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Maori and Missionary: Early Christian Missions in the South Island of New Zealand

Chapter Fifteen — Centenary of South Island Mission

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Chapter Fifteen
Centenary of South Island Mission

In View of the Centenary of the Establishment of the First Christian Mission in the South Island in 1840, of which Otakou was a major part, at the request of the Methodist Home Mission Board, Auckland, the question of the erection of a new church at Otakou to commemorate that event was discussed and approved at the April quarterly meeting of the Port Chalmers Methodist Church. The proposal was also discussed and unanimously approved at a meeting of the Maori people at Otakou in July, 1936.

At a meeting of the Methodist District Executive held in Dunedin in November, 1937, the proposal was introduced by the Rev. T. A. Pybus, who outlined the project. To enable the scheme to come under the Government National Centennial group of memorials, it was necessary to erect the building in Maori design. It would be fitting that a portion of the building should be set aside as a Sanctuary Museum to contain the tribal relics, curios, photographs of the chiefs and pioneers and historical documents. The speaker stated that he had consulted the Maori people at Otakou, that he had corresponded with the National Centennial Committee, Wellington, and with the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Hon. W. E. Parry, and there was a consensus of opinion that the church should commemorate the establishment of the first Christian Mission in the South Island and also the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 by the Otakou chiefs, who were all adherents of the Wesleyan Mission and are buried in the Otakou Cemetery Reserve, the only exception being Tuhawaiki, who perished at sea. Mr. Pybus stressed the importance of the memorial inasmuch as the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi at Otakou had preceded the proclamation of the Sovereignty at Cloudy Bay and the hoisting of the British Flag at Akaroa.

The meeting approved the scheme and appointed the Rev. T. A. Pybus secretary and treasurer, and also convener of any associated committee. It further charged him with the collection of funds.

For the project, collections were taken up in all the Methodist churches in New Zealand, in many Bible classes and Sunday schools, in the various Associated Women's Missionary Auxiliaries in New Zealand and from among the Port Chalmers and Waitati Methodist Church Trusts and Ladies' Guilds. The following English Methodist page 147 laymen contributed—Sir M. Perks, Sir Thomas Rowbotham, Lord Stamp, Lord Wakefield, Lord Rochester, Hon. J. A. Rank, E. S. Lamplough, Esq., Rt. Hon. W. Jordan, High Commissioner for New Zealand, and also the Watkin family in Australia. The Otago Harbour Board subscribed £150 to the fund, the Dunedin Savings Bank £500, and the Koputai Maori Trust £100. Various Dunedin public bodies, business firms and individuals supported the project financially. Many subscriptions from interested people in various parts of New Zealand were received. The Government subsidised the scheme by granting £1 for every three pounds collected. Later a grant of £500 was given by the Methodist Centennial Thanksgiving Fund Committee.

The foundation stone of the Otakou Maori Centennial Church was laid on Saturday, February 24th, 1940. The following appeared in the Monday issue of the Otago Daily Times:

“A red-letter day in its history, the Maori settlement of Otakou was the scene of gaiety and animation on Saturday when the Maori Centennial was celebrated by song and dance and by the laying of two memorial stones, one to mark the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, and in memory of the southern chiefs who signed that historic document; the other commemorating 100 years of Christian endeavour. The President of the Methodist Centennial Conference (Rev. L. B. Neale) presided over the function, which lasted all the afternoon. A thousand people, at least, gathered there on the hills overlooking the 1831 whaling station on the harbour to pay homage to the great Maori chiefs of olden times whose names are writ so indelibly in the history of New Zealand and Otago. The function commenced with a Maori welcome by Mr. Hon Kerei Taiaroa, grandson of the famous chief, and Mr. Tirikatene, M.P., both of whom were dressed in Maori style. These were responded to by the Revs. E. Te Tuhi and Matarae Tauroa.

“A solemn procession then made its way to the quiet little cemetery behind the church and reverently laid beautiful wreaths of flowers on the graves of the chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi for the natives of the South, Karetai, Taiaroa and Korako. The body of Kaikoura reposes in the burial ground of the first Mission Church at Ruatitiko, and Tuhawaiki was drowned at sea.

“Following this act of reverence, the foundation stone of the church was laid by Miss Watkin, daughter of Dr. E. Watkin, and granddaughter of the Rev. J. Watkin, the first missionary to the South Island. The inscription on the stone reads:

To the Glory of God in memory of the Rev. James Watkin, who landed at Waikouaiti, May 16th, 1840, and established in these parts the first Christian Mission.'

“The other memorial stone had its wording inscribed in Maori, a literal interpretation of it being: To commemorate the signing page 148 of the Treaty of Waitangi at Otago on June 13th, 1840, by the chiefs Karetai and Korako, and at Ruapuke on June 9th, 1840, by the chiefs Tuhawaiki, Taiaroa and Kaikoura.'

“Prayers were offered by the Rev. Matarae Tauroa (in Maon). The singing was led by the Port Chalmers and Ravensbourne choirs,. An address was given by Mr. D. Ellison on behalf of the church. Addresses were given by Mr. Tirikatene, M.P. (on behalf of the Government), Mr. P. Neilson, M.P., Mr. A. H. Allen (Mayor of the City), Mr. W. Begg (on behalf of the Harbour Board), and Principal Haddon, M.A., on behalf of the Council of Churches, Sister Atawhai gave greetings on behalf of the Maori Deaconesse. A programme of poi action songs and hakas carried the festivities into early evening. The Salvation Army Citadel Band rendered selections during the afternoon.

“The Centennial Gate, fronting the Maori Reserve at Otakou, was opened on Saturday, March 30th, 1940. After a few words of welcome by Mr. Watson, Mr. D. Ellison gave an interesting address on the early Otakou Maori history, during the course of which he traced its origin back to the first Polynesian visitors to these shores. There followed an address by Mr. O. Harwood, whose father was a manager for Weller Bros. He gave a review of the whaling days. Mr. Ansell touched upon the value of the gates and arch as fittingly marking the first 100 years at Otakou. He formally declared the gates open and asked Mr. Hori Karetai, grandson of the noted chief, to cut the ribbon. After the ceremony the visitors were entertained by the Maori girls with action songs and poi dances.

“Between 200 and 300 guests sat down to a banquet in the old meeting house, presided over by Mr. R. Douglass, who was responsible for carrying out this memorial work. With him were seated, among others, descendants of the tribal chiefs, such as Mr. M. Taiaroa, Mr. Hori Karetai, and Messrs. D. and J. Ellison. Mr. Murray Thomson, a pakeha resident of former days, and Mr. W. Begg, chairman of the Harbour Board, were also present. The banquet was a pleasant and informal function; Maori maidens in tribal dress attending to the wants of the guests. Music was supplied by the Kaikorai Band.

“On March 22nd, 1941, the Centennial Church was opened for worship, the President of the Conference, the Rev. W. A. Burley, M.A., presiding over a gathering of some two thousand people including representatives of the Government and public bodies and ministers of the various Dunedin churches. The ceremony commemorated two events—-the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi by the Otakou chiefs, who were adherents of the Mission, and the establishment of the first Christian Mission in the South Island. A welcome by the Otakou Maoris in native costume was given to the official party as they approached the church, the response being given by page 149 the Rev. E. Te Tuhi and the Rev. Piripi Rakena, chiefs of the Ngapuhi tribe. The gathering then sang the hymn, ‘O God, our Help in Ages Past’, followed by prayers in the Maori language and a reading from the Scriptures. Mr. D. Ellison (Erihana) welcomed the people on behalf of the Maori residents, and concluded by saying that the church would stand for generations to come as a tribute to the sacrifices of the early missionaries who had brought the Word of God to Otakou. On behalf of the Prime Minister, the Hon. F. Langstone, Minister of Native Affairs, conveyed the greetings of the Government. Mr. Langstone said that it was the fruit of the foundations of Christianity laid by the Rev. James Watkin and his successors which brought them there that day, and in the new church the people of Otakou had a lasting memorial commemorating all that had been done in the past and a memorial pointing the way to the future. Mr. Langstone concluded by paying a warm tribute to the work of the Rev. T. A. Pybus, who, he said, must be a happy man in the realisation of such a beautiful church standing completed as the fruit of so much work. Addresses were given by Mr. Tirikatene, Maori Member of the Parliament, the Revs. Ewen Simpson, representing the Council of Christian Churches, and Dr. McMillan. The Rev. L. B. Neale responded. On behalf of the architects, Messrs. Miller and White, Mr. E. Miller then presented a golden key to Miss A. Karetai, granddaughter of the great chief of that name, with which she opened the door. The first service in the church was conducted in Maori and English by the Revs. E. Te Tuhi and Piripi Rakena. The official sermon was delivered by the Rev. W. A. Burley, M.A., President of the Conference, who also read the Prayer of Consecration according to the ritual of the Methodist Episcopal Church of America. The Benediction was pronounced by the Rev. G. I. Laurenson, General Secretary of the Home Mission Department.

“The Otakou Memorial Church is constructed in Maori designs. Into the base of an outside wall is built a stone from the original store of Weller Bros., whalers, dated 1832. At the left side of the entrance is a large greenstone boulder presented by Mr. Devlin, while polished pieces of greenstone form a mosaic to a Maori pattern in the floor of the vestibule and in the steps at the entrance. An outstanding feature of the interior is the memorial window designed by Mr. J. Brock. All the windows have leadlights in three colours, designed after Maori Weaving pattern. The chancel is panelled with tukutuku fibre work in pleasing Maori style. The Communion Altar is the original one from the preceding building which has been newly carved in Maori patterns. The Communion rail and chancel chair are also skilfully designed, the latter being the gift of Mr. N. L. Walton. The pulpit has been reconstructed on the lines of the original one (and contains part of the same) built by the Rev. page 150 J. F. Riemenschneider, who was minister from 1862 to 1866. The original stone fount has been mounted on a handsome pedestal of New Zealand green serpentine. Inset in the wall above is a brick from the chimney of the manse of the Rev. J. Watkin at Waikouaiti. These bricks were made in Botany Bay and were the first imported to Otago. Also inset in the wall is a piece of stone from the Ven. Bede's Church and Monastery of St. Paul, Jarrow, England, bearing the date A.D. 682—the first church in the North of England.

“The Sanctuary-Museum contains many valuable exhibits, among them being the Kawakawa Stone, which is the heirloom of the southern Maori people, presented by Mr. Hori Kerei Taiaroa, and which had been handed down for about 200 years. This relic shows evidences of primitive workmanship. There is one greenstone mere of very ancient date and two of whalebone dating probably from the Waitaha period, gifts from Miss Muir; the valuable Ellison tribal relics; manuscript notes by Revs. Samuel Marsden and J. Watkin; photos of the chiefs and missionaries of former days; Bibles, and Prayer Books dating from Mission years, and many other exhibits of historical interest.”1

The whare runanga (meeting house) is of great importance in a Maori kaika, for there the people assemble to discuss their many problems. Such a building was erected at Otakou many years ago. but unfortunately it was not built in Maori designs. Its history goes back to the dim past.

It was originally erected to provide a place where the people could debate Maori affairs, and particularly for the discussion of the Kai-tahu land claims. The building, due to the passing of time, fell into a sad state of decay, and Mr. David Ellison (Te Iwi Erihana) took a leading part in urging the need for a new building. Unfortunately he died before the proposal matured and the work was left to others. Money was collected from the public, who subscribed liberally. Again the Dunedin Savings Bank Committee, the Otago Harbour Board and public bodies and individuals came to the assistance of the Building Committee. A grant was made by the Koputai Maori Trust. There were also street day collections in the city and the Government subsidised the amount.

On Saturday, October 6th, 1945, a closing social was held in the old building, but unfortunately the proceedings were marred by the sad and sudden illness and death of Mrs. Karetai, the wife of Mr. Hori Karetai. Mrs. Karetai was addressing the people before they departed and was urging the young people to be true to their best Maori traditions and customs; to take an active interest in the affairs of the kaika and to respect and honour the memory of their page 151 ancestors. She could not conclude her address—the Home Call had come.

On Sunday, October 14th, after the usual church service, the congregation proceeded to the old meeting house for the last time. The Rev. T. A. Pybus in his remarks stated that the building would be demolished during the week. He pointed out that it had been a sacred place to their ancestors, for there in that meeting house they had considered their many problems; there their dead had been laid prior to burial, and their tangis solemnised. Their marriage festivities had been celebrated in that historic building following the Sacred Rite conducted in that adjacent church. It was associated with the joys, sorrows and tears of former generations.

Mr. Pybus then asked the people to stand in silence for a few moments and think of their ancestors. Following this he offered a karakia and pronounced the Apostolic Benediction. The elder Maoris pronounced the ceremony a true whakanoa.

The new meeting house was opened at Otakou by the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser, on Saturday, December 7th, 1946. The following appeared in the Evening Star two days later:

“Several hundred Maoris and pakehas gathered before the new whare runanga to await the arrival of the Prime Minister and the official party at 2 o'clock on Saturday afternoon. A band of Maori warriors and wahines in traditional dress watched the entrance gates. On the arrival of Mr. Fraser, accompanied by the Minister of Defence, Mr. Jones, Mr. E. T. Tirikatene, the Rev. T. A. Pybus, and the three Dunedin Members of Parliament, a warrior, armed with a taiaha, pranced down the path to meet him. It was the beginning of a traditional welcome.

“With fierce gesticulations and facial grimaces and brandishing his taiaha, the warrior halted the manuhiri tuarangi and his party. Performing the traditional wero, he placed a small replica of a taiaha at the visitors' feet. If the visiting chief was on a peaceful mission he would pick up the small taiaha; if an enemy, he would not touch it and the wero man would endeavour to destroy him. The wero man on this occasion looked ferocious and was so enthusiastic in his actions that he made the gravel fly around Mr. Eraser's feet and the taiaha was brandished alarmingly close to his face.

“Mr. Fraser picked up the small taiaha, and the wero man led him to the marae, giving the traditional cry of ‘Toia mai te waka, ki te uranga, te waka, ki te moenga e takoto ai te waka’. The waiting Maoris knew then that it was a peaceful mission and the Prime Minister was enthusiastically received on the marae.

“The official welcome to the visitors was given by Mr. Tirikatene, who used both Maori and English in his address. He welcomed the Prime Minister to the historic marae of their great forbears.

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The new meeting house, he said, carried the name of Tamatea, the chief in command of the great canoe Takitimu which took part in the great migration across the Pacific. This famous canoe arrived at the great migration across the Pacific. This famous canoe arrived at the East Coast, carved the islands apart, and came down to the south, where it rested not far from the marae.

“A brief welcome in English was extended to the visitors to the marae by Mr. G. Karetai, who referred to the historic connections of the marae and the meeting house. It was at the kaika that the Otakou chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, and on the nearby hill, Ohinetu, the Otakou Maoris discussed the sale of Otago lands at a penny farthing an acre. All but Tuhawaiki were buried on the historic site.

“Mr. T. Wesley spoke words of welcome in Maori and the Rev. E. Te Tuhi, of Auckland, a rangatira of the famous Ngapuhi tribe, responded to the official welcome and then offered the Karakia, the traditional lifting of the tapu, without which, according to Maori custom, the new building could not become a meeting house.

“Maori action songs, traditional hakas, and a Maori hymn preceded a brief speech of greeting and congratulations on behalf of the people of Dunedin by the Mayor, Mr. Cameron. He was followed by Mr. Pybus, who spoke of the history of Otakou.

“‘This kaika is soaked and saturated in Maori history and tradition,’ Mr. Pybus said. ‘It was also part of the first Christian Mission in the South Island, which was established by the Rev. James Watkin in 1840. It brings to mind the ancient tribes—the Rapuwai, the Waitaha, the Ngati-mamoe, and the Ngai-tahu. The meeting house bears the name of Tamatea, and with it are associated, too, the names of the great warrior Tarewai, and the chiefs of more recent days. These chiefs sleep in their graves, but we remember them.’

“The Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser spoke of the great migration of the Maori people in 1350 and of their powers of navigation that baffled the navigators of the present day. The very name of Otakou was historic, he said, just as was the name of the meeting house, Tamatea. He congratulated all those who had been behind the Maori centennial project. At first the project seemed almost too big, but courage and enterprise had made the carrying out of it possible. Mr. Pybus still needed help, and he always would need help, for he was always planning new projects.

“‘This historic meeting house will give the young Maori people an opportunity to understand, assimilate, and participate in the ancient Maori arts and crafts, songs and legends,’ Mr. Fraser said. ‘I recall what George Bernard Shaw said of the haunting beauty of Maori music. The chants and songs of the Maori well up from the hearts of the people and are preserved from a priceless heritage.

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Mr. Shaw, who is a great music critic, said that Maori songs and airs were very like Hebridean music. Someone suggested that they were primitive, but Mr. Shaw disagreed. They came, he said, from the deepest emotions of the human heart. It would be a tragedy if this great treasure was lost to us.'

“The Hon. F. Jones, Minister of Defence, added his congratulations to those responsible for the meeting house and thanked the Maori people for what they had done for the servicemen stationed in the district. As their new member, he promised to do everything possible for them in the future, and expressed the hope that the meeting house would be an inspiration to Maori and pakeha for all time.

“According to Maori tradition, no woman is allowed into a meeting house before it is finished. She must reserve her criticisms until the work is finished. It was appropriate, therefore, that at the opening ceremony a woman—the Mayoress of Dunedin (Mrs. Cameron)—should be the first to cross the threshold. She turned the key in the door, the Prime Minister opened it and declared the meeting house officially open, and Mrs. Cameron entered the whare runanga.

“A short programme of Maori songs, graceful pois, and hakas led by an energetic and amusing warrior, Mr. Kio Pollett, was presented, and brief speeches were given by visiting Maoris.

“On behalf of the architects, Messrs. Miller and White, Mr. E. Miller presented the Prime Minister with a carved Maori box and a greenstone adze found not far from the site of the meeting house. Mr. Miller told how a method had been invented to reproduce in concrete Maori carvings—the first time this had been done in New Zealand, although the North Island were now claiming the distinction.

“Mr. Fraser briefly acknowledged the gift and congratulated the architects and all associated with the building on their fine work….

“The next day, Sunday, December 8th, 1946, a service was held in the Centennial Memorial Church at 11 a.m. conducted by the Rev. T. A. Pybus and the senior Maori minister, the Rev. Eruera Te Tuhi, delivered an appropriate address in Maori and English. Prayers were said in Maori. There was a large and attentive congregation.

“At 2.30 p.m. a large concourse of people assembled at the whare runanga for the dedication of the memorial window in memory of those Maori soldiers who served in the two World Wars. The Rev. T. A. Pybus presided and prayers were offered by the Rev. W. L. Harbour (Anglican). The Maori Choir rendered several musical items.

“Addresses were given by the Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser (Prime Minister), the Hon. F. Jones (Minister of Defence), Mr. Tirikatene, M.P., the Mayor of Dunedin (Mr. D. Cameron), and the President page 154 of the Otago Branch of the South African Veterans' Association, Mr. S. Duncan.

“After a moment's silence a prayer was led by the Rev. W. L. Harbour, and the unveiling of the window was carried out by the President of the Dunedin Returned Services' Association, Mr. S. P. Cameron. The Rev. E. Te Tuhi, chaplain of the Forces, offered a prayer of dedication, speaking in Maori, and the ceremonyclosed with the National Anthem and the Benediction.”

1 From reports in the Otago Daily Times, Evening Star, and Methodist Times.