There is more to the story of the introduction of Christianity to New Zealand than an attempt to replace Maori matauranga (knowledge, understanding) with Western values, says Te Hahi Mihinare — The Maori Anglican Church author, Dr Hirini Kaa. The phrase “a new heart” (he ngakau hou) derives from missionaries William Williams and Edward Williams’ hymn, and for generations has been embraced by Maori Anglicans as part of their identity and understanding, writes Dr Kaa — who talks to Mark Peters about his new book.
The notion Christianity was a colonisation tool used to force foreign beliefs on tangata whenua is reviewed in Dr Hirini Kaa’s (Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu, Rongowhakaata) recently-released Te Hahi Mihinare — The Maori Anglican Church.
“Christianity has been cast in the role of colonisation, and the Anglican church has been culpable, but there is more than that to the story,” says Dr Kaa.
Ordained as a priest at St Mary’s Church in Tikitiki, Dr Kaa later explored for his PhD the engagement of Christianity and iwi in the 19th and 20th centuries. His book focuses on the history of Maori and iwi engagement with Anglicanism from 1800 to 1990.
Te Hahi Mihinare, the Maori Anglican Church, is an institution in which iwi renegotiated their matauranga, their traditional knowledge and ways of knowing, writes Dr Kaa in the introduction.
“(This book) shows how Maori interacted with Christianity through the building of the Church institution and, over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, used the new religion as a lens through which to critique their own cultural foundations. It also reveals that such interactions were based on iwi dynamics and were driven by iwi aspirations that often overlapped and occasionally merged.”
Generally speaking, European Anglican Church leaders sought to suppress and replace Maori values, writes Dr Kaa. But there is more to this story.
“In fact, Maori were able to take aspects of Christianity and use them in different ways. Some, such as adherents of the prophetic movements of the nineteenth century, used the Judeo-Christian viewpoint to formulate a resistance to colonisation — politically, militarily and spiritually.
“Others, such as Mihinare, adopted mainstream Christian practices but continued to pursue their own objectives based on their matauranga.”
Christianity and Maoritanga are not mutually exclusive, says Dr Kaa.
“It doesn’t work like that.”
Iwi adapted the religion to make it their own, he says. The ways in which Mihinare (Maori Anglicans) engaged with the settler Anglican Church in New Zealand and created their own unique Church casts light on the broader question of how Māori interacted with and transformed European culture and institutions.
By the 1840s there were only 17 European Anglican missionaries in New Zealand compared with 295 Maori evangelists.
“In the 1850s there were 600. The vast majority of the message was spread by Maori. What is significant about it is it hasn’t really been told as a story.”
People of philosophy and theology
The East Coast had a significant role in Maori Anglicanism.
“Often when people think of Maori and Christianity they think of the north, Samuel Marsden and the signing of the Treaty,” says Dr Kaa.
But the East Coast was its own epicentre of Maori ownership of its adopted, and adapted, Christian religion.
Te Kooti has been painted as a military leader but he was always a religious figure, says Dr Kaa.
“All of these movements — Kingitanga, Pai Marire, Anglicans — were driven by the Bible. Parihaka was powered by the Bible. Te Kooti was informed by the Old and New Testament.“
The Pai Marire movement incorporated Biblical and Maori spiritual elements and promised its followers deliverance from European domination,
The biblical story of the Israelites in Egypt and their delivery from slavery by Yahweh and their exodus to the promised land reframed things Maori had seen and struggled with, says Dr Kaa.
“Liberation, forgiveness and peace — we had those concepts but struggled to fulfil them given what was happening to us.
“With its themes of repentance and renewal, the Bible resonated with our Maori culture.
“Ngati Porou was terrified Nga Puhi were returning but we thought with this new god we were safe. We have a lot of agency in that exchange. We’ve always been working with that. It’s been a constant for the past 200 years.”
Rather than having Christianity forced on them, Maori took to the faith partly because they could read the source material without mediation, says Dr Kaa.
(In a 1963 issue of The Journal of the Polynesian Society, CJ Parr paraphrases Anglican priest and missionary Henry Williams who noted, says Parr, “by 1840 in almost every North Island village, coastal and inland, some Maoris, many of whom had never seen a missionary, could read and write.”)
“We were people of philosophy and theology,” says Dr Kaa.
“We were capable of processing that thinking and coming to our own conclusions for ourselves. Even the early Maori church’s Waiapu synods were held in te reo Maori. They talked about things that were important to iwi and made their own decisions.
“By 1865 — with the wars — everything changed, but we still did our own thing. The fundamentals remained the same.”
In 1865, a decade after Bishop of Waiapu, William Williams (who called Waiapu the “cradle of Maori Christianity”) had established an Anglican ministry training school at Waerenga-a-hika, Pai Marire forces and supporters moved into the area, writes Dr Kaa.
“They were soon followed by government forces and Ngati Porou troops . . . who occupied and fortified the school and laid siege to the Pai Marire position. The school was badly damaged, and William Williams moved the diocesan headquarters to the relative safety of Napier.”
The New Zealand Mission Trust Board later focused its support on William Leonard Williams’s burgeoning new training facility in Gisborne: Te Rau Kahikatea which opened in the 1870s.
“They said ‘we need a place where we can build their Maori leaders’. All teaching was done in te reo.”
This headquarters of Maori Anglicanism was based in Cobden Street. Te Rau college closed in the 1920s but the house still stands.
By the early 20th century, Ngati Porou was intent on establishing the country’s first Maori bishop (pihopa). Dr Kaa notes in his book that during the opening of St Mary’s Church at Tikitiki in 1926, Ngati Porou held a hui to discuss tangata whenua’s wish to establish a pihopa.
Reverend Reweti Kohere later reported everyone at the hui was in support of a pihopa and that, “It is well understood that a Pakeha wouldn’t be good as bishop for the Maori because they have been bullying Maori for a long time.”
The opening of St Mary’s was an “amazingly powerful statement”, says Dr Kaa.
“Anglican Maori were saying ‘this is who we are. We do this in our own way’.”
ANGLICAN AND MAORI: Dr Hirini Kaa, who was ordained as a priest at St Mary’s Church in Tikitiki, explores, in his recently released book, Te Hahi Mihinare — The Maori Anglican Church, how iwi adapted Anglicanism to make the religion their own. Picture supplied
THIS IS NEW ZEALAND: Ordained in 2018 at Manutuke Marae as the new Bishop of Aotearoa, and head of the Maori Anglican Church, Archbishop Tamihere embodies the ritualism and religiosity of two worlds in a dramatic wero. Picture by Lloyd Ashton