Large church gatherings such as the one described here are not only enjoyable, but also a valuable leavening in Maori life.
The fifth annual Hui Topu of the Church of England was held in May this year in the Ruatoki valley where the Whakatane River makes a broad road down from the forest ranges of the Urewera to the sea. There from Thursday, May 16th, to Sunday, 19th, approximately two thousand people from all parts of the Island joined together for a Maori Synod, youth conference and music festival. They came to live in the eight maraes of Ruatoki from Wellington, Wanganui, Waikato, Auckland and the East Coast, bringing with them their own action songs and hakas, to enjoy the lavish hospitality of the Tuhoe.
Suiting their reputation “Tuhoe, moumou kai, moumou taonga, moumou tangata ki te po”, the people of Ruatoki, assisted by members of other parishes in the archdeaconry of Tauranga, spared no effort. Food was cooked in five hangi and served in an immense dining shelter of raupo. Hay and mats were spread for beds in the brightly painted meeting houses of the valley.
A glance at its history shows the nature of the Hui Topu. When, in response to Maori demand, the Right Reverend Frederick Bennett was consecrated as Bishop of Aotearoa, he bacame suffragan or assistant to the Bishop to Waiapu. Each year the Waiapu Diocese dealt with Maori matters at the annual Synod, advised by resolutions passed in archdeaconry meetings in different parts of the Diocese. In 1953 all three archdeaconry meetings were combined and a Maori Synod was set up in Waipawa, Hawkes Bay. Thus, costing £766 with a credit balance of four shillings (!) the Hui Topu was born. Since then, at Tengae, Ruatoria, Wairoa and at Ruatoki this year, it has grown lustily. Besides the Synod there is a conference of Maori Youth, a debutantes' ball, a sacred music festival in which parish choirs compete and are judged, and a Maori cultural festival. Whilst the young folk have an opportunity to develop and display their talents, elders like to come to renew old acquaintances and to arrange tribal affairs.
At Ruatoki, historic stopping-place of Potiki, Te Kooti Rikirangi, Kereopa Kaiwhatu and his captors, Elsdon Best, Rua Kenana the Prophet, and Maori and pakeha Christian missionaries, the guests of honour (the Right Reverend Norman Lesser, Bishop of Waiapu, Mrs Lesser, and the Right Reverend W. Panapa, Bishop of Aotearoa) were welcomed in traditional style. A practice had been held in lovely sunshine. The action song group in red skirts and piupiu had sung Maranga Tuhoe powhiritia ra … (Arise, Tuhoe, welcome your guests) and Haere mai nga Pihopa, Haere mai nga Minita … (Welcome to Bishops and Ministers) whilst cameras clicked and whirred. Then came the rain. The greater the mana of the visitor about to arrive, acording to Maungapohatu legend, the heavier will be the rain. For the first time since (fifty years ago) she started her Church of England mission in Ruatoki, Rotu Numia who became Mrs Wharetini Rangi, saw her marae flooded. When on Thursday the kai wero (challenger) pranced out in his waterproof skin and piupiu to welcome the Bishops, he laid his carved
manuka in the water and then led the party through the rain into the meeting house. Following the action songs came speeches and a patere chanted by Mr Takarua Tamarau representing Tuhoe. That night twenty debutantes were presented to the Bishop and Mrs Lesser, with full formalities, and the Hui Topu was under way.
Gradually the weather cleared. The speakers at the Youth Conference addressed an audience of about three hundred. The Reverend Manu Bennett told of his pineapple-happy days in Hawaii and suggested that the Maori was too full of racial pride. “It was racial pride that crucified Christ”, he said. The Reverend M. Cameron gave an outline of the growth of the Church in New Zealand through the work of Maori converts, and Dr Maharaia Winiata spoke effectively on racial problems. He suggested that the Maori should be tolerant of, and understand, his pakeha (or was it ‘colourless’?) brother. Later Dr Winiata led an equally spirited discussion on rock 'n roll dancing, a theme which was introduced early by the Ohinemutu boys and girls and which continued throughout the conference. Dr Keith Sinclair said that Maori youths had “the I.Q. and should be teachers, doctors and farmers”. Other speakers were Mrs Lesser, Mr M. Marsden, and the Reverend Hohepa Taepa. Between addresses and questions. Canon Wi Huata [ unclear: ] conducted com munity singing. The talent quests and concerts, the sacred music recitals and Maori action songs showed the diversity and plenitude of Maori talent. “Spaceman” and the Ropiha songsters and many others will be remembered by those who were fortunate enough to find seats in the crowded meeting house. In general dramatic power was well developed and the modern action songs, like all true folk song expressed the feelings of the people concerning themselves and their homes.
Competition winners were: Action songs… Whangara; Choir singing…Waipatu-Motea.
The Youth Movement Committee passed a number of significant resolutions, indicating a progressive spirit. In future delegates are to be sent to Synod meetings, all junior items are to be non-competitive in order to foster a love of the arts for their own sake, and religious plays and oratory are to be included in the festival next year. Addresses, it was agreed, should not be ‘above the heads’ of the youthful audience. Subjects suggested to next year's speakers were: Guidance of youth in cities, Explanation of obscure words in the new Maori Bible, Definition of young folk's duty to parents, Sex knowledge and guidance, and Modern developments in the history of the Church.
When, on Sunday and Monday, the buses began to pull away from Tauarau marae, songs were sung and speeches were made in honour of the hosts. Te Kuiti sang of Tuhoe who slew his brother long ago, and the Reverend Wharetini Rangi, M.B.E., recounted old tales over the loudspeakers, telling of the three sons of Potiki and the night when Wairaka made a mistake to the confusion of her descendants. The boys of Ruatoki galloped after the buses on their horses, and in the kitchen and canteen, the kai mahi began to enjoy a well-earned rest. In the vividly decorated meeting house two painted figures. Tamate Te Ihuwaka the first Christian of Tuhoe, and his lady Te Moa Tutahuna, who had not closed their eyes all the busy week, were left to meditate on the variety of spiritual nourishment they had seen and heard perhaps during the past four days only, but most probably over the whole period of fifty years in which the seed of Christianity planted by Rotu Numia and her husband the Reverend Wharetini Rangi, has grown into a full-flowering tree.
During this half-century, it is evident that the Maori communal tradition has survived the storms of transition. Yet inter-tribal animosities have largely disappeared as new groupings have cut across older kinship affiliations. The Hui Topu is one of the new communities, the younger generation creating one tribe with Christ as Ariki.
The next Hui Topu will be at Whangara on the East Coast in January 1958.
Miss Matekino Kopae, one of the twenty debutantes presented to the Right Reverend N. Lesser, Bishop of Waiapu, and Mrs Lesser, at Ruatoki last May. (Sabrina Studios, Whakatane).