Story: Moko, Pita Te Tūruki Tāmati

Page 1: Biography

Moko, Pita Te Tūruki Tāmati

1885–1943

Ngāti Whakaue; land agent, commission agent, Rātana administrator

This biography, written by Angela Ballara,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Pita Te Tūruki Tāmati Moko was born at Rotorua on 9 May 1885, the son of Tāmati Moko and his wife, Rawinia Te Whau Wharetutu. He was principally of Ngāti Whakaue of Te Arawa, although he was also connected to Ngāti Rangiwewehi and Ngāi Te Rangi. Pita Moko attended Rotorua School and then St Stephen's Native Boys' School at Parnell, Auckland, becoming fluent in English as well as Māori. He later worked as a land agent in Rotorua. On 24 August 1912, in Wanganui, he married Roka Waiāria Tīhema of the Wanganui tribes and Ngāti Tama hapū of Ngāti Tūwharetoa. In 1915, when he enlisted as a soldier in the First World War, he was a self-employed commission agent in Taihape. Moko served in Egypt and Europe, rising to the rank of sergeant major. He was invalided home and discharged in 1916.

About 1920 Moko was converted by Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana to his movement, and for over a decade was never far from Rātana's side. If Rātana was the mouthpiece (Māngai) of God, Moko was the mouthpiece of Rātana to the English-speaking world. Since the Māngai kept himself apart, impressions of him obtained by reporters and the curious were those given by Moko.

Moko was usually described as Rātana's secretary or executive officer. He answered the hundreds of letters that poured into Rātana pā, especially following the cure by letter of Fanny Lammas in March 1921. Moko's answers were looked over and signed by the Māngai. Late in 1921 Moko rather than Rātana announced to the press that all practising tohunga had been invited to Rātana's Christmas Day hui, when he intended to abolish all such practices and end 'pagan doctrines' among Māori.

In March 1924 Moko organised Rātana's world tour, which was intended to bring the Māngai's enlightenment and the Treaty of Waitangi to the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley and to the wider world. The party of 23 men and 16 women included Moko and his wife, Waiāria, who, with Te Urumanaao, wife of Tahupōtiki Rātana, and Rīpeka, wife of Tokouru Rātana, was in charge of the younger women. Moko experienced difficulty acquiring passports for the group, and after writing to the native minister, Gordon Coates, was informed that the costs of fares and accommodation would have to be deposited in advance with the Department of Internal Affairs. Moko was convinced that these financial obstructions had been placed in their way by the government at the urging of Māori opponents of the movement.

Eventually the group departed in April. Moko took many documents and exhibits to back up Rātana's claim to healing powers. They travelled by the Barrabool to London. On their return on the Niagara in December, the young women who performed poi and other dances to raise money for the movement were offended by European male passengers; Moko struck one, but no legal consequences seem to have followed.

In London Moko complained to the press that the party had been treated so badly at Wembley that they had refused to enter the New Zealand pavilion. Nevertheless, they saw the carved house Mātaatua exhibited there; Moko said that the workmanship was only half Māori, and the exhibit showed how 'low down in the scale of native races' Māori were considered to be. An attempt was made to get the party's petition, concerning breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, to the British government by handing it (as a loyal address) along with gifts to the Prince of Wales at a garden party. However, the gifts and address were returned to Moko as unacceptable. When this avenue of protest was blocked by colonial authorities, Moko addressed several public meetings on the subject. While Rātana remained in Paris, Moko led a party to Geneva hoping to present the petition to the League of Nations. However, the league was not in session. After returning to New Zealand, Moko reported that the deepest impression made on the Rātana party was the bad social conditions of the poor in Britain.

During the party's absence, the movement's first federation had been set up. Pita Moko was not included, nor did he become a Rātana minister in the newly gazetted Rātana church. He remained close to Rātana, accompanying him as principal aide and organiser of his spiritual missions around the country. He continued to report miracle cures performed by Rātana, even though the Māngai declared his powers had departed.

In 1925 Moko had seconded a motion that the building of a temple take precedence over all other activities at Rātana pā. From February 1926 he was assistant secretary of the temple-building committee. Plans were received, and in March the committee resolved that to cut costs the followers of Rātana would do the work, supervised by two Pākehā master builders. By May it was decided that the Māngai with divine guidance would design the building. New Zealand Truth alleged that Clifton Hood, a Wanganui architect, had delivered his design to Moko; the plan called for the expenditure of £7,000. Moko was pleased with the design and kept the plans to obtain Rātana's approval. He later returned them to the architect, but no commission followed. When the temple was built Hood considered that the people at Rātana had used some of his features and adapted the rest. He sued Moko and Rātana for £250, and obtained a judgement for £130.

In 1928 Rātana took his important decision to divide his ‘body’ into four ‘koata’ (quarters), appointing four young men to be his candidates at the 1928 election, standing as independents. In October he announced their names; Moko was the candidate for Eastern Māori. Rātana also announced that they were to follow a policy based on the Treaty of Waitangi, self-determination for Māori and redress for grievances arising both before and after the signing of the treaty. At the election in November, Moko, facing an uphill battle against Apirana Ngata, came second in a field of three with a respectable 1,846 votes. He was chosen again to contest the 1931 election. During this campaign Paraire Tomoana sent a telegram to Rātana demanding that he show respect to Ngata by withdrawing Moko. Although Moko received 1,994 votes he lost to Ngata by a resounding 3,211 votes.

Rātana was very bitter over the defeat of his four candidates and threatened to withdraw from politics altogether. But the following year, when Eruera Tirikātene won Southern Māori, he turned his full attention to parliamentary politics. Accompanying Tirikātene to Wellington, he began official negotiations with the New Zealand Labour Party and installed Paraire Paikea and his own son, Tokouru Rātana, as Tirikatene's aides. Moko was left out. Progressively out of favour with the man to whom he had once been indispensable, he quarrelled bitterly with the Māngai in mid 1933. His cousin, the Reverend W. Te R. Pareiha (Fraser), alleged that there was an 'opposition party' at Rātana pā to which he and Moko belonged; their major concern was the tendency of Rātana to de-Christianise the Rātana faith. He gave details of the Māngai's departures from orthodox religion, some of which were substantiated in his teachings reported in the Rātana newspaper, Te Whetū Mārama o Te Kotahitanga; some were not. It was clear that the immediate cause of the quarrel was the Māngai's abandonment of monogamy and rumours concerning his ongoing marital plans. This was the ground on which Moko angrily accused the Māngai of hypocrisy. At a special meeting on 21 October 1933 Patu Te Rito suggested, and Rātana agreed, that a new Eastern Māori candidate be found. In 1935 Tiaki Ōmana was endorsed.

After his quarrel with Rātana, Moko and his wife lived on at Rātana pā for some years, although Moko was stripped of all office. Waiāria died in 1941; they apparently had one son who died without issue, and adopted a son. Possibly after Waiāria's death, Pita Moko returned to Ōhinemutu, where he died on 8 June 1943. The officiating minister at his burial was Anglican.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Moko, Pita Te Tūruki Tāmati', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4m56/moko-pita-te-turuki-tamati (accessed 27 September 2020)