Story: Tāmati, Te Mātenga

Page 1: Biography

Tāmati, Te Mātenga

?–1914?

Ngāti Kahungunu; religious leader, prophet, healer

This biography, written by Bronwyn Elsmore,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Te Mātenga Tāmati, sometimes known as Hia, was born probably in the late 1830s. His main affiliation was Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, but the names of his parents are not known, and nothing is recalled of his early life. He was a very prominent figure around the turn of the twentieth century among Ngāti Kahungunu in the Wairoa district, northern Hawke's Bay, and was an elder of Pūtahi pā, near Frasertown.

At the death of Te Kooti in 1893 Te Mātenga was said to be aged about 55. Although the people of the Wairoa district had fought against Te Kooti, they regarded Te Mātenga as his divinely appointed spiritual successor. It was believed that Te Mātenga received direct revelation from God and was given the task of a spiritual mission to the Māori people. Te Kooti's Ringatū religion had not received full blessing because its prophet had taken human life. Te Mātenga's message was more inclusive and pacific, emphasising belief in a coming age of harmony between Māori and Pākehā through faith in God. His religion was known as Te Hāhi o te Kōhititanga Marama, the Religion of the New Moon, sometimes called the Church of the New World. It was regarded by its followers as the fulfilment of the Ringatū faith.

In preparation for the coming of the new world, Te Mātenga was given divine instruction for the erection of a tabernacle or temple: a square structure to be built of 12 large pillars, roofless, and open to the elements. An ark of the covenant was to stand inside the temple, and God would speak to his people from this spot. In the last years of the nineteenth century the prophet, with his followers, selected and milled 12 huge totara trees at Mangatawhiti in the foothills of the Ngāmoko Range to the north-east of Lake Waikaremoana. With divine help in the form of a great flood in March 1904, the logs were washed into the Mangaaruhe River, then down the Wairoa River to the sea, beaching themselves at the chosen site of the temple at Kōrito, east of Wairoa, near Iwitea.

All of this work was carried out strictly according to sacred rites and tradition, and Te Mātenga supervised each step. The pillars were named after the 12 sons of Jacob in the Old Testament, and there are other parallels between the Kohititanga Marama faith and the religion of the ancient Israelites. The temple was not erected, however. Difficulties were encountered in retrieving one of the logs, which had floated further east to Waikōkopu, on the Māhia Peninsula. This and other events revealed to Te Mātenga that the time was not right, and that another prophet would arise to complete the work. The tōtara pillars still lie on the beach at Kōrito awaiting that time.

Te Mātenga was widely recognised as a seer and healer, and many stories have been told of his miraculous insights and cures. At his home at Pukerimu, near Wairoa, he had a healing spring, the waters of which were said to cure illness and infertility and to heal broken limbs. When he used traditional herbal remedies, he also gave a blessing and emphasised the importance of faith in God.

Monthly services were held in a meeting house, called Te Karauna, erected about 1905 at the Kōrito temple site. These were conducted at the time of the new moon by Te Mātenga. On these occasions he and his followers would pray for the coming of the new world and for a further prophet to come to give guidance and complete the building of the temple. After his death, which is said to have occurred in 1914, at Pukerimu, many of his followers joined the Ringatū church. The meeting house at Kōrito was destroyed by a storm in 1969.

Although widely respected for his many gifts, including that of oratory, Te Mātenga was also known for his modesty. He was not given to flamboyant action and did not seek publicity for himself or his cause. His followers regarded him as a medium for the revelation of divine will and did not revere his personal image. Consequently few personal details, no photograph and no descriptions have survived. He married Mate Takitaki and through their two daughters, Te Waihae Mātanga Hia and Hēni Hia, there are many descendants. He and his second wife, Ēmere Maanu, had a daughter named Rīpeka Tāmati, who died young. Te Mātenga Tāmati is believed to be buried at Kōrito, near the site of the proposed temple.

How to cite this page:

Bronwyn Elsmore. 'Tāmati, Te Mātenga', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3t2/tamati-te-matenga (accessed 25 June 2021)