Story: Māori prophetic movements – ngā poropiti

Page 3. Te Kooti – Ringatū

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Te Kooti founds Ringatū

A different faith challenging Pai Mārire emerged in the mid-1860s. It became known as Ringatū (the upraised hand) and was founded by Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki on Chatham Island (Wharekauri), during his captivity there between 1866 and 1868. Ringatū is still an established faith, with seven regional branches, each with different names. The formally registered church is the Hāhi Ringatū.

Vision from God

In November 1865 Te Kooti was arrested as a spy, but discharged for lack of evidence, during the government siege of Waerenga-a-hika , near Gisborne. In May 1866 he was arbitrarily rearrested, and sent into exile on the Chatham Islands without the trial that he asked for. There, in February 1867, he fell ill with tubercular fever. In his diary (which has survived) Te Kooti described how the voice of God spoke to him and instructed him to teach the people. On 18 June 1867 he displayed a sign to the prisoners that he had been chosen by God: a lighted flame (phosphorus) on his hand that did not burn him.

Escape from Chathams

Subsequently Te Kooti led the 300 political prisoners on the island (including 64 women and 71 children) in their dramatic escape in July 1868. Capturing the supply ship Rifleman, they sailed to Whareongaonga, a small cove south of Gisborne, and, landing safely, they raised their right hands to God in thanksgiving. This gesture gave the religion its name. Military pursuit of Te Kooti and the whakarau (the former prisoners) intensified their faith. Te Kooti shaped the religion for resistance and endurance; later he adapted it to the times of peace.

Developing the faith

Driven from the Urewera in 1872, Te Kooti took sanctuary with Tāwhiao, the Māori king, and Rewi Maniapoto in the King Country. There he developed the rituals and sacred days of the faith. Like Te Papahurihia, he elected Saturday as the sabbath, following Jewish teachings. In 1885 he set aside the twelfth as the sacred day of the month, to remember 12 May 1868, when the covenants of the faith were fully revealed to him on Wharekauri; the safe landing of the whakarau on 12 July 1868 at Whareongaonga; and 12 February 1883, when Te Kooti met Native Minister John Bryce. Bryce came to greet Te Kooti, to indicate publically that he was to be included in the government’s general amnesty, due to come into force the next day. The twelfths also recall other scriptural references, including the 12 tribes of Israel.

Earlier, in 1875–76, Te Kooti set aside the firsts of January and July as the twin pillars of the religious year. The first of January celebrates the Kapenga (Passover) of the Children of Israel; the first of July celebrates the cycle of renewal, or coming from death at the beginning of spring. In 1879 he added the first of June and December, which are known respectively as the huamata and the pure: the planting, and first fruits, of the harvest. These four Rā (days) are the sustaining pillars of the Ringatū cyclical year.

Te Kooti pardoned

Once pardoned and ostensibly free to travel, Te Kooti visited former friends and former enemies, leaving songs and sayings for each place. Many were warnings that the people should be watchful, lest they lose all but their meeting houses. Other predictions spoke of a successor, one greater than he, who would complete his work: a Messiah for his times. Te Kooti set quests and riddles that, when achieved, would reveal this person. His intention was to keep the people active, agile and alert to ever-changing circumstances. He taught the faithful to look to God for the recovery of their lost land, Canaan. He stressed that the path to choose was the law: only the law could be pitched against the law. Arbitrarily arrested in 1889 for attempting to return home to Gisborne, he did not modify this stance; he died in 1893 struggling to mediate with the government on behalf of Tūhoe.

How to cite this page:

Judith Binney, 'Māori prophetic movements – ngā poropiti - Te Kooti – Ringatū', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 April 2024)

Story by Judith Binney, published 5 May 2011