10 Jul 2018

Ringatū commemorates 150 years since being founded

10:40 am on 10 July 2018

A-hundred-and-fifty years ago today, Māori prophet Te Kooti founded the Ringatū religion after escaping prison exile on the Chatham Islands.

Flag of Te Kooti Arikirangi, founder of Te Ringatu faith

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

Followers of the Ringatū religion, which is a mix of the old testament and Māori custom are gathering in Gisborne this week for commemorations.

Te Kooti Arikinui Te Turiki initially fought on the side of the crown at Tūranganui-a-kiwa - before the crown accused of him being a spy and exiled him to the Chatham Islands.

On 10 July 1868, after escaping his island prison - he landed at Te Whareongaonga at Poverty Bay arriving with a message of peace and the Ringatū religion.

Māori broadcaster and journalist Hare Williams grew up in Ohiwa enshrined in the teachings and stories of the Ringatū Church and its leader.

Mr Williams said it was his grandmother who recited the stories of Te Kooti to him.

"It was the stories of Tuhoe, the persecution of a people and how their villages were destroyed by the state and how Te Kooti stood up to the military to the most powerful nation in the world."

Te Kooti, who was from Ngāti Maru, wanted to travel to the King Country to spread his religious message but the resident magistrate at Gisborne Major Reginald Biggs ordered him to give up his arms.

When Te Kooti didn't, Major Biggs pursued him and his party and war broke out.

One of the major battles Te Kooti won was in late 1868 Matawhero at Poverty Bay where 70 Pākeha and Māori were killed.

Mr Williams said he learnt early on the first casualty of war is truth - and rumours were spread about Te Kooti by the crown to acquire Māori land.

"I applaud our education system, we have one of the best in the world, but it betrayed our children, it betrayed Māori children, it betrayed Pākehā children - it didn't tell them the truth."

Te Kooti suffered a major defeat by Pākehā soldiers at Ngātapa in January 1869 and would later retreat to the King Country where he was pardoned in 1883.

However, he was never allowed to return home to Gisborne and later died on the shores of the Ohiwa Harbour in 1893.

Mr Williams said ultimately the story of Te Kooti is about redemption - and he predicted the vital role the treaty, the court system and mana motuhake would play for Māori.

Wirangi "Charlie" Pera is the pou tikanga or head of the Ringatū Church and said growing up it wasn't popular to be a member of the Ringatū Church.

Ringatū translates to the upraised hand, he said.

Mr Pera said this week's commemorations would be a chance to remember those who have passed on, but also look to the future.

One of the important issues facing the church, he said, was the Māori language, tikanga and kawa being broken down.

"It's our place to maintain te reo so if you were to come along to one of our church services it's totally (in) Maōri."

The 150th commemorations of the Ringatū church kick off this morning at Rangiwaho Marae near Gisborne.