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Pānapa, Wiremu Nētana


Ngāti Ruanui and Te Rarawa; Anglican bishop

This biography, written by Manuka Henare, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Bishop Wiremu Nētana Pānapa, known affectionately as Barney, was the second bishop of Aotearoa. He was born in Ahikiwi, north of Dargaville, on 7 June 1898. Pānapa’s grandfather, Pānapa Hōhāpata, of Ngāti Ruanui, was captured during one of Ngāti Whātua’s battles in Taranaki in the late 1820s and was taken to Northland. He later married Ngātōwai Teao Mamaku of Ngāti Whātua and settled at Ahikiwi; Ngātōwai was also called Rīpeka Hōhāpata. Their son, Nētana Te Kopa Pānapa, a farmer, married Ngāpeka Mereana (Marion) Maihi of Te Rarawa and Ngāti Kahu; they had 12 children. Wiremu, their fourth child, was baptised as Wiremu Pēpene; he later changed his name to Wiremu Nētana, after his father. Ngāpeka, also known as Mereana, worked assiduously to protect Māori customs and traditions but was also active in the church.

Wiremu Pānapa was educated at Maropiu School and St Stephen’s Native Boys’ School, Parnell. His grandfather encouraged him to study the Bible and guided him into the service of the Anglican church. He entered Te Rau Theological College, Gisborne, where he was on the committee of the Māori newspaper Te Kōpara. He obtained his licentiate in theology from St John’s College, Auckland, becoming its first Māori graduate. He was ordained a deacon in 1921 and a priest in 1923.

Pānapa married Agnes Waikeria Anihana (Anderson) of Ngāti Maniapoto at Te Kūiti on 30 January 1924. Agnes, also known as Bella, was a niece of Te Puea Hērangi on her mother’s side. They had seven children: four boys and three girls.

Pānapa served in Te Kūiti from 1923 to 1926 and Kaikohe from 1926 to 1932. He became recognised as a very forceful preacher. From 1923 to at least 1933 he was a member of the Wairoa Māori Council, and in 1927 he took part in a hui to consider the appointment of a Māori bishop. In 1928 he met T. W. Ratana at Kaikohe; he questioned Ratana’s role as a religious leader and challenged him with a haka.

Pānapa was appointed as diocesan Māori missioner in 1930, and the first Māori missioner at Auckland in 1932. When his term began the Māori population in and around Auckland was insignificant. However, as Māori urbanisation rapidly grew, he recognised emerging pastoral challenges. Church authorities were called upon to meet Māori church leadership obligations and the people’s specific needs. In 1937 Pānapa defended Ōrākei Māori against allegations in the press about payment from land sales, and also became involved in the controversy over the occupation by Māori of church land originally gifted to the Crown. When the 28th New Zealand (Māori) Battalion entered camp in 1940, Pānapa was its first chaplain, serving with it in New Zealand for four years. In 1944 he was appointed vicar of Ōhinemutu Māori District. He then served in Taupo from 1947 to 1951.

When the Māori Bible Revision Committee was convened it was recognised that Māori participation was essential, and Pānapa was a member from 1946 to 1952. The committee held public sittings on marae throughout the country. It aimed to ensure that ‘the new edition would be a standard work on the Māori language’ and would ‘put back into the Māori Bible something of the sweet musical tone and cadence, rhythm and poetry of the Māori language’. The translation was completed before Christmas 1949 and finally printed in 1952. During the revision, Pānapa was made a life member of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Following the death of Bishop F. A. Bennett, Pānapa was appointed in 1951 as the second bishop of Aotearoa. He was consecrated in the Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist, Napier, on 24 August. At his consecration, he quoted a well-known Māori proverb, and gave an assurance that he would be careful to see that the canoe (the bishopric) was launched without damage. He proved faithful to this commitment. Despite persistent health problems, Pānapa maintained a high level of pastoral care, travelling the country, blessing new meeting houses and marae, opening conferences, and officiating at tangihanga and memorial services.

Pānapa suffered from the conflict between his roles as bishop of Aotearoa and suffragan (assistant) bishop of Waiapu. His deep concern that Māori do things in their own ways in their own church had been instilled in him by his grandfather, his parents, and the community of Ahikiwi. For Pānapa the idea of a Māori Anglican church with its own leadership, theology and worship was a natural outcome of the growth of any Christian community. As bishop of Aotearoa, he was required to minister to Māori wherever they lived. However, he could work in dioceses other than Waiapu only when permission was given by the local bishop. He was rarely able to fulfil his episcopal duties in Auckland, where the bishop was hostile to him, and he and his people felt the anomaly keenly. Pānapa often jokingly referred to himself as the ‘suffering bishop’ of the church.

Pānapa pleaded for permission to exercise his jurisdiction over a wider field than had been allowed to Bennett, but his concern for the needs of Māori Anglicans was not sympathetically regarded by some of the Pākehā bishops. His task during a transitional period was not easy. There was a strong movement towards the full integration of Māori Anglicans into mainstream church life and administration, and the tension between Māori and Pākehā over pastoral responsibilities was never fully resolved in Pānapa’s term. On his retirement the primate of New Zealand, Archbishop Norman Lesser, looked forward to the time when the office would fall into abeyance and race would not be a criterion for appointment.

In spite of these difficulties, Pānapa exercised a strong leadership during a crucial time in the church’s development. He concentrated on key areas such as the place of Māori and women in the church, and the problems caused by secularisation and urbanisation. From his earliest years as a pastor he encouraged Māori women’s involvement in the church’s Mothers’ Union, whose aims of training children for God’s service and of promoting the sacredness of marriage were important to him. From the 1930s, when Tai Tokerau established branches with Pānapa’s encouragement, Māori women began to join for the first time. Pānapa maintained this commitment to women’s endeavours throughout his priestly life and regularly attended Mothers’ Union meetings. He was dedicated to the interests of Māori youth and advocated the establishment of cultural groups for them. At the church’s Hui Amorangi, an annual meeting of Māori Anglicans, he often expressed his concerns for youth.

The Māori contribution to ecumenism was important to Pānapa’s vision of Māori activity in the church. He was a leading member of the Māori section of the National Council of Churches of New Zealand, sometimes chairing important conferences. This helped give him a national profile and a leadership role greater than that in the Anglican church. Pānapa considered the Māori section one of the most important bodies concerned with Māori well-being, and he was designated as a spokesperson for Māori Christian churches.

Outside the church, Pānapa actively supported and attended conferences of the Māori Women’s Welfare League. He saw its emergence as one of the important developments in Māori leadership. He supported the establishment of the New Zealand Māori Council of Tribal Executives (later the New Zealand Māori Council). Pānapa believed that education constituted the greatest challenge to Māori. He took a personal interest in the group of Māori students who began university study overseas, and was involved in the establishment of the Māori Education Foundation in 1961.

Pānapa supported the call by Māori church leaders for new liquor legislation. He did not favour the restoration of discriminatory restrictions on Māori, but argued that Māori tribal executives need to exercise firm leadership. While preaching abstinence, he argued that Māori could remedy their own alcohol problems. In 1960 he opposed the exclusion of Māori from the All Black team to tour South Africa. He also headed a petition of prominent religious, academic, political, trade union, sporting and womens’ leaders to Parliament seeking the adoption, under the Treaty of Waitangi, of a policy of absolute equality between Pākehā and Māori.

Pānapa met Queen Elizabeth II at her welcome in Rotorua in January 1954, where, before 10,000 people and 1,000 performers, he laid a korowai (cloak) on her shoulders. Later, he spoke on behalf of Māori people at the welcome for her at Waitangi. That year he was made a CBE. He met the Queen again at the Waitangi Day ceremony in 1963. Pānapa was honoured in 1966 by Māori when he appeared on the front cover of the Māori magazine Te Ao Hou, on the 45th anniversary of his ordination as a priest.

Pānapa retired as bishop of Aotearoa, due to ill health, in 1968. He had served well past the church’s normal retirement age, as there were no retirement endowments for Māori bishops (this was to change only in the term of the third bishop, Manuhuia Bennett). Wiremu Pānapa died in Palmerston North on 10 June 1970, survived by four sons and three daughters. Agnes Pānapa had died in 1950. In fulfilment of a promise to his mentor, colleague and friend, Mutu Kapa, he was buried alongside him at St James’s Church cemetery, near Te Puea Memorial Marae, Māngere.

How to cite this page:

Manuka Henare. 'Pānapa, Wiremu Nētana', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4p2/panapa-wiremu-netana (accessed 17 July 2024)