Story: Ngā hāhi – Māori and Christian denominations

Page 1. Anglican Church

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Spreading Christianity

Te Hahi Mihinare – the Māori name for the Anglican Church, meaning ‘the missionary church’ – had its beginnings in 1814 when the young Ngāpuhi chief Ruatara brought Samuel Marsden and other members of the Anglican Church Missionary Society to Oihi in the Bay of Islands. From there much of the work of spreading Christianity was carried out by Māori teachers and evangelists such as Piripi Taumata-ā-Kura in Ngāti Porou and Īhāia Te Ahu in Te Arawa. By 1853 there were 440 of these ‘native agents’ across the country, working alongside 23 Pākehā missionaries.

Ngā Hīnota o Waiapu

The first four hīnota (synods, or annual conferences) of the newly formed Anglican Diocese of Waiapu, on the North Island’s East Coast, from 1861 to 1865 were held entirely in the Māori language, with a mainly Māori membership. Some of those present later became major figures in the politics of the region, including Rāpata Wahawaha, who led Ngāti Porou’s military efforts, Wī Pere, later MP for Eastern Māori, and Ānaru Mātete, who converted to the Pai Mārire religion and become an armed follower of Te Kooti.


Building the church

George Augustus Selwyn, the first Bishop of New Zealand, resisted ordaining Māori for some years. However, in 1853 Rota Waitoa (Ngāti Raukawa) was ordained the first Māori deacon, and was made a priest in 1860. The 1857 constitution that founded the dioceses did not include Māori, although there were initial attempts at power sharing within the church, such as the first four Waiapu diocesan synods, which were conducted entirely in the Māori language.

After the New Zealand wars Māori were relegated to a less important role in the church, as they were in other areas of New Zealand society. In this period Māori struggled to be involved in decision making in the wider church. In 1891 they called unsuccessfully for prayers to the Māori King to be included in the Anglican Prayer Book.

Māori schools

Māori church schools have been a backbone of the national educational system since its establishment. All major denominations had schools that produced leadership for both church and Māoridom. The Young Maori Party which grew out of the Anglican school Te Aute College, and included men such as Apirana Ngata and Māui Pōmare, was probably the most famous example of such leaders.

A new generation

By the turn of the century a new generation of Māori leaders were pushing Māori and the Anglican Church in a new direction. They included Apirana Ngata, who was strongly shaped by the church as a student at Te Aute College, one of two church schools set up for Māori boys. Ngata led the call for a Māori bishop and, despite opposition from some non-Maori Anglicans, in 1928 Frederick Augustus Bennett from Te Arawa was ordained as the first Pihopa o Aotearoa, or Bishop of Aotearoa. This position was at first funded by iwi dairying schemes.

Urban developments

After the Second World War the Māori Anglican Church faced significant challenges as Māori moved to the cities in large numbers. New urban communities were established, such as Tātai Hono marae in Auckland under Kīngi Matutaera Īhaka. Minita-a-iwi, or iwi-appointed volunteer ministers, gave the church a more Māori and more community-focused character.

A three-tikanga church

The struggle for Māori to assert themselves in society and in the wider church culminated in a new constitution – Te Pouhere – which came into effect in 1992. This set up three tikanga, or cultural streams – for Pākehā, Māori and Pacific peoples. Under this new system Māori had full autonomy within the church to establish bishops and run the church as they saw fit, as well as power-sharing at a provincial level. All Anglican priests received training in the Māori language. In 2013 Māori made up 13% of Anglican Church members.

How to cite this page:

Hirini Kaa, 'Ngā hāhi – Māori and Christian denominations - Anglican Church', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 April 2024)

Story by Hirini Kaa, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Mar 2017