Story: Ngā hāhi – Māori and Christian denominations

Page 7. Ringatū and Rātana

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The Ringatū movement

Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki was a prophet who came to prominence after escaping from the Chatham Islands (Rēkohu), where he had been imprisoned by the Crown. During his imprisonment he believed he was instructed by God and told to teach the people. He escaped in 1868 by capturing a supply ship, the Rifleman, and took along 300 fellow prisoners (including women and children). When they arrived back on mainland New Zealand they raised their right hands in thanksgiving to God, which is the origin of the name Ringatū (the upraised hand).

Founding Ringatū

In 1875 Te Kooti turned the movement into a church. Rather than having church buildings, Ringatū services are held at marae. Ministers are known as tohunga. In 1915 Ringatū tohunga were gazetted as ministers under the Marriage Act. In 1928 a formal constitution for the church was registered under the Incorporated Societies Act. Initially, the leader of the church was known as a bishop, but this later became president. At a large gathering held at Ruatoki in 1938, the decision was made to call the head of the church the Poutikanga. In 2018 there were  more than 10,000 Ringatū adherents.

Important Ringatū days

The sabbath is observed by Ringatū on the Saturday, and gatherings are held on the 12th day of the month. Additionally, there are four important days, or ra, on the Ringatū calendar, which are known as ngā pou o te tau (the pillars of the year). They are 1 January, 1 June, 1 July, and 1 November. The importance of 1 January originates from Exodus 40:2, which makes reference to observing the first day of the first month. 1 July marks the beginning of the seventh month, the ‘sabbath of the sabbath’. Te huamata, the planting rite, is on 1 June, while te pure, the harvesting rite, is held on 1 November (or 1 December in some areas).

Te Haahi Rātana – the Rātana Church

The founder of the Rātana Church

The leader of the Rātana Church, Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana, was born in 1873 and became prominent as a spiritual leader and faith healer. Rātana was to have a series of visions which prompted him to unite Māori under God and turn away from old superstitions. Under his leadership, a small town began to emerge in the 1920s on the Rātana farm, east of Whanganui, which would become known as Rātana . Initially, Rātana encouraged his followers to continue to attend their own churches. However, due to theological differences Rātana eventually decided to form his own church.

The founding and spread of the church

The creed of faith for the Rātana Church was drawn up in 1925, and Te Haahi Rātana was registered as a separate church that same year. Rātana is seen as the māngai (mouthpiece). The Rātana Church has a five-pointed star as its main tohu (symbol). The belief systems of the church include the Christian trinity; Matua, Tama and Wairua Tapu (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), ngā Anahera Pono (the faithful angels) and te Māngai (the mouthpiece).

The Temepara (temple) of the church, with its distinctive twin bell towers, was opened in 1928. A number of other Rātana churches, in the same style, have been since built around the country. In 2018 the Rātana Church was the largest Māori denomination in New Zealand, with more than 40,000 adherents.

How to cite this page:

Hirini Kaa, 'Ngā hāhi – Māori and Christian denominations - Ringatū and Rātana', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 6 March 2024)

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