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Te Ua Haumene – Story of a Religion

by Virginia Winder  

Te Whiti O Rongomai: Led the passive resistance movement. Image: PHO2003-841
Te Whiti O Rongomai: Led the passive resistance movement. Image: PHO2003-841

Tags for this Story

Maori, Pacifism

The reverberating rhythm of unified voices rumbles from virgin bush.

‘Koterani, teihana!

Karaiti titi Kai.

Kopere, teihana!

Rire, rire, hau!’

In a clearing, Maori warriors are chanting around a niu or prayer stick. They raise their right hands above their heads and the earth-thumping beat of their feet causes nearby ferns to quiver. A cone-shaped mountain watches.

‘Koterani, teihana!

Karaiti titi Kai.

Kopere, teihana!

Rire, rire, hau!’

This is the sound made by followers of the Pai Marire, also known as the Hauhau movement. The guttural chant used to send shivers down the spines of settlers and soldiers in Taranaki during the mid-1800s.

‘Koterani, teihana!

Karaiti titi Kai.

Kopere, teihana!

Rire, rire, hau!’

Taranaki historian Vanessa Sturmey says the Pakeha were scathing of the chant. "The people heard them and said they sounded like a lot of dogs barking."

The British military and the white settlers believed the Hauhau warriors were warmongers, but this was never the vision of Pai Marire founder Te Ua Haumene.

Some historians, but not all, see Te Ua as the forefather of Taranaki's pacifism movement, made famous by Parihaka prophets Te Whiti O Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi.

Te Ua was the leader of the first organised expression of an independent Maori Christianity, a religion born from a vision and mistrust of missionaries. "They preached one thing and did another," says Ms Sturmey, who has researched Taranaki's history for Waitangi Tribunal hearings.

"Most of the early Christian evangelists appear to have fondly imagined that their teachings could quickly transform the heathen Maori into God-fearing, industrious, native workers," she wrote.

"The hypocrisy and double standards, which were displayed by these 'men of cloth', however, caused a number of Maori to turn away from the church and instead, develop their own uniquely Maori approach to religion and spiritual salvation."

One of the most influential was Te Ua's faith.

Of Taranaki and Te Atiawa descent, Te Ua was born in Waiaua, South Taranaki, during the early 1820s. His father, called Tutawake, died shortly after his son was born.

In 1826, the young boy and his mother, Paihaka, were captured in a Waikato raid. They were taken about 200km north to the west coast harbour of Kawhia, where Te Ua spent most of his childhood.

There, his captors taught him to read and write in Maori, and Te Ua also became familiar with the Bible.

"He began an extensive study of the Bible and Christian philosophy under the Reverend John Whiteley, and was eventually baptised by him, taking the name Horopapera to symbolise his conversion to the new faith," writes Ms Sturmey.

During the 1830s, when the musket wars and inter-tribal conflicts came to an end, many chiefs freed slaves and captives taken during the fighting, including Te Ua.

He returned to Taranaki, where he worked with the Wesleyan missionaries in a newly established mission station at Waimate. The young man continued his studies and became a kind of lay-preacher, spreading the word of gospel throughout the district.

But the social climate was changing, with more and more settlers arriving and putting pressure on Maori for land. "In an effort to stem to the tide, an anti-land selling movement developed in South Taranaki, and Te Ua began to associate closely with many of its leaders," Ms Sturmey writes.

He was also a supporter of the Maori King movement, and in 1860 he fought against the Government. He also acted as chaplain to the Maori soldiers.

On 1 September 1862, Te Ua faced an inner battle between his Christian beliefs and the Kingite law. That was the day, the Lord Worsley smashed into the Opunake coast with 66 European passengers onboard. 
The Kingite law said enemy trespassers should be punishable by death, but that was against the Christian belief in love. Te Ua spoke in favour of showing compassion to the castaways and, in the end, the passengers and crew were hosted by Maori and delivered safely to New Plymouth.

About the same time, Te Ua made peace with himself.

On 5 September, he had a vision in which the archangel Gabriel announced that the last days described in the Revelation of St John were at hand. Te Ua was also told that he was chosen by God as his prophet and commanded him to cast off the yoke of the Pakeha. Gabriel said God also promised to restore the birthright of the Maori people in New Zealand and this would come about after a great day of deliverance in which the unrighteous would perish.

Te Ua then went out to preach the word of God.

In the beginning, many people saw Te Ua as a madman, but after time they began to see the sense of his preaching and, in just three months, he had established the church of Pai Marire.

Instead of a building, Te Ua chose a niu as the physical focus of the religion. The first one was made from the mast of the Lord Worsley shipwreck.

The guiding principles of Pai Marire were Christianity, but without the double-dealing and errors Maori could see in the missionaries' preaching.

Te Ua's goal was to create a peaceful and righteous society in New Zealand, and most of his gospel was modeled on the parables of Jesus.

He called his church Hauhau because Te Hau, the spirit of God in the image of wind, carried the niu (news), or prophecy, to the faithful. In line with the religion, Te Ua changed his name from Horopapera to Haumene, which means "wind man".

His faith spread swiftly within Maoridom, and even beyond Taranaki.

Just how powerful Te Ua and his beliefs became, is described in James Cowan's book, The Adventures of Kimble Bent. "Te Ua had succeeded in imbuing his fanatic disciples with an unquestioning Moslem-like faith in the potency of the Hauhau cult and its accompanying charms and magic formulae," Cowan originally wrote in 1906.

Te Ua assured his followers that when they faced bullets of the white soldiers, they would be turned aside in flight, ‘If they but raised their right hands as if warding the ball off, at the same time repeating the words 'Hapa! Pai marire!' (Pass over me! Righteousness and peace!)’

As would be expected, many Hauhau fell to the rifles of British foes.

Cowan says Te Ua had an explanation for this.
"...if the Pakeha bullet refused to be waved aside and insisted on entering the body of a 'righteous and peaceful' son of the faith, it was because the stricken man had lost faith in the karakia - the ritual - and, very properly, suffered for his unbelief", wrote the historian.

While Te Ua continued his call to lay down arms in the face of foes, the Hauhau began to be seen as a warring religion.

There were two major reasons for this misconception. The first relates to a violent ambush of a Taranaki military patrol on 6 April 1864. The heads of the soldiers killed in the Ahuahu attack were taken and preserved in the traditional Maori manner. Te Ua was made custodian of the heads, which he believed were a symbol of the conquest of evil by righteousness.

This was widely misrepresented as a call to war, and Pai Marire gained a reputation as a warlike cult.

"Apparently, Te Ua was bitterly disappointed that his teachings were being distorted to embrace violent means," Ms Sturmey says.

The second reason for the belief in the Hauhau faith's aggressive tactics can be blamed on one of Te Ua's ‘disciples’ - Kereopa Te Rau, from Te Arawa near Rotorua.
"He was supportive of the passive resistance until his wife and daughter were burnt to death in Rangiaowhio," Ms Sturmey says of Kereopa.

Rangiaowhio was meant to be neutral ground and a sanctuary for Maori women and children during the Waikato wars.  Kereopa's family had gone to a tangi there, and on a Sunday, the British troops had attacked. They torched the safe haven and even burned down the church, where many women and children, including Kereopa's loved ones, had taken refuge. 

Kereopa became vengeful after this. When he and fellow disciple Patara Raukatauri took the Hauhau faith to Opotiki and the East Coast, it is believed Kereopa instigated the ritual killing of missionary Carl Sylvius Volkner on 2 March 1865.

Although Volkner was hung from a willow tree near his church by members of his congregation, it was Kereopa's atrocious acts that outraged Europeans.

After the hanging, Volkner's body was decapitated and Kereopa swallowed the eyes, calling one Parliament and the other Queen and the British law.

"Te Ua's new religion was condemned as a fanatical, cruel and bloodthirsty cult and the term 'Hau Hau' was adopted as a term to describe any Maori who opposed the Government," Sturmey says.

In the face of this misconception, Te Ua continued to preach peace. He was so convinced of the futility of further military resistance, that he and some of his Ngati Ruanui followers began peace talks with Government official Robert Parris.

These talks failed, but Te Ua continued to push for peace and Maori sovereignty over land that had not been sold.
He also began planning for the future, by strengthening the Hauhau organisation.
On 24 and 25 December 1865, a meeting was held to consecrate 12 new workers and three new prophets. The latter, Te Whiti o Rongomai III, Tohu Kakahi and Taikomako, all emerged as future leaders.

At the beginning of 1866, the Government mounted a fierce military campaign to claim land and destroy the Taranaki Maori resistance.

"In January, Te Ua signed a declaration of allegiance to the Crown, and was promised that he and his followers would be unmolested if they formally surrendered to the proper authorities," Ms Sturmey writes.

On 2 February 1866, Te Ua went to the Opunake military camp and offered his submission to Major General Trevor Chute. As soon as Te Ua entered the camp, he was arrested and taken into custody.

"In a scene reminiscent of the old Roman victory parades, the Governor, George Grey, then dragged the prophet on a triumphal progress around the North Island to demonstrate the failure of the so-called Hauhau resistance."

The idea was to "break his mana and make him look stupid, look bad to his own people", she says.

"It seemed to have worked. He came back to South Taranaki and he died six months later. It sounds like he just lost the will to live. That's what the old people said down home, he didn't want to live when he came back."

Ms Sturmey believes Te Ua was a man before his time. "To me, I saw him as a visionary more than anything else, partly because he was looking past the situation they had at the time with Pakeha and the land issues.

"He saw that if you followed a path and had faith in the movement and the old ways that things would come right. What he wanted to do was adapt the old ways to fit the new; throw away the things that divided the people and hold on to the things that would keep the people and the land together."

Te Ua tried and failed.

When the peace-loving prophet died in October 1866, his religion all but died with him. Although the Hauhau faith faded away, Te Ua's pacifist beliefs lived on. The great leader, Titokowaru, along with Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi from Parihaka, took the seeds of non-violence and sowed them.

 First published 27 May 2003




Toki Puonamu belonging to Te Hapimana Tauke who joined the Pai Marire movement.


An essay written from the unknown author's dream. It occurred the night before the Ahuahu skirmish when Captain Thomas Lloyd and five of his men killed and beheaded.


Puke Ariki is not responsible for the content of these external websites.
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography - Search for detailed biographies of Te Ua Haumene, Te Whiti and Tohu
Flags used during the New Zealand Wars - Ministry of Culture and Heitage site with details of flages used by The Pai Marire movement



Lord Worsley Runs Into Troubled Times

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