Story: Māori prophetic movements – ngā poropiti

Underlying all Māori prophetic movements was the search for the recovery of Māori authority – te mana motuhake. From Papahurihia to Rua Kēnana, prophetic movements were met with antagonism by land-hungry governments.

Story by Judith Binney
Main image: Pai Mārire followers circle a flag pole

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Prophecy was part of traditional Māori society. It was practised by tohunga and matakite (seers). As Christianity brought by missionaries took hold, prophets combined Māori and Christian traditions.

First prophetic movement

The first prophetic movement was begun by Papahurihia in Northland. He fell out with Anglican missionaries at Rangihoua in 1833. He had a vision of a heaven full of European goods and plenty to eat. Papahurihia held séances in which Te Nākahi (the serpent) spoke in a whistling sigh. He adopted the name Atua Wera (fiery god). Like all the later prophets, Papahurihia wanted Māori to regain their authority. His successor, Hōne Tōia, led a local rebellion against European taxes. Tōia called the faith Whiowhio (the whistling sect).

Te Ua Haumēne

Te Ua adopted the surname Haumēne (wind man) in 1864. Two years earlier he had begun to have visions after a ship was wrecked near his home in south-west Taranaki. He turned away from Wesleyan Christianity and established a new faith called Pai Mārire (good and peaceful).

Rituals focused on niu (news) poles hung with flags. The noises made by flags and ropes carried messages from God. Followers chanted words taken from English such as ‘Taihana!’ (attention). Te Ua sent messengers to other tribes to tell them that Māori righteousness would triumph over the military.

Europeans saw Te Ua’s followers as rebels, and called them Hauhau. This became the name used for all those who rebelled against settler rule.

The second Māori king, Tāwhiao, was baptised by Te Ua, and Pai Mārire became the religion of the Kīngitanga. Another Māori leader who adopted some of Te Ua’s teachings was the south Taranaki leader Tītokowaru.

Te Kooti

Te Kooti Arikirangi was arrested near Gisborne in 1866 and shipped to the Chatham Islands without trial. He became ill and heard the voice of God telling him what to teach his people. He led 300 men, women and child prisoners in a shipboard escape to Whareongaonga, near Gisborne. They stood on the beach with raised hands to thank God and this sign became the name of the church: Ringatū.

Te Kooti and his followers were pursued by soldiers through Te Urewera. He eventually took refuge with Tāwhiao and Rewi Maniapoto in the King Country. In 1883 he was pardoned by the government.

The rituals of the Ringatū Church revolve around the twelfths, commemorating dates on which important events unfolded.

Te Whiti and Tohu

Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi established a community at Parihaka in Taranaki in 1866 with the blessing of Te Ua Haumēne. In the late 1870s they reclaimed confiscated land by ploughing it. As their followers were arrested and imprisoned for this, more people came to take their places. In 1881 troops ransacked Parihaka and took many prisoners. Te Whiti and Tohu were sent to the South Island. Parihaka continued as a centre of non-violent resistance to settler laws. Their followers wore the raukura (an albatross feather) as a symbol of peace.

Rua Kēnana

Rua Kēnana was the most famous prophet to claim to be Te Kooti’s successor, the Mihaia (Messiah). He established a community at Maungapōhatu in Te Urewera. His followers believed in maungarongo (long-abiding peace). In 1916 Rua was arrested by police and two of his followers were shot.

Other prophets and movements

Other 19th century prophets and movements, Te Maihāroa, Ani Kaaro, Te Mahuki, Pāora Te Pōtangaroa and Pao Mīere, took names and teachings from the Bible in their search for tino rangatiratanga (autonomy).

Many prophetic movements saw Māori as Israelites, wandering without their land as Jews did in the Old Testament.

In the 20th century, Te Mātenga Tāmati, Mere Rikiriki, Tahupōtiki Rātana, Haimona Pātete, Wi Raepuku, Hōri Ēnoka, Hoori Keeti and Alexander Phillips all continued the prophetic traditions.

How to cite this page:

Judith Binney, 'Māori prophetic movements – ngā poropiti', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 July 2024)

Story by Judith Binney, published 5 May 2011