Story: Huata, Wiremu Te Tau

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Huata, Wiremu Te Tau


Ngati Kahungunu; Anglican priest, military chaplain

This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.

Wi Te Tau was the third in a succession of Anglican Maori ministers from the Huata family, their careers spanning most of the history of Christianity in New Zealand. His father, Hemi, and his paternal grandfather, Tamihana, were also ministers.

Wiremu Te Tau Huata was born on 23 September 1917 at Mohaka, the eighth of eleven children of Hemi Pititi Huata and his wife, Ropine Aranui. His parents were of Ngati Kahungunu: Wi’s main hapu through his father was Ngati Mihi, and through Ripeka, his high-ranking paternal grandmother, he belonged to Ngai Tamaterangi and Te Aitanga-a-Hinemanuhiri. Wi’s mother was of Ngati Pahauwera. He was also related by descent to a number of other hapu.

Wi’s parents brought up many children besides their own: Wi was to say he had 42 brothers and sisters. He attended Mohaka Native School and later schools at Frasertown and Turiroa. At 16 he began form three at Te Aute College, and also undertook theological studies there until 1938. He excelled at rugby, later representing central Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa.

Huata continued his theological training in the Wairoa–Mohaka Maori pastorate. He was consecrated deacon in the Takitimu meeting house in 1939, and ordained priest in August 1940 at Manutuke. While serving as assistant curate for a few months at St Matthew’s Church, Hastings, he developed contacts with the Tomoana family. Paraire Tomoana, the well-known composer of ‘Pokarekare ana’ and ‘E pari ra’, would become one of his lay readers. Later in 1940 Huata was posted to Waipatu–Moteo Maori pastorate as assistant curate.

In June 1943, persuaded by Sir Apirana Ngata, Wi Huata enlisted for service in the Second World War as a chaplain. After training at Trentham Military Camp, he sailed, with the rank of captain, in July with the 10th Reinforcements, along with his younger brother Te Okanga (Aussie) Huata. On his arrival in Egypt he joined the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion. The Italian campaign was just beginning and Padre Huata was often in the front line with the troops, sometimes walking about without a helmet during the shelling. His lighter duties included acting as father-confessor to soldiers (whatever their denomination), captaining the battalion rugby team, helping to stage concerts, presiding over church parades, and conducting prayers and hymns before battle. Like many of the battalion he learnt Italian, especially Italian songs; he was famous for his rendition of romantic songs such as ‘Buona notte mio amore’, and decades later would sing them at battalion reunions and after memorial services.

Huata’s grimmer duties included finding bodies and supervising the digging of trenches for the dead – the battalion’s and others (including Germans) –, reading the burial service, recording the map references of the burial places for future recovery of the bodies, and handing in identity tags. When the fighting in Europe stopped in May 1945 the battalion was in Trieste. Huata conducted memorial services for the dead of the battalion at war cemeteries near the principal battlefields, including Suda Bay in Crete, and at Cassino and Sangro military cemeteries. At these he led a choir of soldiers he had trained. He also visited smaller burial sites in Italy. In December 1945 he was awarded the Military Cross.

Huata returned with the battalion in January 1946 and resumed his ministry soon after as vicar in the Waipatu–Moteo Maori pastorate. On 17 July 1947, at Waipatu, he married Ringahora Heni Ngakai Ybel Tomoana, of Ngati Kahungunu, who was the daughter of Paraire Tomoana and his wife, Kuini Raerena. In 1950 Huata was transferred to Te Ngae, Rotorua. In 1952 he moved to the King Country and Waikato. He was based in Te Kuiti for a while, then Ngaruawahia, and later Hamilton. Working as priest in charge of the King Country Maori district and the diocese of Waikato Maori mission from 1952, he became superintendent of the mission in 1960. He was made a canon of St Peter’s Cathedral, Hamilton, in 1954.

In these positions Huata revitalised the Anglican church among Maori, a difficult task in an area that associated Bishop G. A. Selwyn’s church with the government’s attack on Waikato, and regarded the missionaries as having betrayed and abandoned their flock. His area also extended south into Taranaki, north into Hauraki and east towards Tauranga and the East Cape. In 1952, as president of the organisation known as Te Kotahitanga Tautoru, he escorted Bishop W. N. Panapa around Taranaki to encourage the development of a Maori inter-church, recreational and cultural centre near New Plymouth. He was to escort Bishop Panapa around Waikato–Maniapoto for a month each year on the latter’s pastoral visits.

In 1952 Huata was also president of the Te Rau o Te Aroha Society, which took its name from the YMCA van that had accompanied the battalion throughout the Italian campaign. In the later 1950s he organised church festivals, held débutante balls and got Bishop J. T. Holland to apologise to Koroki at the coronation celebrations for the past behaviour of Pakeha and the church. He organised hui and church conventions, including a national hui at Ngaruawahia in 1962 attended by around 5,000 people.

Huata set up He Toa Takitini Art and Craft and Goodwill Association, a non-sectarian and non-political association intended to promote Maori arts and crafts and goodwill; its concert party travelled to marae around the country. In 1966 He Toa Takitini, led by Huata and the Rotorua guide John Smith, toured Australia. A spin-off organisation, also founded by Huata, was He Toa Takitini Credit Union. Wi’s relations with the King movement became very strong: he was a member of both Koroki’s and Te Atairangikaahu’s councils. He played a major role at the latter’s coronation, blessing and anointing her, and was later appointed her chaplain.

Huata’s work was not confined to his Waikato–Maniapoto parish. He presided over the organising committee for the dominion conference of the Maori Women’s Welfare League in 1961; he took part in 1968 in the consecration of Manu Bennett as bishop of Aotearoa; and from the 1970s he promoted Moral Re-armament amongst Maori: in September 1971 he attended the 25th anniversary conference of the movement in Caux, Switzerland, and later their 1977 conference. His promotion of the movement resulted in Te Atairangikaahu giving land in Hamilton for a non-tribal, pan-ethnic marae called Kirikiriroa.

In 1972 Huata accompanied 26 Maori Battalion veterans to Mainz, Germany, to attend a reunion of the Afrika Korps. The following year he suffered a stroke that resulted in a degree of blindness and the church decided to return him to Wairoa. He was escorted to Takitimu, the important Ngati Kahungunu house there, by Dame Te Atairangikaahu, a brass band and a party of 200 well-wishers. In Wairoa he joined his brother Aussie and Sir Turi Carroll in founding Nga Hokowhitu a Tumatauenga, a national organisation for Maori returned servicemen. He also took part in a seminar on Ngati Kahungunu marae protocol, and in 1976 contributed to a set of conference papers published as Kahungunu. In 1979 he helped produce a similar publication, Te reo o Takitimu .

Huata’s greatest concern, however, was to tackle the depressed economic circumstances of the town in an attempt to reduce unemployment and its associated social evils. He started up a Wairoa branch of He Toa Takitini and introduced its credit union. He also used his contacts in the Rotary Club of Wairoa and in Moral Re-armament to help promote local industry. Although he failed to get Philips Electrical Industries to set up in Wairoa, he succeeded with the Bendon Berlei clothing business. He promoted marae-based tourism, but found that tour operators were reluctant to travel so far off the beaten track. In an address to Rotary he voiced his dream of a world in which ‘industry aims to answer the needs of humanity and is not an endless battle for control, profit and wages’.

In 1977 Huata undertook a major overseas tour. After performing baptisms in Sydney, he visited war cemeteries in the Middle East, North Africa, Crete and Italy, and also visited Gallipoli. The group in which he travelled had a private audience with Pope John Paul I. In 1989 Huata embarked on a similar trip with a small group of veteran officers and a film crew from Television New Zealand to make a documentary on the Maori Battalion in the Second World War. When things went wrong – which they often did – Huata calmed and united the group with karakia. His memories, jokes and Italian songs evoked the Italian campaign, and his spiritual counselling ensured the success of the trip and the project. The resulting documentary was screened the night before Anzac Day 1990.

Huata retired in 1982 and moved to Hastings, later settling in Flaxmere. During his retirement he was involved with the Tu Tangata movement of the Department of Maori Affairs, and also in the kohanga reo movement, eventually joining its national trust. He became the spiritual mentor of his son Tama’s project, Te Waka Tapu o Takitimu Trust, which was set up in Hastings. In 1986 he travelled to San Francisco to bless and lift the tapu on the Te Maori art exhibition. He was awarded the Queen’s Service Order in 1984 and made a CBE in 1991.

Wi Te Tau Huata died in Hastings on 20 December 1991, survived by his wife, four sons and four daughters. He lay in state in the porch of Takitimu; mourners at his funeral included the Maori Queen. He was buried in the family cemetery at Ramoto, Wairoa.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Huata, Wiremu Te Tau', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 7 April 2020)