Page 1: Biography
Hura, Maata Te Reo
Ngati Apa, Ngati Hine and Te Ati Awa; Ratana leader
This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000, and updated in March, 2010.
Maata (Martha) Ratana, later better known as Te Reo T. W. R. Hura, was one of seven children of Te Urumanaao Ngapaki and her husband, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, who was to found the Ratana church. She was born on 16 January 1904 in the homestead then called Orakeinui on the Waipu block, which later became part of the settlement known as Ratana pa. Her father’s iwi and hapu included Ngati Rangiwaho and Nga Wairiki (two hapu of Ngati Apa), Nga Rauru and Ngati Hine of Whanganui. Her mother was of various Whanganui hapu and of Te Ati Awa. Maata was fostered by elderly Ngati Ruanui relatives Wiremu Tupito Maruera and his wife, Ngauare, at Patea until she was 14, and then returned to her parents. She was with them on 8 November 1918 when her father experienced the first of the visions that led him to begin his mission of healing and religious renewal.
Involved in the growth of the movement from its outset, Maata was one of the entourage that accompanied the Mangai, as her father became known, on his missions around the country. For a time the Mangai liked each mission to begin with the hymn ‘E Ihu, e te Kingi Nui’ (Oh Jesus, Great King), and he usually signalled Maata to begin the singing. Very early in his mission he gave her the spiritual name Te Reo-i-hapai-i-te-himene-e-Ihu-e-Te-Kingi-Nui (the Voice which raised up the hymn, Oh Jesus, Great King). This name was commonly shortened to Te Reo. Te Reo was good at hockey, playing in the Ratana representative team in competitions in Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Wanganui.
Te Reo became a member of the Ratana Concert Party and accompanied her father on his 1924 and 1925 overseas tours. The troupe of young people performed waiata and dances, both to raise money to defray the costs of the trip, and to attract audiences to hear Ratana’s message. On their way back to New Zealand from the first tour, the party visited Hong Kong and Japan. In Japan their ship was delayed by a maritime strike, and a Japanese Anglican bishop, Nakada Juji, hosted them. A deep friendship developed between the Mangai and the bishop, who performed the ceremony when on 8 November 1925 Te Reo married Huia (Boyce) Whenuaroa of Ngati Tuwharetoa and Ngati Kahungunu, one of the Ratana troupe. Bride and groom wore Japanese traditional clothing for the ceremony, and among the gifts was a Japanese ceremonial sword. This union led to accusations that Ratana had ‘married’ the Maori people to the Japanese nation, and that Maori salvation was to come from the Japanese. But Ratana denied this; he was only concerned to spread his enlightenment worldwide. There was to be ongoing contact between Ratana and his Japanese hosts, in which Te Reo and her husband were always involved.
There were no children of this marriage, and later she remarried. Her second husband was Rapata Tihimatangi Raumati of Te Ati Awa, and she had two children by him. She was to have six children by her third marriage, which took place at Pariroa pa, Patea, on 23 November 1941, to Kei Renata Hura, of Ngati Hine and Nga Puhi. Te Reo led a frugal and hard life with Kei, raising their family on his farm near Patea, but she was often at Ratana pa. In 1944 she was a speaker at the unveiling of a monument to her father. In 1957 she accompanied the then tumuaki (president) of the Ratana Church of New Zealand, her aunt Puhi-o-Aotea Ratahi, on a pastoral visit to Wairarapa. Te Reo and her family moved to the Ratana homestead at Orakeinui in 1967.
Puhi-o-Aotea Ratahi died in April 1966, and in January 1967 Te Reo succeeded her as president of the Ratana church. From around this time she added her father’s initials to her name, and became known as Te Reo T. W. R. Hura. On 24 January the Maori Queen, Te Atairangikaahu, visited Ratana pa, the following day unveiling a monument to Puhi-o-Aotea. Te Reo and others saw this visit as a confirmation of her father’s prophecy that the King movement and the Ratana church would unite. That year Te Reo and Te Atairangikaahu confirmed a covenant to unite the Maori people spiritually: the Maori kingship was seen as embodying the mana of the Maori people, while the president of the Ratana church was also president of the new spiritual union, and together they would defend Maoritanga under the over-arching authority of the British monarch. In practice this union meant enhanced co-operation between Ratana pa and Ngaruawahia: Te Atairangikaahu and her party were often guests on the great occasions at Ratana pa, and the president and the various Ratana bands played a part in the anniversaries of the Maori Queen’s coronation at Ngaruawahia. By the late 1980s it had become the practice for the two leaders to act jointly as patrons of important new Maori initiatives.
Te Reo was not fully accepted by all factions at Ratana for some years after her appointment. She was a committed Christian, and insisted that the Ratana movement embrace all Christian sects rather than just the Ratana church. But as her presidency continued, Te Reo, her younger sister Piki-te-ora and two other women, Huhana Toka and Mariana Marsh, became the only survivors of those who had accompanied the Mangai on his missions. They were thus the greatest authorities on his teaching, and Te Reo was eventually held in reverence and affection by the whole movement.
Late in 1977 Te Reo called together interested people at Ratana pa and set up a special committee to staff the church’s magazine, Te Whetu Marama o Te Kotahitanga. Te Reo occasionally reintroduced the names of ‘Jesus’ and ‘the Christ’ (dropped by the Mangai in favour of Tama (the Son) in his later years) in homilies and in her teaching. Almost her last act was to endorse the paper as carrying the only written record of many of the teachings of the Mangai.
During Te Reo’s term the great work of renewing the buildings at Ratana pa became a central issue. From 1975 work was concentrated on the rebuilding of the Manuao (Man o’ War). This building, opened in 1938, had been the Mangai’s last gift to his people. A series of promotional tours through the various Ratana districts from April 1979 raised more than $750,000 for its restoration. Te Reo travelled as far as Invercargill and Ahipara with some of the five major Ratana bands for months on end, and more itineraries were arranged for 1980, even though she was in her mid 70s.
By November 1982 the Manuao had been built and paid for in full, and Te Reo and the church authorities turned to renovating the temple, a struggle that was to last through most of the 1980s. Although similar tours were arranged, Te Reo could not always take part. Her husband, Renata, died in 1981, and in 1984 her sister Piki-te-ora, the head of the Awhina (the major women’s organisation of the Ratana movement) and her companion in almost all her church work, also died. She herself was very ill that year.
Despite her advancing age, Te Reo Hura continued to take an active role in the Ratana movement, presiding over hui whakapumau (synods) and ceremonies on 8 November and 25 January each year, and promoting the ideals of kotahitanga (Maori unity) until her death in Wanganui Hospital on 25 September 1991, aged 87. She was survived by seven children, and was buried at Ratana pa.