Last week, Ringatū faithful gathered at Rangiwaho Marae to mark the 150th anniversary of the faith.
As they reflected on their history with prayer and hīmene chanted in a traditional Māori style, Native Affairs met Whitiaua Ropitini who represents Ringatū of the new millennium.
Whitiaua was raised by his grandmother in Ruatāhuna where the meeting house Te Whai a te Motu recalls the Crown’s pursuit of Te Kooti.
Prayer was a part of daily life, and Whitiaua’s childhood was spent attending lengthy services on the 11th evening, and 12th day of every month.
Services are led by tohunga in plain clothing, and are conducted totally in te reo Māori, often from memory.
“There were times I’d get hōha because the services are so long and all we’d do was karakia. But I didn’t mind in the end because this was my kuia’s world."
Falling attendance and membership, especially amongst younger Ringatū, represents a challenge, but is not cause for alarm, according to Ropitini.
The live-streaming of the official commemorative event from the remote Rangiwaho Marae exemplifies church’s willingness to adapt and reach its membership with modern technology.
The poutikanga or spiritual advisor for the church is 87-year-old Te Aitangi-ā-Mahaki kaumātua Wirangi Pera.
When asked about a possible successor, Pera insists that is a matter for God.
His only condition is that the next poutikanga unify the members, particularly within the Tairāwhiti region.
He singles out Te Whānau-a-Apanui, which has Ringatū faith-based kura, as a model for other parishes to consider.
Ringatū stalwart, artist and pioneering broadcaster Hare Williams says the church was born from resistance and he is confident the church will mark a 200th anniversary in 2068.
“We have a generation of young people who can operate in both Māori and Pākehā worlds. I have no concerns for the future of the Ringatū Church.