Story: Ngāti Apa

Page 4. Spiritual and political leadership

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By the late 19th century the hopelessness felt by Ngāti Apa because of the effects of European settlement was being experienced by tribes throughout the country. Poverty and associated illness, and demoralisation resulted in declining fertility rates and a falling Māori population.

Te Hāhi o te Wairua Tapu

About this time a new force in Māori leadership emerged in Rangitīkei. In the early 1900s a Ngāti Apa woman, Mere Rikiriki, established a spiritual centre at Parewanui. Based on Christian scripture, Te Hāhi o te Wairua Tapu (the Church of the Holy Spirit) emphasised the unity of Māori under God and the Treaty of Waitangi. Thousands from tribes throughout New Zealand visited Parewanui to listen to Mere Rikiriki’s teachings and to receive and witness healings.


Mere Rikiriki mentored and taught several people. One was Hōri Ēnoka, also known as Māreikura, founder of the Māramatanga movement, which blended Māori custom and Catholic beliefs. The movement remains vigorous today.

Another member of Ngāti Apa, Ngāpiki Hākaraia, settled among the Ngā Rauru tribe in Kai Iwi (just north of Whanganui), where she led the movement.


The most famous spiritual leader to whom Mere Rikiriki gave guidance was her nephew, Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana. Although raised in Rangitīkei, Rātana founded his religious movement at Ngā Wairiki. In 1918, at his home (where Rātana now stands) he experienced a vision in which he learned he was to become a mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit. He began to show gifts of prophecy and the ability to heal through prayer. Over the next three years his reputation as a healer spread among Māori and Europeans. Thousands visited his farm, which became known as Rātana pā.

In the early 1920s Rātana travelled throughout the country spreading his teachings. The movement gained momentum, resulting in the establishment of the Rātana Church in 1925. It gradually took on a political dimension, based on upholding the Treaty of Waitangi. After the election of two Rātana independent candidates, an agreement was forged between T. W. Rātana and Labour leader Michael Joseph Savage in the early 1930s. By 1943 Rātana candidates held all four Māori seats in Parliament.

In the 21st century the Rātana Church continues to have widespread support amongst Māori, and remains a political force.

A political tradition

Tariana Turia is one of the best known and most respected Māori politicians. Although she is often associated with Whanganui tribes, Tariana’s roots are firmly in Ngāti Apa. In May 2004 she resigned as a Labour MP and minister, in support of Māori claims to ownership of New Zealand’s seabed and foreshore. In the same year she became co-leader of the Māori Party.

Political organisation

In 1989 Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Apa was established as a forum for the hapū (sub-tribes) of Ngāti Apa. One of the organisation’s major projects is health education. In addition, their research unit, Te Rōpū Rangahau o Ngāti Apa, has been responsible for preparing Treaty of Waitangi claims on behalf of the tribe.

The rūnanga produces a bi-monthly newsletter to keep Ngāti Apa people in touch with tribal events and issues. Its title, Te Tāpikitanga o Apa (the rising up of Apa) refers to the tribal saying about their ancestor Apa-hāpai-taketake, the ‘destroyer who rises before the break of dawn’. The notion of rising up is particularly appropriate for a tribe who are in the process of recovering their unity and resources.

The Ngāti Apa (North Island) Deed of Settlement of historic treaty claims was signed on 8 October 2008. With a financial value of approximately $20 million, this settlement included a right of first refusal to buy RNZAF Base Ohakea, the Bulls Police Station, Marton Police Station residence, and Turakina and Whangaehu schools, if these became surplus to Crown requirements. Twelve sites of significance to Ngāti Apa, totalling 214 hectares, were transferred to the tribe’s ownership.

How to cite this page:

Grant Huwyler, 'Ngāti Apa - Spiritual and political leadership', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 June 2022)

Story by Grant Huwyler, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017