Paora (Paul) Kingi Delamere was born, according to family information, in May 1889 at Whitianga, near Omaio on the eastern shore of the Bay of Plenty, and was first given the name Te Rata. His father was Te Kohi Edward (Neri) Delamere, a farmer and Ringatu church leader of Te Whanau-a-Tuahiawa and Pakeha descent. His mother was Arihia Ngarori Nikorima, a woman of chiefly descent from all the hapu of Te Whakatohea and especially Ngati Patumoana and Te Whanau-a-Tuwahiawa (Tuahiawa). The sixth of seven children, he was fostered by the chief Paora Kingi Maraenui, whose name he took. He was brought up at Waiorore, south of Whitianga, and went to Omaio Native School until 1901. Paora Kingi Maraenui, on becoming ill, set about drawing up a will in which he left all his possessions to his foster son. However, because the will did not bear the signature of a witness it was judged invalid.
After Paora Kingi Maraenui’s death, his relatives Tumanako Tiopara and Te Matehuirua continued to care for Paora Delamere (who was also known as Paora Teramea). He hoped to attend Te Aute College, but as there were no places available he returned home to live with his father, who taught him carpentry. He learned various building techniques, including the craft of making fishing and whale boats. Whaling was a family occupation – Paora Delamere’s paternal grandfather was a French-Canadian whaler – and he had a lifelong love of the sea.
In 1905, with his father’s blessing, he left home to work on farms. He then worked as a boat builder and repairer of steam ships. As his reputation grew he was hired to take a coastal trader with a cargo of vegetables to Auckland. When asked to take another ship to Sydney he decided instead to go with a friend to the South Island, where he was to stay for a number of years.
During this time he played rugby, and became renowned for his speed and skill. He had many jobs including panning for gold and coalmining. On reaching Invercargill he worked at laying railway tracks. He then moved to Colac Bay, where he maintained the engines of sea-going fishing boats. At night he would study for his engineering certificates. While living there he enjoyed catching titi (mutton birds).
On 29 November 1911 at Colac Bay, Paora Delamere married Hannah Te Au; she was of chiefly descent from Ngati Mamoe and Ngai Tahu. When their eldest daughter was six months old, Paora resolved to return to Whitianga so that any further children would be born there. Eventually there were eight children in the family.
Back in the eastern Bay of Plenty, Paora Delamere took up farming and with Hannah sold vegetables to the workers building the road through the Motu district. The money was used to build a shop at Omaio. Some of the children kept the shop going, while Hannah and a daughter and a son looked after the dairying operation on the farm. For a time Paora left his family to run the farm and went to Otaumaha, where he got the job of erecting houses for farm workers and cow sheds throughout the district. He was helped by his elder brother Hiki Delamere, a dairy farmer. Later Paora also played a leading role in the erection of the Tukaki meeting house, the carvings for which were completed by Pine Taiapa and his brother Hone.
Paora was involved in promoting and organising sports, notably rugby, basketball and hockey, and personally trained the champion rugby team of Te Whanau-a-Apanui. He also introduced annual horse-jumping trials and athletics to the tribe’s sporting calendar. These events helped raise money for Te Whanau-a-Apanui, as did the dances he organised.
Paora Delamere had been raised in the Ringatu religion. His father, Te Kohi, had been converted following the wars of 1868–72, and, after visiting Te Kooti at Otewa to learn the tenets of Ringatu, had brought the faith back to his people. In his old age Te Kohi felt the need to pass on his knowledge, but as no senior male members of the family were willing to take on the responsibility of leading church services, it fell to Paora. Although he was unprepared, he taught himself the rituals of the church by listening to his father and by attending the designated days of worship in other areas where the Ringatu faith was strong. In the early 1930s he also built a whare karakia (house of prayer) at Maraenui, which is still in use.
In 1938, at a gathering of Ringatu representatives, Paora Delamere was elected leader of the Ringatu church. His title, poutikanga (main pillar), indicated his central importance as a guardian of the Ringatu faith. The tenure was intended to be only two or three years, but Paora Delamere was to hold the position for the rest of his life: a total of 43 years.
Delamere tackled the problem of a declining church membership by visiting and organising branches of the church over many years, usually with another minister, Pitau Brown (Paraone). The result was a greater sense of unity and an increase in membership. He also dispensed with a number of the older Ringatu practices and rituals. Some he abandoned because their correct form had been forgotten or altered, and in his view rituals should be carried out properly or not at all. Other changes were made as the result of discussions with his close friend Norman Perry, a representative of the United Maori Mission. At one time a percentage of the koha (monetary offering) at feast days was ritually burnt as a sacrificial gesture. Delamere lifted the tapu from sites where coins had been burnt and retrieved and banked the money to use for the church.
These changes accompanied a shift from an emphasis on the Old Testament towards an acceptance of Christian ethics. This shift had begun during the 1920s and Delamere supported and promoted it, consistently pointing out the links between the Ringatu and Christian religions. However, Ringatu retained its Maori character and concepts, and Delamere was deeply immersed in the culture and politics of his people.
Just before the Second World War Paora Delamere began to hold Easter camps for Te Whanau-a-Apanui schoolchildren at Whitianga to teach the rudiments of Ringatu beliefs. The other two special occasions in the church year on which he focused were the first day of June, when the planting rites (huamata) were held, and the first day of November, when the harvest rite (pure) was celebrated. These festivals had their origins in scriptural references, and Delamere stressed the study of scripture. Under his guidance, the people of Te Whanau-a-Apanui became accomplished in the recitation of Ringatu prayers and acquired a deep understanding of the meanings behind the rituals of the church.
Hannah Delamere died in 1952. As Paora grew older he passed on his knowledge to his daughter, Te Aomuhurangi Te Maka (Maaka), who also became a Ringatu minister. Together in 1968 they produced the first published text of the Ringatu faith, Te pukapuka o nga kawenata e waru a te Atua me nga karakia katoa a te Haahi Ringatu (The book of the eight convenants of God and all the prayers of the Ringatu church).
A sincere and devout man, Paora Delamere also had a keen sense of humour. Although he was very deaf in his old age he remained vitally interested in the world around him. Essentially a man of peace, he deplored television violence, and was passionate about educating the young both intellectually and spiritually. He died at Whitianga on 19 December 1981, aged in his 90s, and fittingly was taken by boat across the bay to his burial at Tokata cemetery.