Page 1: Biography
Nga Mahanga missionary
This biography, written by John H. Roberts, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Minarapa Rangihatuake (also known as Minarapa Te Atua-ke) was the Wesleyan lay preacher responsible for the first church in Wellington. He was of Nga Mahanga and was born, probably early in the nineteenth century, in Taranaki. As a young man, Minarapa was taken captive by Waikato in one of their attacks on Taranaki tribes. While in Waikato, he was taken prisoner by Nga Puhi. When missionary influence led to the liberation of Nga Puhi captives, a number who had adopted Christianity went to reside at the mission stations. Minarapa went to the Wesleyan mission at Mangungu, Hokianga. He was appointed a lay preacher among Nga Puhi, for which he received a monthly payment of £1, plus four white shirts.
In 1839, when the Wesleyan mission was seeking a further southward extension of its activities, Minarapa, anxious to return to his own people, expressed his willingness to take the Gospel to those of them living in the vicinity of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour). On 18 May 1839 the Reverends John Bumby and John Hobbs, accompanied by Minarapa and a party of some 20 Taranaki Maori, sailed south from Kororareka (Russell) in the Hokianga. The party entered Te Whanganui-a-Tara on 7 June.
Minarapa first visited Te Ati Awa at Pipitea pa and paved the way for the missionaries' cause there, but Te Aro pa, where he had kinsfolk, became the centre of his activity. On 9 June he was greeted there by Hina Karoraina, a senior woman of Pipitea who had recognised him the previous day. The people wept at Minarapa's coming among them as they recalled their people – Te Ati Awa and Ngati Ruanui – killed by Waikato. Minarapa spoke to them of the past, and told them that he came as a preacher, appointed to offer them the Christian faith. The next day he presented to them Bumby and Hobbs, who spoke of the benefits of peace that Christianity would bring; the people agreed to accept the faith. Minarapa asked them for a piece of land, a site for a house of worship, and the land was defined and set aside. On 11 June a feast was arranged, worship took place, and payment, in the form of blankets, shirts, coats, rugs, tobacco and a cask of powder, was made for the land.
Minarapa was appointed preacher at Te Aro and was paid by the missionaries in goods, garments, tobacco and money. According to Minarapa, Bumby's words to him were, 'Be energetic in upholding Christianity and in impressing it on your people; …do not allow dissensions to arise, be energetic in suppressing such things.' With the departure of Bumby and Hobbs for Mangungu on 14 June, Minarapa rallied the people for the building of the church. Taranaki people living at Waikanae helped build the church and within a month it was completed and being used for worship. A simple raupo structure, it was the first church to be built in what is now Wellington.
On 26 June 1840 Bumby was drowned off Whangaparaoa peninsula in the Hauraki Gulf. Minarapa travelled north to attend mourning functions, staying there some 18 months before returning to Wellington. In 1842 his own people requested his return to Taranaki. There he married Ripeka Marere-awhe-turi, and remained a preacher until 1860, the time of the first Taranaki war. When Minarapa left for Taranaki early in 1842 he appointed Wi Upo (or Ipo) to act as lay preacher. Minarapa's church at Te Aro was blown down in a gale later that year. According to Minarapa its timbers were used to build a new church at Te Aro pa. The plot of land, set aside for the original church, was left unoccupied. However, in 1893 Minarapa wrote to the superintendent minister of the Wesleyan Church in Wellington, expressing his concern about the fate of the land.
The date of Minarapa Rangihatuake's death is not recorded. It is thought that he died among his people in Taranaki, possibly in the late 1890s. Credit for establishing the Wesleyan church in Wellington, usually given to Bumby and Hobbs, should go to Minarapa who laid the foundation.