How did the Christian bible and its teachings come to Otaki? Was it the early missionaries or was by the Maori people themselves?
The Maori tribes were known for their warrior life, taking prisoners in battle, killing or making them slaves to their captors. However, after the arrival of Anglican missionary Samuel Marsden in 1814 and the subsequent spread of the missionaries from the Bay of Islands down through Waikato and the east coast, the gospel’s teaching of peace and love for your enemies, not utu-revenge, meant the prisoners and slaves were released.
The missionaries had opened schools and taught the people, adults as well as children to read and write. Many of those educated were released prisoners and former slaves. Maori recognised the power of the written word and with new trading opportunities opening up with whaling operations and trade with Sydney, their leaders were keen to learn to read and write the English language and more learn about the Christian faith. Many became catechists – teachers of the Word, spreading the new way of living further afield.
Among the early missionaries were Alfred and Charlotte Brown, they opened a mission school in Waikato for the Ngati Haua people. Among their pupils was young 12 year old Tarore. She was given a copy of the Gospel of Luke for her achievements. This small book was worn in a flax kete around her neck – it was a precious taonga/treasure – and she kept it close to her heart. But disaster struck when the school was being moved to Tauranga in 1836. While walking through the bushland, Tarore was left behind as she lay asleep one night. Left all alone she was killed by a raiding Te Arawa party and her precious kete and book stolen. Her father, Ngakuku, remembered the words of peace and didn’t seek revenge. After reading the words of peace, the warrior who took the book, went to Ngakuku and asked for his forgiveness.
As the teachings of the Gospel of Luke spread down the North Island, carried by the Maori catechists during the 1830’s, it arrived in Kapiti at the Kenakena Pa on Waikanae Beach, which became the first major worship centre.
In 1839 Te Rauparaha’s son, Tamihana and his cousin, Matene Te Whiwhi went north to the Bay of Islands to request a permanent missionary for their district. Octavius Hadfield and Reverend Henry Williams arrived in Kapiti in November that year. Hadfield first ministered at Kenakena.
But Tarore’s book hadn’t finished its ‘work’. Her book travelled as far as Otaki to the aging Chief Te Rauparaha. When Te Rauparaha heard the message of peace, he built a strong relationship with Hadfield, leading to the planning and building of Rangiatea Church. First planned in 1844, Te Rauparaha provided the timber and labour for its construction, but he didn’t live to see it completed, dying in 1849. Hadfield then became minister at Rangiatea Church in Otaki after it opened in 1851.
Meanwhile, Hadfield was dedicated to the spread of the gospel. He learnt and became proficient in te reo Maori. He trained and taught Maori about the gospel and to read and write. He commissioned six of the first Maori lay-readers into the church, including Rota Waitoa, the first Maori to be ordained a deacon in 1853 and priest in 1860.
Te Rauparaha’s son Katu and nephew Te Whiwhi took the message of Tarore’s book to the South Island where it spread “like seeds on the wind.”
In 1852, the first Anglican mission school and boarding house were built beside Rangiatea. Maori and the early settlers worshipped together in Rangiatea, until All Saints Church was built in 1907 to ‘serve the pakeha congregation.’
In 1839 the Wesleyan (Methodist) missionaries, accompanied by Taranaki Maori had travelled from Russell to Wellington and up to Porirua, setting up a number of communities there and across the top of the South Island.
The first Catholic mission was begun by French priest Jean-Baptiste Comte in1844. He had a little church built on the top of Pukekaraka hill in 1845 and in 1859 the Church of St Mary was built near the bottom of Pukekaraka. This church is the oldest Catholic Church still in use today, in New Zealand.
At times it’s almost hard to believe so much and such change could occur through a small but treasured book, worn by a 12 year-old close to her heart.