Page 1: Biography
Rikiriki, Atareta Kawana Ropiha Mere
Ngati Apa prophet
This biography, written by Te Tiwha Puketapu, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
Atareta Kawana Ropiha Mere Rikiriki, born probably in 1855 or 1856 and known as Mere Rikiriki, was the daughter of Kawana Ropiha (also known as Kawana Hunia) of Ngati Tauira, and Mere Rikiriki of Ngati Te Rangitepaia. She had links with Rangitane and Ngati Apa and was raised near Parewanui, Rangitikei. She was a descendant of Maata, a noted medium and healer during the 1840s, and was the only woman prophet in a nineteenth century tradition of spiritual succession that embraced Tawhiao Te Wherowhero, Te Kooti, Tohu Kakahi, Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, Hipa Te Maiharoa, and T. W. Ratana. In her adult years she spent time at Parihaka with Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi. On 27 July 1910 her standing was expressed when she baptised herself seven times at the Rangitikei River in a special ritual calling upon the Holy Spirit. This date is still commemorated annually at Parewanui.
Sometime in the early 1900s Mere Rikiriki inaugurated Te Hahi o te Wairua Tapu (the Church of the Holy Spirit), involving adherents of the Ringatu faith and Maori members of other churches. At a prayer meeting at Parewanui at Christmas 1911 she said the spirit of prophecy had entered her, and she was recognised as a prophet. Although Mere had some of the mana of a tohunga, the church was based on Christian scriptures and stressed the mediating role of the Holy Spirit and the unity of Maori under God and the Treaty of Waitangi.
Mere Rikiriki was small, had a light moko and wore plaited hair. She practised faith healing and the use of Maori herbal remedies. An enlightened and knowledgeable speaker, she was well versed in the Scriptures. In spite of her critics she continued to draw large crowds, and many people demonstrated their trust and confidence in her faith and healing powers.
In 1912 Mere Rikiriki foretold the coming of a new prophet. This reinforced the earlier prophecy of Te Kooti that a leader would emerge in the west who would restore the mana of the Maori. Her followers initially thought she was referring to either Rangi Mawhete or Panau Tamatai, but she later confirmed that the future prophet was her close kinsman, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, then working as a farmhand on family land. She had earlier named two of his sons Arepa and Omeka (Alpha and Omega), although she refused to touch or baptise them, claiming their spiritual power was too great.
Mere Rikiriki was instrumental in laying the foundations for Ratana's teachings. With her counsel he was strengthened, and eventually she passed her healing gifts to him; he often consulted her. A series of signs and revelations, coupled with Mere Rikiriki's teachings, led him to develop his Christian-based beliefs and his stress on the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi. After 1918 Ratana became well known beyond his tribal area as a prophet, healer and leader. Mere Rikiriki herself signed the Ratana covenant in 1926.
Mere Rikiriki also inspired the Maramatanga movement. In comparison to Ratana's religious mission of putting aside the past and eliminating old tapu, including the powers of the tohunga, Maramatanga blended Maori custom and Catholic beliefs. The movement's founder, Hori Enoka, who was known as Mareikura, was supported and guided by her. Mere Rikiriki's influence and mana is demonstrated by King Tawhiao's presentation to her of the flag 'E Te Iwi Kia Ora'; this was a prized taonga (treasure) with significant markings known as Te Paki o Matariki, including two mere crossed in the foreground. She also acted as a mentor to Rangi Mawhete, who became Ratana's principal contact with the New Zealand Labour Party and was made a member of the Legislative Council in 1936.
Mere Rikiriki's legacy is visible in the Ratana movement and the Maramatanga, which are still closely interwoven. The strength of her influence can be found among Maori communities throughout New Zealand. She died at Parewanui on 13 March 1926. Mere and her husband, Inia Te Rangi, had no children, but the lines are maintained by the descendants of her brothers Tamati and Tiemi.