Story: Panapa, Wiremu Netana

Page 1: Biography

All images & media in this story

Panapa, Wiremu Netana


Ngati Ruanui and Te Rarawa; Anglican bishop

This biography, written by Manuka Henare, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.

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

Wiremu Panapa 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 Maori newspaper Te Kopara. He obtained his licentiate in theology from St John’s College, Auckland, becoming its first Maori graduate. He was ordained a deacon in 1921 and a priest in 1923.

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

Panapa served in Te Kuiti 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 Maori Council, and in 1927 he took part in a hui to consider the appointment of a Maori 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.

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

When the Maori Bible Revision Committee was convened it was recognised that Maori participation was essential, and Panapa 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 Maori language’ and would ‘put back into the Maori Bible something of the sweet musical tone and cadence, rhythm and poetry of the Maori language’. The translation was completed before Christmas 1949 and finally printed in 1952. During the revision, Panapa was made a life member of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Following the death of Bishop F. A. Bennett, Panapa 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 Maori 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, Panapa 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.

Panapa suffered from the conflict between his roles as bishop of Aotearoa and suffragan (assistant) bishop of Waiapu. His deep concern that Maori 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 Panapa the idea of a Maori 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 Maori 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. Panapa often jokingly referred to himself as the ‘suffering bishop’ of the church.

Panapa pleaded for permission to exercise his jurisdiction over a wider field than had been allowed to Bennett, but his concern for the needs of Maori Anglicans was not sympathetically regarded by some of the Pakeha bishops. His task during a transitional period was not easy. There was a strong movement towards the full integration of Maori Anglicans into mainstream church life and administration, and the tension between Maori and Pakeha over pastoral responsibilities was never fully resolved in Panapa’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, Panapa exercised a strong leadership during a crucial time in the church’s development. He concentrated on key areas such as the place of Maori and women in the church, and the problems caused by secularisation and urbanisation. From his earliest years as a pastor he encouraged Maori 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 Panapa’s encouragement, Maori women began to join for the first time. Panapa maintained this commitment to women’s endeavours throughout his priestly life and regularly attended Mothers’ Union meetings. He was dedicated to the interests of Maori youth and advocated the establishment of cultural groups for them. At the church’s Hui Amorangi, an annual meeting of Maori Anglicans, he often expressed his concerns for youth.

The Maori contribution to ecumenism was important to Panapa’s vision of Maori activity in the church. He was a leading member of the Maori 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. Panapa considered the Maori section one of the most important bodies concerned with Maori well-being, and he was designated as a spokesperson for Maori Christian churches.

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

Panapa supported the call by Maori church leaders for new liquor legislation. He did not favour the restoration of discriminatory restrictions on Maori, but argued that Maori tribal executives need to exercise firm leadership. While preaching abstinence, he argued that Maori could remedy their own alcohol problems. In 1960 he opposed the exclusion of Maori 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 Pakeha and Maori.

Panapa 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 Maori 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. Panapa was honoured in 1966 by Maori when he appeared on the front cover of the Maori magazine Te Ao Hou, on the 45th anniversary of his ordination as a priest.

Panapa 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 Maori bishops (this was to change only in the term of the third bishop, Manuhuia Bennett). Wiremu Panapa died in Palmerston North on 10 June 1970, survived by four sons and three daughters. Agnes Panapa 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, Mangere.

How to cite this page:

Manuka Henare. 'Panapa, Wiremu Netana', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 9 August 2020)