Chris­tian­ity - the im­pact on early Maori

While the hor­rors of two world wars, geo­graphic iso­la­tion and sev­eral out­stand­ing politi­cians laid the foun­da­tion of to­day’s New Zealand char­ac­ter a num­ber of less well-known peo­ple have also played a sig­nif­i­cant role in shap­ing who and what we are. Over

Waikato Times - - History - TOM O’CON­NOR

While the so­cial eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal struc­ture of early New Zealand was shaped by the Land Wars of the 1860s one of the men who tried to per­suade be­sieged Maori to forgo vi­o­lence had a huge and last­ing in­flu­ence on sub­se­quent Maori spir­i­tu­al­ity.

Te Ua Haumene who es­tab­lished the Pai Marire re­li­gion was born some­where in south­ern Taranaki in about 1820. When he was a child, about five or six, he was taken as one of many cap­tives to Kawhia or Hokianga fol­low­ing one of many raids by north­ern tribes. Lit­tle is known of his early life ex­cept that he was bap­tised by Rev John Whitely, the Wes­leyan Mis­sion­ary of Kawhia some­time in his early teens.

Many of the early Maori Chris­tian mis­sion­ar­ies were for­mer cap­tives or slaves as few were ever able to re­gain their for­mer so­cial sta­tus among their own peo­ple.

They could how­ever at­tain a new form of sta­tus among the Pakeha as a mis­sion­ary and many worked tire­lessly bringing lit­er­acy and peace to Maori in re­mote ar­eas. For Maori the most im­por­tant ben­e­fit of hav­ing a mis­sion­ary in their midst was learn­ing to read and write and hav­ing a lo­cal Pakeha as an agent for ob­tain­ing Euro­pean tech­nol­ogy such as steel gar­den­ing tools, farm­ing equip­ment, seeds, live­stock and mus­kets.

Chris­tian­ity with its peace­ful way of con­flict res­o­lu­tion was an im­por­tant but sec­ondary con­sid­er­a­tion.

The work of his­to­ri­ans Bronwyn Elsmore and Ju­dith Bin­ney, among oth­ers, has re­vealed a fas­ci­nat­ing and rel­a­tively un­known and un­pre­dicted ef­fect of Chris­tian­ity on early Maori think­ing.

As early as 1845 some mis­sion­ar­ies had come to the con­clu­sion that Maori in New Zealand were one of the lost tribes of Is­rael of Old Tes­ta­ment leg­end.

To many Maori con­verts to Chris­tian­ity of the time the the­ory had an at­trac­tive logic and a num­ber of them claimed to be prophets of the old He­brew re­li­gions.

Most of these new philoso­phies died out after a short time but, when the land wars erupted in1860, the idea sur­faced again and sev­eral Chris­tian con­verts aban­doned mis­sion­ary teach­ings to de­velop their own rit­u­als based on a mix of Old Tes­ta­ment sto­ries and tra­di­tional Maori be­liefs.

They saw Chris­tians as mis­guided and un­trust­wor­thy, par­tic­u­larly when it was re­vealed that sev­eral had passed in­for­ma­tion about Maori mil­i­tary strength, weapons and plans to re­sist land sales to the Gov­ern­ment.

The Wes­leyan mis­sion­ar­ies blamed the emer­gence of the Pai Marire re­li­gion, and the as­so­ci­ated Hau Hau fa­nat­i­cal mil­i­tary ac­tions, on sev­eral ‘‘evil’’ in­flu­ences in­clud­ing false prophets and the Ro­man Catholic Church.

What they failed to un­der­stand at the time was that it was mis­sion­ary spec­u­la­tion on the ori­gins of the Maori race which led, in part, to the devel­op­ment of Pai Marire and a num­ber of other uniquely Maori philoso­phies.

In the mid 1850s the mis­sion­ar­ies had suc­ceeded in per­suad­ing many tribal lead­ers to free their slaves and Te Ua, now prob­a­bly about 30 years old, re­turned to south­ern Taranaki bringing with him his new Chris­tian teach­ings and lit­er­acy skills just as fight­ing broke out over the con­tro­ver­sial Waitara pur­chase. He soon be­came dis­il­lu­sioned with the Chris­tian­ity he had been taught and his new philosophy was a mix of tra­di­tional Maori teach­ings and Old Tes­ta­ment verses.

It was still peace­ful but in­cluded as­sur­ances that true be­liev­ers could not be harmed by bul­lets if they turned away from vi­o­lence.

He also taught his fol­low­ers they would be de­liv­ered from the evil of Pakeha pres­ence if they re­mained peace­ful.

In spite of the urg­ing of Te Ua to forgo vi­o­lence Pai Marire con­verts turned to tra­di­tional war­fare, ini­tially to pro­tect their an­ces­tral lands from en­forced sale and even­tu­ally to ‘‘drive the Pakeha from the land’’.

They did not how­ever aban­don Te Ua’s teach­ings com­pletely and re­lied on Pai Marire prophets to lead them in bat­tle. Trag­i­cally in­can­ta­tions and rit­ual were a poor al­ter­na­tive to sound war tac­tics and many were killed in fruit­less and in­ex­pli­ca­ble en­gage­ments.

Mis­sion­ar­ies and mil­i­tary lead­ers were puz­zled by the at­tacks of the Hau Hau against the bet­ter armed Colo­nial Mili­tia. Prior to the ar­rival of the Pai Marire re­li­gion in Waikato, Maori had been for­mi­da­ble foes in bat­tle and led by clev­erly strate­gic lead­ers against the Bri­tish Army.

How­ever, after the re­tire­ment of the bulk of Ngati Ma­niapoto, Waikato and their al­lies be­yond the Pu­niu River in the af­ter­math of the Gate Pa bat­tle in April 1864, fight­ers, led by Pai Marire prophets, known as Hau Hau, launched a num­ber of poorly planned and ap­par­ently sui­ci­dal raids against Euro­pean set­tle­ments and mili­tia for­ti­fi­ca­tions.

Be­fore he died in 1866 Te Ua an­nounced that his Pai Marire re­li­gion was false, the re­sult of delu­sions and he re­turned to Chris­tian­ity.

It is not known what, if any per­sua­sions were used to make him change his mind but he and many of his dis­ci­ples were given a full par­don for their al­leged re­bel­lion.

The move­ment did not die with its founder and there were many who wanted to take his place.

Some of these were sent as prison­ers to the Chatham Is­lands where they met and in­flu­enced the cap­tive Te Ariki­rangi Te Tu­ruki Te Kooti.

Trag­i­cally in­can­ta­tions and rit­ual were a poor al­ter­na­tive to sound war tac­tics and many were killed in fruit­less and in­ex­pli­ca­ble en­gage­ments

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