The power of prophecy was part of traditional Māori society and was carried out by tohunga and matakite (seers). The transition from the traditional form of prophecy to later prophetic movements was brought about by Māori interaction with Christian missionaries. While initially Māori focused on the New Testament, it was not long before prophetic movements based around the Old Testament sprang up. Towards the end of the 20th century millennialism would become part of the mix.
An example of the link between the traditional tohunga and new prophet is a prophecy made just prior to the arrival of Europeans by the tohunga Toiroa. He said:
Tiwha tiwha te pō
Ko te Pakerewhā
Ko Arikirangi tēnei rā te haere nei.
(Dark, dark is the night/There is the Pakerewhā/There is Arikirangi to come.)1 This prophecy foreshadowed the coming of one of the great 19th-century prophets, Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki.
Papahurihia was the first Māori prophet who drew on both Māori and Christian knowledge systems. His original name was Pukerenga; initially he claimed to be the ‘waka’ (canoe) of the god Papahurihia. He took the name Papahurihia when, from 1833, he criticised the teachings of the Anglicans at Rangihoua, the earliest mission station founded in New Zealand. After he shifted from the Bay of Islands to Hokianga in the late 1830s, he adopted the name of Te Atua Wera (the fiery god).
Papahurihia appeared at the time of the first Māori Christian baptisms. He offered an alternative vision: a heaven full of European cargo, and plenty to eat. He was Hōne Heke’s war prophet in the 1845–46 northern war, and he held séances in which Te Nākahi (serpent) spoke in a curious ‘whistling sighing kind of sound’.2 Papahurihia was a ventriloquist like many previous Māori prophets, including his own father, Te Wharetī, and his mother, Tūhoehoe. The new element was his adoption of the serpent from the scriptures as his medium of communication (ariā) with the other world.
Papahurihia identified Māori as Jews, naming them Hūrai, people lost in their own lands. He established the Jewish sabbath (Saturday) as his day of worship. Papahurihia upheld the principle that underlies all subsequent Māori prophetic movements: the search for the recovery of Māori authority. He embellished Jewish traditions, restating God’s promise to recover Canaan, their lost land, found in the earliest missionary-translated texts and oral messages.
In 1898 Hāmiora Mangakāhia, a Coromandel chief, said, ‘Nga whakatauki me nga kupu Whakarite me nga kupu Poropiti, na o tatau Tipuna hei Tohutohu i a tatau nga Tamariki.’ (The sayings, explanations and prophecies are handed down by our ancestors to advise the children.)3 He had been trained by Toiroa who told him, ‘Taria e hohou te Rongo kia tupu i te Miha ki a Kauna ki a Hawaiki, kei tua te Rongo Takekake.’ (Wait to make peace until the distant descendant grew up at Kauna in Hawaiki.) It was Te Kooti whose coming Toiroa had predicted before Cook’s arrival.
Papahurihia died in 1875. But his teachings live on, directly and indirectly. He was baptised into the Wesleyan Church in 1856, taking the name Penetana (penitance, or possibly Fenton) Papahurihia. He was critical of the wartime prophet leaders of the 1860s, and was considered ‘loyal’ by the government. Nevertheless his teachings inspired local protest movements, notably the May 1898 ‘dog tax war’ at Waimā, where he himself had lived.
Now Te Nākahi appeared in séances held by a new prophet, Hōne Tōia, counselling resistance to this hated tax. Tōia called the faith ‘Whiowhio’ (the whistling sect). Some ritual objects, notably a rākau atua (god stick) named Rangi Āwhiowhioa (whistling head), the medium used to invoke Te Nākahi, survived with the descendants of Hōne Heke’s brother, Tuhirangi. These sacred objects of the faith of the Nākahi (‘te hono ki Nākahi’), as preached by Te Atua Wera, were unequivocally tied to Hōne Heke’s aspirations to self-determination.
Te Ua Haumēne had been baptised into the Wesleyan faith with the name of the scriptural prophet Horopapera (Zerubbabel). In 1864 he changed his name to Haumēne (wind man), indicating that he communicated with God on the breath of the wind (hau). The rituals of the new faith, Pai Mārire (good and peaceful), which Te Ua developed from 1862, focused on niu (news) poles, constructed from ships’ masts. The cracking of the ropes, along with the flags, were believed to convey messages on the wind from God.
Te Ua’s visions commenced after the dramatic wreck of a mail steamer, Lord Worsley, in 1862, near his home in south-west Taranaki. As a tribal leader who had joined with the Kīngitanga there, he upheld the aukati (defensive boundary) law which the ship had breached. The experience of the wreck lay behind his pronouncement on 5 September 1862 that the Archangel Gabriel had spoken to him, announcing the last days as foretold in the Book of Revelation. Te Ua’s teachings focused on Rura (ruler), who was Gabriel, and alternatively Tama-Rura (son-ruler), who was Christ and the archangel joined as one. His angel guardian for the times of war was, however, Riki, a shortened form of Te Ariki Mikaera (Archangel Michael).
Te Ua had composed Ua Rongopai (the gospel of Ua), a book of ceremonies and prayers, by 1863. A copy of Ua Rongopai made by Karaitiana Te Korou of Ngāti Kahungunu survives. It includes the order of service, reports of meetings of the leaders of Pai Mārire in Taranaki during 1864–65, and drawings of named, flag-hung niu poles. The religion became known both as ‘Pai Mārire’ and ‘Hauhau’, the two common refrains adopted at the end of prayers to refer to the breath of life, bestowed by God.
Because the religion was born in war-torn Taranaki and its chants included ritualised military phrases (‘Tahi, rua, toru, whā. Taihana!’ – One, two, three, four. Attention!), and its followers were involved in the renewed fighting from 1863, ‘Hauhau’ was interpreted as an aggressive statement: to strike (hauhau has various meanings). Hauhau became the name used by Europeans for all Māori opposition forces from the mid-1860s.
Te Ua sent out emissaries across the land in 1865. They carried the dried heads of European soldiers killed in ambush in Taranaki on 6 April 1864. One party also brought a live soldier. Te Ua’s instructions to these messengers have survived: Pākehā were not to be harmed. His message for Māori was the triumph of righteousness over the military; public rituals included ‘biting’ the heads, to destroy (devour) the soldiers’ power. But the circulation of the heads was mostly seen by Pākehā as a revival of ‘barbarism’. The execution of the missionary Carl Völkner in Ōpōtiki in March 1865, incited by an emissary, Kereopa Te Rau, increased the hostility. Pai Mārire was a religion constructed for both peace and war. It preached only that the people would survive in their ‘half-submerged’ land; it did not plan war.
After the death of Te Ua in 1866, Pai Mārire continued as the faith of the Kīngitanga. Matutaera, the second Māori king, had been rebaptised by Te Ua in August 1864 as Tāwhiao (bind the world). Tāwhiao took these teachings back to the King Country. In 1875 he named his religion Tariao (the morning star), and from March 1885 he initiated the poukai, a three-yearly circuit of royal tours of the Kīngitanga derived from Deuteronomy 14: 28–29. Just before his deathin 1894, an insignia was created for Tāwhiao. It is held at Te Hopuhopu, where the king’s parliament meets; it carries a carved image of Tāwhiao, with a large cross placed on his head, while the seven stars of Matariki (the rising Pleiades) are set in pāua shell on his forehead. The names and emblems look to a new dawn, while the inscribed message reads ‘Ko te mana motuhake’ (the separate authority of Māori).
Riwha Tītokowaru was a war leader and prophet influenced by Te Ua Haumēne. Te Ua’s death saw Tītokowaru rise to greater prominence in Taranaki. His religion included elements of Pai Mārire, Christianity and traditional religion. He rebuilt a pā at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu with nearly 60 houses. After war erupted with the government in 1868, he oversaw the reactivation of cannibalism and whāngai hau (offering the heart of an enemy to the war god Tūmatauenga). After the war, Tītokowaru espoused peace. He became involved in the passive resistance of the prophets Te Whiti and Tohu, spending time in prison for it.
A different faith challenging Pai Mārire emerged in the mid-1860s. It became known as Ringatū (the upraised hand) and was founded by Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki on Chatham Island (Wharekauri), during his captivity there between 1866 and 1868. Ringatū is still an established faith, with seven regional branches, each with different names. The formally registered church is the Hāhi Ringatū.
In November 1865 Te Kooti was arrested as a spy, but discharged for lack of evidence, during the government siege of Waerenga-a-hika pā, near Gisborne. In May 1866 he was arbitrarily rearrested, and sent into exile on the Chatham Islands without the trial that he asked for. There, in February 1867, he fell ill with tubercular fever. In his diary (which has survived) Te Kooti described how the voice of God spoke to him and instructed him to teach the people. On 18 June 1867 he displayed a sign to the prisoners that he had been chosen by God: a lighted flame (phosphorus) on his hand that did not burn him.
Subsequently Te Kooti led the 300 political prisoners on the island (including 64 women and 71 children) in their dramatic escape in July 1868. Capturing the supply ship Rifleman, they sailed to Whareongaonga, a small cove south of Gisborne, and, landing safely, they raised their right hands to God in thanksgiving. This gesture gave the religion its name. Military pursuit of Te Kooti and the whakarau (the former prisoners) intensified their faith. Te Kooti shaped the religion for resistance and endurance; later he adapted it to the times of peace.
Driven from the Urewera in 1872, Te Kooti took sanctuary with Tāwhiao, the Māori king, and Rewi Maniapoto in the King Country. There he developed the rituals and sacred days of the faith. Like Te Papahurihia, he elected Saturday as the sabbath, following Jewish teachings. In 1885 he set aside the twelfth as the sacred day of the month, to remember 12 May 1868, when the covenants of the faith were fully revealed to him on Wharekauri; the safe landing of the whakarau on 12 July 1868 at Whareongaonga; and 12 February 1883, when Te Kooti met Native Minister John Bryce. Bryce came to greet Te Kooti, to indicate publically that he was to be included in the government’s general amnesty, due to come into force the next day. The twelfths also recall other scriptural references, including the 12 tribes of Israel.
Earlier, in 1875–76, Te Kooti set aside the firsts of January and July as the twin pillars of the religious year. The first of January celebrates the Kapenga (Passover) of the Children of Israel; the first of July celebrates the cycle of renewal, or coming from death at the beginning of spring. In 1879 he added the first of June and December, which are known respectively as the huamata and the pure: the planting, and first fruits, of the harvest. These four Rā (days) are the sustaining pillars of the Ringatū cyclical year.
Once pardoned and ostensibly free to travel, Te Kooti visited former friends and former enemies, leaving songs and sayings for each place. Many were warnings that the people should be watchful, lest they lose all but their meeting houses. Other predictions spoke of a successor, one greater than he, who would complete his work: a Messiah for his times. Te Kooti set quests and riddles that, when achieved, would reveal this person. His intention was to keep the people active, agile and alert to ever-changing circumstances. He taught the faithful to look to God for the recovery of their lost land, Canaan. He stressed that the path to choose was the law: only the law could be pitched against the law. Arbitrarily arrested in 1889 for attempting to return home to Gisborne, he did not modify this stance; he died in 1893 struggling to mediate with the government on behalf of Tūhoe.
Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi were notable prophets who were Taranaki kinsmen and married to sisters. In 1862 Te Whiti had helped passengers and crew escape from the wreck of the Lord Worsley; four years later, endorsed by Te Ua, the two men established the pacifist community of Parihaka (formerly Repanga). The new name recalled the lamentations of the people.
The community held monthly public meetings on the 17th (later the 18th), discussing the scriptural promises and the confiscated lands of Taranaki. Te Whiti, who was the greater orator, repudiated the authority of the settlers’ laws over Māori. At first the two men shared the leadership on a six-monthly rotation; later, they quarrelled over money and divided the settlement into two segments, with each leader presiding over his own marae. During the 1870s Parihaka grew into the largest Māori settlement in the country.
In 1878 the government began surveying the confiscated southern Taranaki lands for European settlement. In response, from May 1879, under the initial direction of Tohu, the Parihaka men went out to reclaim this land by ploughing it. As they were arrested and imprisoned, others took their places, with people coming particularly from Pātea, Whanganui and Waikato. Te Whiti said, ‘The settlement to be by Europeans and Maories, the Maories on their reserves and the Europeans on the remainder but the Maories being owners of the soil to receive “takoha” [tribute] from the Europeans.’1 He wanted to make Parihaka ‘Israel’, the new kingdom for Māori, and sought to reclaim the rangatiratanga (chieftainship) guaranteed by the Treaty of Waitangi.
Responding to the growing Māori support for Parihaka, on 5 November 1881 the government sent troops to break up the community. All outsiders were expelled (about 1,600 people), and their homes destroyed. Te Whiti, Tohu and a third Taranaki prophet, Tītokowaru, were arrested and spent six months imprisoned awaiting trial. then the Supreme Court judge threw out the charge of obstruction laid against Tītokowaru.
Faced with the probability of the collapse of the remaining trials, the government urgently passed special legislation allowing the indefinite imprisonment of Te Whiti and Tohu. Sent to the South Island, they were released in early 1883. They returned to reconstruct Parihaka as a model (and modern) community.
Te Whiti was again arrested in 1886. He returned to Parihaka in 1887, but in 1891 was declared bankrupt. Despite this, and the tensions between the two leaders, Parihaka continued as a centre of non-violent resistance to settler laws until the deaths of both men in 1907. The raukura, the single albatross feather worn by the people, symbolises peace; it is understood as a sign of sanction by the Holy Ghost, left at the foundation of Parihaka.
In the South Island, in 1877, Hipa Te Maihāroa led a protest group to reclaim their lands at Te Ao Marama (near Ōmarama) in north Otago. They called themselves Israelites, and they denied the validity of the South Island purchase of 1848. They claimed the interior as their own. Te Maiharoa’s religion had developed in the 1860s, partly under the influence of the prophets Te Ua and Te Whiti; it was named Kaikārara (lizard eater) as its rituals involved deliberate desecration of sites of tapu. The South Island runholders called in the police, who in 1879 evicted the Ngāi Tahu ‘squatters’. Te Maihāroa moved to Korotuaheka; when he died, in 1885, the kāinga was razed so that it could never be desecrated. He left a prediction of his successor, a ‘little child’ from Taranaki.
The influence of Te Whiti and Tohu spread. In the 1880s in Hokianga, three women contested for the mantle of Te Whiti. Ani Kaaro, daughter of Patuone, senior chief of Ngāti Hao, had visited Te Whiti and claimed to share his spiritual authority. Her rivals were Maria Pāngari (who died in 1887) and Maria’s younger sister Rēmana Hana, who founded a separate camp near Ōkaihau, where the people wore only white for peace. Their intense quarrelling resulted in the imprisonment of Rēmana Hana and her father, Āporo (apostle) Pāngari, in July 1887 for assault on the police. Ani and Rēmana disputed the best way to keep Ngāti Hao lands closed from milling and European settlement.
At Te Kumi in Waikato, Te Mahuki of Ngāti Kinohaku, who had been driven out of Parihaka in 1881, founded his own community. He and his followers called themselves the Tekaumārua (the 12), after the 12 apostles, and the 12 evangelists of Tāwhiao, created in 1866 and sent by the king to support Parihaka. In March 1883 Te Mahuki seized the surveyor Charles Hursthouse, who had been involved in the charges against Te Whiti, and his assistant William Newsham. Hursthouse and Newsham had been surveying inside the Rohe Pōtae o Maniapoto (the King Country) with the permission of senior Maniapoto chiefs. Te Kooti, recently pardoned by Native Minister John Bryce, ensured his release.
Te Mahuki was arrested in 1897 for setting fire to a cooperative store in Te Kūiti. Sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for attempted arson, he was transferred to the asylum in Auckland in April 1899. Cheerful when he arrived, he was dead within six months.
In the 1880s the rise of the prophet Pāora Te Pōtangaroa in Wairarapa began. Te Pōtangaroa was of Ngāti Kahungunu and Rangitāne descent. He organised the building of the meeting house at Te Kaitekateka, Te Ore Ore, which was prophesied to not be completed within eight years (E kore e mutu i ngā tau e waru). When it was finished in 1881 it was called Ngā Tau e Waru (the eight years).
Pāora erected a stone as a medium to the gods and spirits. With the completion of the house he made a number of prophecies, including that a great power was to come from the rising sun. The prophecies were made in the form of a flag which he asked for interpretation. In later times, some interpreted the prophecy as referring to the coming of the Mormons. Others saw it as the Rātana faith, as it was Tahupōtiki Rātana who later removed the medium stone from the marae.
In the Rohe Pōtae o Maniapoto (the King Country), another movement developed as protest to surveying. In 1887 Te Rā Karepe and Rangawhenua directed the construction of a cruciform house named Te Miringa Te Kakara, built on the site of an earlier house of the same name. This later house was burnt down by its keeper in 1983. The faith was called Pao Mīere (refuse honey), referring to the sweet taste of money paid for land. The teachings were a mixture of Pai Mārire and the worship of Io, the Māori supreme deity acknowledged by the Kīngitanga. The movement was strongly associated with peace.
In October 1869, when the earlier house still stood, Te Rā Karepe had rejected Te Kooti’s call to renewed war. When Te Rā Karepe died in 1894, his book of teachings was buried under a pillar of Tokanganui a Noho, the meeting house built by Te Kooti in Te Kūiti in gratitude for his shelter by Tāwhiao and Maniapoto. In this way the prophetic traditions of Te Rā Karepe, Te Kooti and Tāwhiao were linked at their deaths.
Te Kooti’s own sayings, about quests to be fulfilled, ensured that later leaders in his traditions would emerge. After his death in 1893, a number of prophets claimed to be his successor – his ‘Son’ or the Mihaia (Messiah). The most well known was Rua Kēnana Hepetipa, from Tūhoe.
In 1906 Rua was baptised Hepetipa (Hephzibah) to fulfil Te Kooti’s prediction that his successor would be so named. Rua rode with ‘80’ chiefs of Tūhoe and Ngāti Awa to Gisborne to meet King Edward VII; this was a predicted number of completion. In an exchange of gold (or diamonds), he planned to buy back the land from the son of Queen Victoria. When the king did not arrive, Rua announced the inner meaning of the pilgrimage: ‘I am the King. Here I am, standing on the wharf, and with all my people.’1
Rua took his people back to Maungapōhatu, at the base of Tūhoe’s sacred mountain, and built a new community. The two main buildings in 1908 were his interpretations of the Bible’s Hiona (Zion) and Hiruhārama Hou (the new Jerusalem) in the city of David. Committed to the ‘long abiding peace’ (maungarongo), the community refused to volunteer for the First World War.
Rua was arrested in April 1916 for the illicit sale of alcohol, a trumped-up charge. His son, Toko, and Toko’s close friend, Te Maipi, were shot by the police during a raid. Seven charges against Rua were thrown out, but he was imprisoned on one charge of ‘morally’ resisting arrest (on an earlier occasion).
Rua was seen as Christ by his followers. His son, Mau, quoted him: ‘“If you don’t kill me with one shot, that to let you people know that I am the Son of the living God.” So they shoot him all right. … I myself have been bathing that wound ever since.’2
Released, Rua reconstructed Maungapōhatu in 1927 to prepare for the end of the world in a shower of falling stars. When God did not appear, he explained it was the fault of the people. The millennium would occur at another time. Rua died in 1937, predicting his resurrection.
Aside from Rua Kēnana, there were a number of claimants to be Te Kooti’s predicted successor. Mātenga Tāmati from Ngāti Kahungunu of upper Wairoa was actually the first. In 1894 he announced his vision for the tabernacle of David; 12 great logs were cut from the upper Wairoa forests, each named for one of the 12 children of Jacob, the ancestors of Israel. His followers waited for faith to move the logs, and a great flood in 1904 brought the logs (all but one) to the chosen site on the coast, Kōrito. The log dubbed Joseph, who had wandered to a ‘distant land’ some miles along the coast, had to be brought back to join his brothers. The logs await the one who will complete this work.
Mere Rikiriki was the daughter of Kāwana Rōpiha (Hunia) of Ngāti Apa. She was a descendant of Maata, a renowned medium and healer who flourished around the time of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840). In 1910 Mere baptised herself seven times in the Rangitīkei River. She set up Te Hāhi o te Wairua Tapu (the church of the Holy Spirit). She became recognised as a prophet and her church was Christian-based. In 1912 she foretold the coming of a prophet and then confirmed that it was her nephew Tahupōtiki Rātana. She also prophesied the importance of his two sons, Ārepa (Alpha) and Ōmeka (Omega).
Tahupōtiki Rātana was a farmer from Ngāti Apa. While fishing at Whangaehu he saw two whales stranded. When his son Ōmeka became sick and nearly died, Rātana fasted and prayed. On 8 November 1918 he had a number of visions telling him to act as a spiritual leader for the people and turn them aside from the old gods. Besides founding a religious movement Rātana also founded a powerful political movement that went on to hold all the Māori seats in Parliament for many years.
Haimona Pātete was from Ngāti Koata and Ngāti Kuia. In the 1890s Pātete incorporated the teachings of Pāora Te Pōtangaroa in the formation of his church, Te Hāhi o te Ruri Tuawhitu o Ihowa (also called the the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah). Pātete was said to have cured a girl whom doctors had been unable to help. The church became established in Marlborough and Wairarapa and had up to 18 ministers and bishops in the years 1915–18. The church effectively disbanded with the visit of Rātana to Marlborough in 1921.
Wi Raepuku (Wi Horn) from Whanganui was recognised by Te Haahi o Te Kooti Rikirangi as a successor to Te Kooti. This became a distinct church in 1937.
In the 1930s, Hōri Ēnoka (Te Mareikura) led the Māramatanga faith at Ohakune and Levin. The faith had been partially inspired by the prophet Mere Rikiriki. After his death in 1946 his brothers (and others) took up the role. Māramatanga recognises all the earlier, major prophets; its leaders undertake missions or pilgrimages associated with the Roman Catholic faith, but at times also perform independent activities.
Hoori Te Kou-o-rehua Keeti was influential as a Ringatū minister from 1942 until his death in 1961 at Ōmaio. He worked as a spiritual healer, using salt water and olive oil to anoint his patients. At Tataiahape in Waimana, in the Urewera, he established a branch of the Ringatū church called Rangimārie (peace), and was closely associated with Tom Te Maro, leader and secretary of the Kōtahitanga of the Treaty of Waitangi.
In 1961 Alexander Phillips founded the Kōtahitanga Building Society Incorporated, to help relieve people from mākutu (curses). At Taumarunui, he built the Manu Ariki Marae complex, including a Kura Wānanga (school of sacred knowledge) and God’s house, Unveiling the Rock of Bethel. In 2007 he celebrated his 90th birthday as the ‘last Māori prophet’; he died in 2008.
These leaders claimed spiritual descent from one another, though some were direct rivals. Almost all were persecuted by governments or police. But the concerns of these leaders were for the well-being of Māori, faced with ill health and land loss for much of two centuries. The common identity the leaders forged for Māori was as Israelites, cutting across tribal divisions while acknowledging them historically. The mana of a leader was seen as a gift of God, held in trust for a generation, then transferred. Thus the line of prophets was regularly renewed.
Binney, Judith. ‘Papahurihia, Pukerenga, Te Atua Wera and Te Nākahi: How Many Prophets?’ Journal of the Polynesian Society 116, no. 3 (September 2007): 309–320.
Binney, Judith. Redemption songs: a life of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki. Auckland: Auckland University Press, Bridget Williams Books, 1995.
Elsmore, Bronwyn. Like them that dream: the Māori and the Old Testament. Auckland: Reed, 2000.
Elsmore, Bronwyn. Mana from heaven: a century of Māori prophets in New Zealand. Auckland: Reed, 1999.