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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




The Ringatu faith owes its existence to Te Kooti Rikirangi of the Rongowhakaata tribe of Poverty Bay. His arrest following the battle of Waerenga-a-hika led to his deportation without trial to the Chatham Islands. There was a period in his captivity when Te Kooti studied the Bible very closely. Basing his studies on the Psalms, the Books of Joshua and Judges, he compiled numerous prayers containing scriptural verses and held religious services twice daily. Te Kooti's personal mana and Biblical interpretations converted the Hauhau prisoners to the new faith called Ringatu, after the upraised hand part of the old Hauhau ritual which, however, was retained as an act of homage to God and not as a means of averting bullets.

On 30 June 1868 Te Kooti's followers seized the schooner Rifleman and escaped to New Zealand where they landed at Whareongaonga, south of Poverty Bay. The pursuit of Te Kooti continued in various parts of the central North Island until 1883 when he was pardoned. During his lifetime the Ringatu movement grew in numbers and his prophecies claimed attention. His death at Ohiwa in 1893 fulfilled one of his prophecies concerning his own death which was to be by accident.

The Ringatu movement contains nothing of the fanatical Hauhau approach to worship. By contrast it is gentle and dignified with a lack of public demonstration which marked its predecessor. There are few church buildings as services are held in tribal meeting houses; there are no robes of office or stipendiary clergy; there are no articles of faith or written tradition. The church's leader or poutikanga, the mainstay or support, is elected every two years together with an executive of 12 members. They hear all grievances within the church, keep a record of all members qualified to perform marriage services, and report back to the general assembly of church members. Each parish has a tohunga whose speciality is church law while others called takuta engage in faith healing. The ordinary tohunga are men who follow their daily occupations and spend their evening hours studying and memorising scriptures. The reliance on memory alone is the main feature of the Ringatu ceremony as all chants and hymns are memorised while most prayers are extempore.

The evening of the eleventh of each month sees the first of seven services which are held during the period of the meeting. A bell rung by a church policeman summons the people to the service which does not commence until all are inside. Each service has a particular topic and everything builds up to the love feast held on the morning of the twelfth. This meal is lavish and is regarded as a love feast to God. It is followed by the most important service of the series, the communion. A final service is held before the people return home after breakfast the next morning. The Ringatu church is still influential in the Bay of Plenty. It is of interest historically for its rejection of Hauhauism and its acceptance of Christianity.

Prior to the First World War a cult derived indirectly from the Ringatu movement evolved in the heart of the Urewera country. Rua, a son of Kenana who was a follower of Te Kooti, claimed to succeed the latter as a spiritual leader and prophet. He lived at Maungapohatu where he built a temple, extracted contributions from his followers, and maintained several wives. His influence was most marked in the Bay of Plenty region, but it was police action which resulted in the diminution and final collapse of this influence. A breach of law over liquor led to his arrest at Maungapohatu in 1915. During this operation the police party exchanged shots with Rua's armed followers who were determined to protect their prophet. After a term of imprisonment Rua did not attempt to revive his movement in any militant form and he was content to conform to Government policy.

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