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Story: Hura, Maata Te Reo

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Hura, Maata Te Reo


Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Hine and Te Āti Awa; Rātana leader

This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000. It was updated in March, 2010. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Maata (Martha) Rātana, later better known as Te Reo T. W. R. Hura, was one of seven children of Te Urumanaao Ngāpaki and her husband, Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana, who was to found the Rātana church. She was born on 16 January 1904 in the homestead then called Ōrākeinui on the Waipū block, which later became part of the settlement known as Rātana pā. Her father’s iwi and hapū included Ngāti Rangiwaho and Nga Wairiki (two hapū of Ngāti Apa), Ngā Rauru and Ngāti Hine of Whanganui. Her mother was of various Whanganui hapū and of Te Āti Awa. Maata was fostered by elderly Ngāti Ruanui relatives Wiremu Tūpito Maruera and his wife, Ngauare, at Pātea until she was 14, and then returned to her parents. She was with them on 8 November 1918 when her father experienced the first of the visions that led him to begin his mission of healing and religious renewal.

Involved in the growth of the movement from its outset, Maata was one of the entourage that accompanied the Māngai, as her father became known, on his missions around the country. For a time the Māngai liked each mission to begin with the hymn ‘E Ihu, e te Kīngi Nui’ (Oh Jesus, Great King), and he usually signalled Maata to begin the singing. Very early in his mission he gave her the spiritual name Te Reo-i-hāpai-i-te-himene-e-Ihu-e-Te-Kīngi-Nui (the Voice which raised up the hymn, Oh Jesus, Great King). This name was commonly shortened to Te Reo. Te Reo was good at hockey, playing in the Rātana representative team in competitions in Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Whanganui.

Te Reo became a member of the Rātana Concert Party and accompanied her father on his 1924 and 1925 overseas tours. The troupe of young people performed waiata and dances, both to raise money to defray the costs of the trip, and to attract audiences to hear Rātana’s message. On their way back to New Zealand from the first tour, the party visited Hong Kong and Japan. In Japan their ship was delayed by a maritime strike, and a Japanese Anglican bishop, Nakada Juji, hosted them. A deep friendship developed between the Māngai and the bishop, who performed the ceremony when on 8 November 1925 Te Reo married Huia (Boyce) Whenuaroa of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Kahungunu, one of the Rātana troupe. Bride and groom wore Japanese traditional clothing for the ceremony, and among the gifts was a Japanese ceremonial sword. This union led to accusations that Rātana had ‘married’ the Māori people to the Japanese nation, and that Māori salvation was to come from the Japanese. But Rātana denied this; he was only concerned to spread his enlightenment worldwide. There was to be ongoing contact between Rātana and his Japanese hosts, in which Te Reo and her husband were always involved.

There were no children of this marriage, and later she remarried. Her second husband was Rāpata Tihimatangi Raumati of Te Āti Awa, and she had two children by him. She was to have six children by her third marriage, which took place at Pariroa pā, Pātea, on 23 November 1941, to Kei Rēnata Hura, of Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi. Te Reo led a frugal and hard life with Kei, raising their family on his farm near Pātea, but she was often at Rātana pā. In 1944 she was a speaker at the unveiling of a monument to her father. In 1957 she accompanied the then tumuaki (president) of the Rātana Church of New Zealand, her aunt Puhi-o-Aotea Rātahi, on a pastoral visit to Wairarapa. Te Reo and her family moved to the Rātana homestead at Ōrākeinui in 1967.

Puhi-o-Aotea Rātahi died in April 1966, and in January 1967 Te Reo succeeded her as president of the Rātana church. From around this time she added her father’s initials to her name, and became known as Te Reo T. W. R. Hura. On 24 January the Māori Queen, Te Ātairangikaahu, visited Rātana pā, the following day unveiling a monument to Puhi-o-Aotea. Te Reo and others saw this visit as a confirmation of her father’s prophecy that the King movement and the Rātana church would unite. That year Te Reo and Te Ātairangikaahu confirmed a covenant to unite the Māori people spiritually: the Māori kingship was seen as embodying the mana of the Māori people, while the president of the Rātana church was also president of the new spiritual union, and together they would defend Māoritanga under the over-arching authority of the British monarch. In practice this union meant enhanced co-operation between Rātana pa and Ngāruawāhia: Te Ātairangikaahu and her party were often guests on the great occasions at Rātana pā, and the president and the various Rātana bands played a part in the anniversaries of the Māori Queen’s coronation at Ngāruawāhia. By the late 1980s it had become the practice for the two leaders to act jointly as patrons of important new Māori initiatives.

Te Reo was not fully accepted by all factions at Rātana for some years after her appointment. She was a committed Christian, and insisted that the Rātana movement embrace all Christian sects rather than just the Rātana church. But as her presidency continued, Te Reo, her younger sister Piki-te-ora and two other women, Hūhana Toka and Mariana Marsh, became the only survivors of those who had accompanied the Māngai on his missions. They were thus the greatest authorities on his teaching, and Te Reo was eventually held in reverence and affection by the whole movement.

Late in 1977 Te Reo called together interested people at Rātana pā and set up a special committee to staff the church’s magazine, Te Whetū Mārama o Te Kotahitanga. Te Reo occasionally reintroduced the names of ‘Jesus’ and ‘the Christ’ (dropped by the Māngai in favour of Tama (the Son) in his later years) in homilies and in her teaching. Almost her last act was to endorse the paper as carrying the only written record of many of the teachings of the Māngai.

During Te Reo’s term the great work of renewing the buildings at Rātana pā became a central issue. From 1975 work was concentrated on the rebuilding of the Manuao (Man o’ War). This building, opened in 1938, had been the Māngai’s last gift to his people. A series of promotional tours through the various Rātana districts from April 1979 raised more than $750,000 for its restoration. Te Reo travelled as far as Invercargill and Ahipara with some of the five major Rātana bands for months on end, and more itineraries were arranged for 1980, even though she was in her mid 70s.

By November 1982 the Manuao had been built and paid for in full, and Te Reo and the church authorities turned to renovating the temple, a struggle that was to last through most of the 1980s. Although similar tours were arranged, Te Reo could not always take part. Her husband, Rēnata, died in 1981, and in 1984 her sister Piki-te-ora, the head of the Āwhina (the major women’s organisation of the Rātana movement) and her companion in almost all her church work, also died. She herself was very ill that year.

Despite her advancing age, Te Reo Hura continued to take an active role in the Rātana movement, presiding over hui whakapumau (synods) and ceremonies on 8 November and 25 January each year, and promoting the ideals of kotahitanga (Māori unity) until her death in Wanganui Hospital on 25 September 1991, aged 87. She was survived by seven children, and was buried at Rātana pā.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Hura, Maata Te Reo', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000, updated March, 2010. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5h44/hura-maata-te-reo (accessed 13 July 2024)