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Rātana Celebrations 26 January 2018 (Edition 1/2018)

Rātana Celebrations 26 January 2018 (Edition 1/2018)

On Wednesday, the Māori political year commenced with politicians of all stripes attending Rātana Pā celebrations as per usual, along with iwi and Māori dignitaries. The event is historically the celebration of the birth of the Māori prophet Tahupōtiki Wīremu Rātana, (1873-1939), although as we’ve advised previously the event has grown into a bit of a large political race meet over recent years.  From this political perspective we note:

  • the former Prime-Minister, Bill English – who performed very well last year in the dressage with a 3-minute speech in Te Reo Māori – was well out of favour this year, being publicly rebuked for his recent comments around Te Reo Māori being mainly for Māori to revive (which we will discuss in depth next month); and further in our view his negatively orientated message that the Labour Party is a controlled-obsessed herd breed which threatens Māori rangatiratanga just seemed to lack sufficient lustre and personal authenticity;
  • conversely Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had a simple trot out, easily jumping fences to ensure it was clear that in her view the 1936 partnership between Tahupōtiki Rātana and Michael J Savage was continuous; acknowledging that Government needed to learn about manaakitanga from Māori, and extending policy words further to indicate that the Treaty partnership cannot be said to be achieved until inequalities between Māori and non-Māori are addressed. So a strong performance for this Māori audience, although to be fair given she is less than 100-days into a 1,000 day ride she has had no real impediments to deal with as yet.  This quote sets her agenda for Māori outcomes:[1]

“I’ll tell you it’s my belief we will never have fulfilled our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi or the prophesies of Rātana until we make sure Māori are no longer over-represented in our unemployment statistics, that they are no longer over-represented in our prison population, that they no longer have tamariki living in poverty, and that our rangatahi, particularly those who live in the regions, have every opportunity for a decent job and a decent future.” 

Prime Minister J Ardern, 24 January 2018.  

A bit more about T.W. Rātana and the Rātana Movement

Mr Rātana began his spiritual mission after a vision / experience he had in November 1918, in which the Holy Spirit visited him, and instructed him to focus on faith in God, to achieve spiritual and physical healing.  This occurred in very tough times; whilst the Māori population was suffering severely from the Influenza epidemic, and just before the end of World War One.  (It is this vision that the Church is now celebrating the 100 year anniversary of.)

The Rātana faith healing movement grew overtime, and the Church established their temple at Rātana Pā in 1920.  Although the Rātana Church has always been pro-Māori wellbeing, it was originally against Māori historic religious practices – tōhunga in particular – which was seen as a form of witchcraft which Māori needed to repent from.  (Despite that stance the Rātana Church was rejected by other Christian-centred churches, such as the Anglican Church.)

The Rātana movement also quickly became political, and began a campaign for the legal ratification of the Treaty of Waitangi.   It is reported 30,000 Māori signed the petition, i.e. the majority of Māori adults at that time.  In 1924 Rātana and a group of followers set out for England to meet with King George IV, to discuss matters with him, including land confiscations, and to present their petition.  (He also took a kapa haka group with him to perform and raise money to cover costs.)  But the New Zealand Government blocked any such meeting with the King.  The group also tried, but were unsuccessful in presenting their concerns to the League of Nations in Geneva.  However all was not in vain, as in response to the petition in 1926 the first Commission of Inquiry into the confiscating of Māori land was established (the Sim Commission).

Further notwithstanding his initial treatment by politicians, in 1928 Mr Rātana foresaw that the movement would gain a hold of all four Māori parliamentary seats, and six years later in 1936 an agreement to achieve this was reached with Michael J Savage.  Then in 1943 – fifteen years after that vision/goal was established – the movement did finally gain all Māori Parliament seats; (which of course was the only Māori representation in Parliament, as Māori were prohibited from standing in general seats.)  However Mr T.W Rātana never saw that in the flesh, as he had departed for the spiritual realm in 1939.[2]

[1] By 1,000 days we mean roughly the 3-year election cycle.

[2] There are many references for Rātana information, however for this article we have relied largely on Te Ara – The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, New Zealand History (.Govt.NZ), and Wikipedia.

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