The Maori: Yesterday and To-day
Modern Religions of the Maori
Modern Religions of the Maori.
“In the Iceland of the Heroic Age,” says the saga-man, a “little of the older lore was cast aside, though men were baptised and were Christian in name.” This was exactly the condition of very many Maori people up to quite lately, and indeed it describes the attitude of some of my friends of to-day. Earth-magic, forest-magic, water-magic, are still strong in their hearts.
The first numerical survey of the religious professions of the Maori was published by the Government Statistician in June, 1928; it was compiled from the census of 1926. It revealed the fact that the English Church, which was the first to Christianize the Maori, is still the most favoured sect. Another salient feature of the analysis of faiths was the popularity of the latest-born sect, the Ratana Church, founded by the Rangitikei evangelistic preacher and faith-healer Wiremu Ratana. The most interesting religious cult of all is the Ringatu religion, which includes those who avow themselves Hauhaus. This is the present-day off-shoot of the old Pai-Marire religion, the fanatic faith of the Maori War days. Founded in Taranaki in 1864, Pai-Marire became the gospel of blood and fire throughout a large area of Maori country, and it united many tribes in a common bond, violent opposition to pakeha government. With various modifications and shorn of its original barbarisms, it survived for many years, and from it the Ringatu Church of to-day has been evolved.
The list is headed by the Church of England, which had 21,738 adherents at last census, or just over a third of the Maori population. Next in importance is the Church of Ratana, with 11,567 followers. There are 8,558 Roman Catholics. The Ringatu (literally the “Uplifted Hand,” the old page 64 Pai-Marire gesture) number 4,540 people; these are chiefly among the Bay of Plenty, Arawa, Urewera, and East Coast tribes. The next class is Methodists, 4,066. “Mihinare,” as the Maoris pronounce and write the word “missionary”, is the religion entered by 3,804 people. These are probably adherents of the Church of England. The Mormon Church (Latter Day Saints) was very popular among the Maoris some years ago. There are still 3,461 natives returned as of this belief. Presbyterians number 638.
The followers of Te Whiti and Tohu, the prophets of Taranaki, who in their day had a great native town at Parihaka, where thousands of the faithful assembled, have not yet altogether vanished from the land. The memory of Te Whiti and his fellow-preacher of self-determination for the Maori, and of strange mystical doctrines, is held in worshipful reverence by a remnant of the faithful, 375 according to the census. But 3,193 Maori declined to state their religious beliefs and it is probable that a number of these are Te Whiti disciples and others Ringatu. A few hundreds of natives declare themselves followers of various small sects, including the Seventh Day Adventists, and a Maori church in the Wellington provincial district known as “The Seven Rules of Jehovah.”
An early days Maori Minister: The Rev. Karaka Terawhiti, of Ngati-Whawhakia, sub-tribe of Waikato.
He was associated with the Rev. B. Y. Ashwell, of Kaitotehe, Taupiri, in English Church missionary work in the Waikato, before the war.
The chants and prayers in the Ringatu sect are mostly from the Psalms of David, and there is much beauty in the service, with its long-drawn chantings and its responses like the Church of England ritual. The priest of the service places the tips of his fingers together as he recites the prayers and the people in responding hold up the right hand on a level with the face. Saturday is the holy day of the Ringatu, and there is a kind of special festival once a month.
In Taranaki the adherents of Te Whiti-ism—quite a different brand of old-time religion from the Ringatu—have their monthly meetings for prayer and exhortation at Manu-korihi, on the Waitara. The followers of the late Tohu Kakahi, Te Whiti's fellow-prophet, hold similar gatherings on the 17th and 18th of each month at Ketemarae, near the township of Normanby.
There is much that is poetical and inspiring in these survivals of the olden faiths, and the conservative Maori finds in them a heart-link with his fathers and a mode of expression for his spiritual fervour, a very strong characteristic of the native and closely bound up with his intense love of his ancestral home.