28 Mar 2016

Easter and the story of Māori faiths

12:10 am on 28 March 2016

Different cultures around the world celebrate Easter in different ways, and Aotearoa is no different. So what are some of the better known Māori faiths, their stories, and what they are doing to commemorate the holiday?


Oriori Photo: Image courtesy of Robyn Kahukiwa

"When it rains, we tell our children it's Ranginui the Sky Father's tears falling on Papatūānuku, our Earth Mother.

"When they ask why, we explain that once a upon a time they were locked together in an eternal embrace until their children (Ngā Atua), who were trapped between them, tried to separate them.

"Finally, Tāne the God of the Forest forced them apart using his legs, bringing light to the world and separating the sky from the earth forever."

The story of Rangi and Papa has long lived in the songs, stories and prayers of Māori, and they remain in common use today.

While many Māori are involved in New Zealand's Christian churches such as Katorika (Catholic) or Mihināre (Anglican), there are a number of non-traditional Māori faiths or movements that some call hybrid religions. Many are still alive and thriving today.

Two of them, the Paimārire and Ringatū faiths, were born out of conflict, when Māori were fighting government troops over land confiscation.

Both these movements and the third, Rātana, are said to have had leaders who experienced extraordinary visions or dreams.

More than 50,000 Māori indicated in the census that they belonged to a Māori Christian faith.


The Rātana movement, with just over 40,000 members, or morehu, is the largest non-traditional faith. Its founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Rātana, was excommunicated from the Anglican Church following his vision.


The Ringatū faith was founded by Te Kooti Rikirangi from Te Whakatoohea in the Bay of Plenty. The movement has just over 13,000 members (558 Māori state that they belong to other Māori faiths).

Pou Tikanga (Faith Advisor), Wirangi Pera of Gisborne, says these days Ringatū members are spread around the country. He answered a series of questions on the faith.

Who was the founder, Te Kooti Arikirangi?

"Te Kooti was taken away at the time of the battle of Te Waerenga Hika and he was taken away to Te Wharekauri, the Chatham Islands. While he was there, in June 1868, he had a visitation and from that he created the Hāhi Ringatū. In July of 1868, that's when they commandeered the (supply ship) Rifleman and they came back to Aotearoa."

What makes this religion different from others?

"Te Kooti was all about recapturing the land. For him he likened the Ringatū faith to the children of Israel who were displaced from their land. So he's taken those karakia from there, the hymns and the prayers have formed the base of our prayers."

Flag of Te Kooti Arikirangi, founder of Te Ringatu faith

Flag of Te Kooti Arikirangi, founder of Te Ringatu faith Photo: Supplied

"He closely aligned his own experiences of people being taken away in captivity and made their way back to their lands."

Unlike Pāheka religions there are no churches. Where do followers pray?

"The hāhi is based on tikanga Māori so when we have our '12th' date, where people come on the sound of the bell, we have karakia for the day followed by a hākari (feast). There are other dates based around planting, including matariki, the Māori new year."

What do Ringatū followers do at Easter?

"Because we don't have an Easter, we rest. Like many other Māori I'm off to a huri kohatu (unveiling)."


The unofficial religion of the Kingitanga is Paimārire. Rahui Papa, spokesman for Kingi Tuheitia, said it had made a resurgence in the past few years, with thousands of members, mainly in the Waikato/King Country area. He answered a series of questions on the faith.

What were the beginnings of the Paimārire faith?

"It came from the Taranaki prophet Te Ua Haumene, who was captured in a battle and brought to the Waikato.

Pai Marire flag

Pai Marire flag Photo: Supplied

"He received divine inspiration from Archangel Gabriel. From there he came up with the Paimārire faith.

"It became a spirit-building faith, especially after the internal land wars at Waitara and then the land wars in Waikato.

"King Tāwhiao adopted this faith, it was something to rebuild the spirit and rejuvenate after the devastation of Raupatu (land confiscation)."

There are no recorded followers on the 2013 census so we don't know how many members there are, correct?

"Well that's the beauty of the Paimārire. Firstly it's not a registered faith.

"Essentially the followers are of the Kingitanga. Alongside those small pockets within Taranaki who still practise are the practitioners, but it's becoming more widespread now.

Rahui Papa - Pamārire leader

Rahui Papa - Pamārire leader Photo: Supplied

"It's becoming more adopted as a faith, rather than a registered religion like our cousins from the Ringatū and the Rātana faith."

Mr Papa said younger people in particular were behind the rejuvenation of Paimārire, as they were hungry to connect with the ways of their ancestors.

What distinguishes Paimārire from other faiths?

"Paimārire means to be good and peaceful in essence, so the rebuilding after Raupatu (land confiscation) was one to try and instill a sense of calm within oneself - within your heart, within your mind.

"It also has the unique form of chant rather than karakia. The explanation of the old people was the rhythm of the karakia (which) was also a tune much like (those of) the Tibetan monks."

Describing Paimārire as a hybrid religion that fits in with other denominations, Mr Papa said this Easter followers would remember those who lost their lives in the land wars.

Te Hāhi Katorika

Areti Metuamate is an indigenous scholar based in Australia and Aotearoa. He is an old boy of Hato Paora College, and served on Te Runanga o te Hāhi Katorika (the National Catholic Māori Council) for 10 years. He answered a series of questions.

Areti Metuamate

Areti Metuamate Photo: Supplied

What attracts Māori to Catholicism?

"An aunty of mine once said that she can totally understand why many of our tupuna converted to Catholicism in the 19th century.

"After all, the idea of a man being the son of God and a virgin woman is not too difficult to believe when you grew up knowing that Ranginui and Papatūānuku used to embrace each other, the world was dark and it was their children who conspired to separate them, with Tane being the one who succeeded."

When did Māori start attending Catholic services?

"The Hāhi Katorika probably arrived in Aotearoa with the early settlers in the very early 1800s, but it came 'officially' with Bishop Pompallier (Pihopa Pomaparia), a French bishop who arrived in 1838 in Hokianga. His first converts were the Māori people of the Hokianga."

What will you [Areti Metuamate] be doing to celebrate Easter?

"Leading up to Easter Sunday we are in a period called Lent. During that period (40 days) we fast and pray. Usually this means giving up some sort of treat. 'What are you giving up for Lent?' is a regular question you hear Catholics ask each other. What did I give up for Lent this year? Wine. I lasted 30 days of the 40! Maybe I should have said I give up the gym as I could easily do that!

"I will be spending time with whānau over Easter and we will go to mass."

Te Hāhi Mihinare

Rev Michael Tamihere from Ngāti Porou grew up in Tokomaru Bay before shifting to Auckland where he completed school in total immersion Māori education at Hoani Waititi.

While he tried out Pentecostal churches during his teenage years, he says he has a real connection in his heart with Te Hāhi Mihinare. He answered a series of questions.

How long has the Anglican church been in Aotearoa?

"I think if you're talking about Aotearoa / New Zealand you're talking about Mihinare (Maori Anglican).

"We just celebrated the 200-year anniversary of the preaching of the first gospel message in Rangihoua.

"You have Samuel Marsden along with Ruatara and we pretty much see that as where it breaks into Aotearoa/New Zealand in 1814, and it's developed from there.

"It's taken a bit of time to get started but, from the 1830s, from the get-go its very much a Māori movement."

Rev Michael Tamihere

Rev Michael Tamihere Photo: Supplied

"So you had Pākeha missionaries, but you had them training up your translators on the scriptures. We had prayers being put into Māori and karakia, and we had Māori actually taking that gospel message around Aotearoa even before Pākeha got to any of these areas.

"I think right up until the late 1800s it was just a fact. When you talked about Anglican and when we talked about the Mihinare it was a Māori church.

"Te Kooti was a Mihinare layman and Tahupotiki Wiremu Rātana was also in the Anglican Church and was excommunicated because I think the leaders at the time weren't sure, and they were threatened by him."

"Who were some of the great Māori Anglicans?"

"Sir Apirana Ngata was one of them.

"For us in Ngāti Porou we know this was a Mihinare, this was a man of faith, and everything he did was driven by that faith. And when you start to look at it though that prism, through that lens, you get a far different understanding of what was going on for him."

Ngā Taonga kōrero

Archival audio supplied by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision