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
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