate diet and poor housing. Rua's offer in 1908 to the Cook County Council to send men to complete the Gisborne stock track was refused. Poverty undermined the religious vision. By 1913 the community had declined from five or six hundred people to about 30 families, and many, including Rua and his wives, had returned to live in the more clement valleys of the eastern Bay of Plenty.
In 1914 the second construction of Maungapohatu commenced under Rua's direction. His was a ritual sequence of demolition and rebuilding. The 20,000-acre block was divided in August 1914, and half was set aside. Rua ordered the inner sanctum area to be destroyed. Hiona was abandoned, and subsequently demolished. In its place a more orthodox meeting house was built, Tanenui-a-rangi. It differed in one important aspect from almost all Maori meeting houses in that food could be consumed within. The reconstruction of 1914 was part of a series o