Reflections on Waitangi

February 4, 2018

Isaiah 42 vs 1-9; Ephesians 2 vs 13-18; Luke 2 vs9-14

Waitangi day is near and today’s readings reflect this.

Isaiah speaks of a covenant of the people; and in Ephesians we hear of the time when both are made one and a wall of partition is broken down because: “…in his flesh he has abolished our enmity”.

It’s as if the Colonial Secretary Lord Normanby [in London] and then Governor Hobson, his secretary James Freeman and the Resident James Busby, as they prepare the text of the Treaty are also reading the letter to the Ephesians – like a guide book.

Where the letter declares Jew and Gentile to be reconciled in Christ, Maori and European are similarly reconciled as the translated Treaty is signed and Hobson asserts to European and Maori alike: “We are now one people: He iwi tahi tatou.”

Several decades later it seems possible the Taranaki men, returning from exile in Te Waipounamu / South Island found encouragement too in Paul’s reconciling words. Where Ephesians speaks of “abolishing enmity” those returning prisoners decide to build a church, calling it “The annihilation of enmity between Pakeha and Maori”.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi was at one stage very nearly lost; before it became a foundation for us all; during a time when vermin and damp gave it those famous frayed edges. Yet the spirit in which the signatures were made actually strengthened in the minds of 100 Northern Chiefs who in 1860 conferred with the colonial government at Kohimarama’s Melanesian Mission. It was August, just a few months after the Land Wars had begun in Taranaki.

The Crown, represented by Governor Gore Browne, called this meeting on the shores of the Waitemata Harbour hoping to build local resistance to the newly-formed King Movement, centred not far to the South in the Waikato. He was fearful that the war in Taranaki was going to spread to other districts. So, both parties were asked to reaffirm their commitment to the Treaty.

To the chiefs who accepted the Crown’s invitation to come to Kohimarama, Te Tiriti had, in the 20 years since its signing, become much more than a physical document. They declared it was to them a covenant; holding sacred all that they treasured: land, forests and fisheries, which they now saw as being under divine protection.

Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus spoke of a division between Jews like himself and his Gentile brothers and sisters; and declares that in Christ’s followers this ancient division is now gone, replaced by an enduring peace.

Yet, in Taranaki war had begun after the governor wrongly provoked a division: between Settlers and Iwi!

We will hear more of this as we visit Waitara and other sites of inter-racial hostility this afternoon. But despite the damage it suffered –both physical and spiritual – the Treaty was not lost. Rather it was, and still is, held safe in the hearts of all those who live for peace and with good will to each other.

So, how are we to understand what today’s gospel reading from Luke Chapter 2 is telling us?

The reconciling love promised by this gospel-reading was tested here in our Peace Province when the conflicts of the 1860s tore at the great promise of the Treaty. Yet it was also in Taranaki that enemy-love would flower in the decades following those wars.

King Tawhiao spoke of : “Nga manu e rua” the two birds of the West: Tohu and Te Whiti.

In the North chief Kawiti refers to another who is coming to lead us; and from the East Te Kooti came saying a flower will be seen in the Whangaehu Valley [just South of Whanganui]. Finally, in Taranaki itself, the prophetess Mere Rikiriki speaks of a man carrying two books: the Bible in his right hand and Te Tiriti o Waitangi in his left; saying to us all: “Listen to him”.

This was Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana; born as predicted near Whanganui. Now, on his birthday each January 25th there is a huge gathering on the land around his farmhouse. Annie and I spent two days camped in one of the fields last month, joining in the reunion of his followers. We were amongst thousands of familie who come there each year.

We have extended family from Auckland who have been setting up their tent at Ratana for so many years that each day we would join them at their prime camping spot, to watch crowds of visitors arrive and listen to the speeches from all the major political parties.

I sat on a chair beside the road, with other older folk as our new Prime Minister walked by and I was surprised to find myself calling out a grandfatherly “Hello Dear”. To me she looked , just extraordinarily young. However, it seems she understands both the significance of Ratana and of the Treaty of Waitangi, which Ratana championed.

This year is the centenary of the Holy Spirit’s calling of Ratana, on the porch of that house from where, last month, all of the political speeches were graciously answered.

Ratana’s was a dramatic calling, witnessed by his awe-struck family. It would lead to an extraordinary mission of preaching and healing which has now been described by Keith Newman in his biography: “Ratana the Prophet”.

The historical connections between all the major denominations closely include Ratana.

I think I cannot do better then , than to finish by quoting today’s gospel reading which is really the mission-statement for Jesus and for all the prophetic leaders who would follow his teachings:

“Kororia ki Te Atua I runga rawa; Maungarongo ki te whenua; Whakaaro pai ki te tangata.”

“Glory to God in the highest: Peace on earth; and goodwill to all people”




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