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No. 42 (March 1963)
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T. W. Ratana and the Ratana Church photos

This photograph shows the most important event in the year for the Ratana Church: the service in the Temple, held annually on January 25th, which commemorates the day of birth of T. W. Ratana, the founder of the Ratana Faith. ‘Te Ao Hou’ is very grateful to Mrs Puhi Ratahi, the President of the Ratana Church, for allowing us to take this picture and to publish it. We are told that we are the first people ever to be permitted to photograph the interior of the Temple, and we feel that this is a notable example of the special regard and affection which Maoris have for ‘Te Ao Hou’.

We publish here accounts of two meetings held last January; of the Ratana meeting on the 25th January, and, in a following article, of the Ringatu ceremony on 1st January, which is the most important event of the year for the Ringatu Church. Over the year in ‘Te Ao Hou’ we have published articles and news items concerning many different Maori organisations, including nearly all the different religious denominations and movements to be found amongst the Maori people. Religion is so integral a part of Maori life, so closely bound up with all other aspects of social

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existence, that it would be quite impossible not to include it in a Maori magazine.

‘Te Ao Hou's’ policy is to report on all matters of interest to our readers, except that we do not concern ourselves with politics. This is too complex and contentious a subject, and one too closely bound up with personalities, for a quarterly magazine such as this, with limited space at its disposal, to concern itself with. We do not, therefore, discuss the political aspects of the Ratana Movement here. But we feel that many of our readers, especially those people who do not belong to the Movement, and to whom some of the facts may be unfamiliar, would be interested in a brief account of the history of the early years of the Ratana Church.

In times of uncertainty and unhappiness there are always leaders who arise with a message for the people, and to act as their mouth-piece. And very often, since religion is an expression of men's deepest emotions, these leaders preach a new version of the old religion: that is, they are prophets. It is not only among Maoris that prophets have appeared; they are to be found wherever a society is faced with the break-up of its old customs, and with a sudden and confusing period of adjustment to new, alien ways of life. They were and still are very common in Africa, for instance, and they were to be found throughout the Pacific.

Many Maori Prophets

There have been very many such prophets among the Maori; the best known ones were Te Kooti, the founder of the Ringatu Church, and Te Whiti of Taranaki, who also founded a religious movement which still survives.

In Taranaki at the turn of the century, Te Whiti and his disciple Tohu were still alive.

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When they died, T. W. Ratana is believed to have grown into their ‘power’.

Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana was born in 1873 at Parewanui Pa, towards the mouth of the Rangitikei River. He was the son of a prosperous ‘gentleman farmer’ of aristocratic descent. He is reported to have been moody, impulsive and wild as a lad; he rode horses furiously, and drank heavily. But when he was in the mood for work, there was no ploughman or stacker in the district to equal him. When Ratana was a boy, his aunt Mere Rikiriki, a locally known prophetess and faith-healer, made a prophecy that he was the one, spoken of by Te Whiti and other prophets, who would arise to lead his people. He visited his aunt often, gaining some knowledge of the psychology of faith-healing and, it is said, something of her power. Some other important influences in his life were the Church of England and loyalty to the crown from his father's side, and Methodism, interest in Te Whiti and a bitterness against the Government from his mother and wife.

The Dispossessed

The social conditions to be found amongst most of the Maori people at this time are well known. In North Auckland, the Bay of Plenty, the Waikato and in the South Island, frequently landless, backward, withdrawn from educational influences and often very bitter, the people waited the coming of a new messianic leader. Apirana Ngata, Maui Pomare, Peter Buck and many others had done very much to help, but at this time they were still fighting a very hard battle. Tribal antagonisms were still strong, and in many districts the great mass of people, the morehu, remained stubbornly aloof from developmental schemes, educational and otherwise. Nor was help always available. Superstition was widespread, and tohunga were making capital out of the illness of the people. The First World War unsettled them still further.

In the spring of 1918 the great influenza epidemic struck New Zealand. It carried off five times as many Maoris as Europeans; most of T. W. Ratana's relatives died among the rest. The remedies of tohunga and doctor alike were ineffective, and the people's morale was badly shaken.

In this time of great unhappiness, ‘voices’ came to Ratana. Periods of apparent insanity and heavy drinking alternated with reading of religious literature and meditating. Then,

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Apotoro (‘Apostles’) of the Church in front of the Temple; Sir Eruera Tirikatene, M.P., in a discussion at Ratana Pa; Mrs Puhi Ratahi, President of the Church, addressing a meeting in the evening.

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Once a year, after it has been formally opened, people are permitted inside the Museum to look at the astonishing collection it holds.

sitting one day on the verandah of his home, he is said to have seen a small round cloud rising from the ocean. It grew larger, seeming swiftly to approach him. Amazed, the Maori farmer stood up. The sun was obscured, and as the cloud swirled in a dense mist around him, it seemed that voice spoke.

Kaua hei mataku … Ratana kua meatia koe hei Mangai moku kite mata o te whenua. Whakakotahitia te Iwi Maori ki raro kia Ihoa o nga Mano he aroha hoki tenei na Ihoa kia koutou. (Fear not … Ratana I appoint you as the Mouthpiece of God and for the multitude of this land. Unite the Maori people, turning them to Jehovah of the Thousands, for therein lies their salvation.)

According to the legend, Ratana went inside and told his family, who thought he was mad or drunk. He began to doubt his own mind, but then, legend says, he saw reflected in the clockface a shining light. He turned and saw an angel blazing with great splendour, repeating the message. The ‘Mangai’ (‘Mouthpiece’) was to turn the people from their belief in tohungaism and superstition, and bring them back to faith in Jehovah: to heal their spirits and bodies, and unite the Maori Race.

During the months that followed the fame of the prophet spread rapidly. A constant stream of people began to arrive at the hitherto isolated farmhouse; some were accommodated in the house and outbuildings, many brought tents, and others built themselves lean-to shacks. By 1919 a flood of followers were coming from all over the country, and the area began to take on the appearance of a shanty town.

By now Ratana was devoting all his time to the ministry. At first he told the people that after visiting him they should return to their homes. But many would not go, and after a time Ratana invited them to stay.

Ratanaism began as a religious revival, though soon faith-healing became most prominent. (Pakeha newspaper sensationalism concerning the ‘Maori Miracle Man’ was one quite important reason for his becoming famous so quickly. It must be remembered that at this time pakehas, too, were taking a keen interest in spiritualism and faith-healing.) The ‘Mangai’, the ‘Mouthpiece’, became a symbol, a leader indispensable to all active social life, so that all that later occurred to affect his people was seen as his doing. As a teacher and God's mouthpiece he brought them hope, but as the mouthpiece he was soon to have no choice but to move the way the people wanted him to. As this happened, the movement changed its character. Although it has always remained primarily religious, it changed around about 1927 to be, as well, an economic, social and political association working for Maori welfare. As such it appealed to both old and young, to both backward and forward looking elements in the Maori population. Since this time Ratanaism has had two aspects: ‘Ture Wairua, piki te kaha’ (‘The Spiritual Works, seek faith’) and ‘Ture Tangata, ki kopu’ (‘the Material Works, fill the stomach’.) Some people joined Ratana through idealism; some because it gave them a function and status as members of committees and church dignitaries; some from political ambitions; some, because of a variety of grievances. It was no easier to distinguish between these different motives, in any individual case, than it has ever been to do this in public organisations.

Against Superstition

Unfortunately we have not the space to say much about the later amazing history of the church. In the early 1920's Ratana made triumphant tours around New Zealand, preaching against the superstitions of tohungaism, and, at the peoples' request, taking possession of many objects—articles of clothing, walking sticks, greenstone, carving, etc.—which had

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Inside the Museum are the crutches and wheelchairs of those who discarded them after Ratana's ministrations, and such old objects, formerly tapu but made noa by Ratana, as the walking-sticks and spectacles of departed relatives.

been regarded with superstitious awe because they had been associated with dead ancestors. In 1925 they finally broke away from the pakeha Christian churches, and established a new church. (Ratana was at first reluctant to do this, but finally said that ‘the church speaks with too many voices. The people [the different Christian denominations] are divided. We must go our own way’.) In 1924 Ratana travelled to England, wishing to tell the King of long-standing political grievances but was referred back to the New Zealand Government. Subsequently he travelled to Japan and the United States.

In 1928 the Temple was built, a formidable achievement. This is the central symbol of the Faith, and when it was first built it must have looked rather like a cathedral in a medieval village, towering over the humble dwellings which clustered around it in Ratana Pa.

Today the old houses at Ratana Pa are being rapidly replaced by new ones, and many other signs of the transitional times forty or thirty years ago have also disappeared. But the membership of the Ratana Church in this new age is still, in spite of Ratana's death in 1939, much the same as it has been for thirty years. In 1926, it was 11,567 (18% of the Maori Race), and ten years later it was 16,337. In 1956 the census returns gave membership as 18,776; this is approximately 13% of the Maori population. At the annual hui last January, when the photographs accompanying this article were taken, 7,000 people, coming from most parts of New Zealand, gathered at Ratana Pa. Except for the nature of its religious services and political discussions, the hui had much in common with the other large gatherings which are becoming increasingly common in Maori-dom today. Like these others, Ratana meetings serve also as social gatherings, with cultural competitions, talent quests, dances for the young people, and a chance for old friends to get together again.

Many of the facts in this article are taken from the book ‘Ratana’, by J. McLeod Henderson, written in 1955 as a thesis for a university degree. The book has not been published, but typewritten copies are available at some of the main libraries.