Piripi Taumata-a-Kura — The Seeds of Christianity

St Johns Church

St Johns Church in Rangitukia

E, i aha tērā, e haramai ki roto ki Waiapu Alas!
What is this that prevails upon the Waiapu?
Kia kite koe i tawa mapua e te paripari tihei taruke
Why, it is but a mob of crayfish-pot robbers
I kīia nei e Rerekohu, ‘Hoatu, karia, ōna kauae’
That caused Rerekohu to say. ‘Go and strike at the jaw’
Pūrari paka, i koura mōkai, hei!
Bloody bugger, you are a pet crayfish too!

THE words above are from the haka, Tihei Taruke composed by Mohi Tūrei of Rangitukia in about 1880 and talks of the impact of Christianity upon the people of the Waiapu and that their way of life was destined to change forever — like crayfish caught in a crayfish pot unable to escape. And how did Christianity come to the Waiapu Valley? Pānui tonu anō (Read on)!

The siege of Whetumatarau by Pōmare and his Ngāpuhi warriors in the early 1820s, heralded the beginning of a new type of warfare unlike anything that Ngāti Porou had ever seen before. The precipitous, seemingly impenetrable pā fortress that towers behind the township of Te Araroa, Whetumatarau, had repelled all invaders in the past, so why should this day be any different? The musket!

In the round-up of the spoils of their victory, Pōmare and his warriors returned to the north with a large number of prisoners who were destined to work as slaves in their conqueror’s homeland. Among the prisoners was a man called, Piripi Taumata-a-Kura.

Piripi was born in Whakawhitirā (between Tikitiki and Ruatōrea) and belonged to Te Whānau-a-Te Uruahi hapū. He was held captive for about 10 years, during which time he became a student at the Anglican Church Mission in Waimate. In late 1833 an opportunity arose to return home with the news that a ship, the Fortitude, berthed in the bay at Paihia, was about to return to the East Coast. Also returning on that ship were, Rāwiri Rangikātia, Rangi-whaka-tamatama, Te Rukuata and Te Whakamara, all rangatira (chiefs) from the Waiapu area who had been taken captive earlier that year.

St Johns Church memorial

The memorial
stone to the many clergy of the Waiapu Valley.
Since the time of Piripi Taumata-a-Kura, a great
number have risen to prominence. Bishop of Aotearoa, Reverend Brown Tūrei, was
born in Rangitukia.

These rangatira had actually been trading aboard the ship, Elizabeth, berthed off-shore from Rangitukia, when a storm blew up, forcing the ship to take shelter further north.

But the captain (Black) of the ship sailed on to Kororāreka (Russell), in the Bay of Islands instead and upon arrival, the four rangatira were enslaved by their Ngā Puhi hosts. It was only quick intervention by the Te Karuwhā* (Reverend Henry Williams) that prevented the four men from eternal slavery and during the few months they were in the north they became students and converts to the Christian faith.

On hearing about the return, Piripi Taumataa-Kura requested release from his captors who acceded to his wish. So Piripi was able to return home aboard the Fortitude together with the four chiefs and the Reverend William  Williams, younger brother of Te Karuwhā, who was intent upon spreading the Christian faith amongst the people of the East Coast. When Piripi, Rukuata and company landed ashore in Rangitukia, the locals who had gathered, wept and wailed when they realised who they were. That night, Piripi conducted prayers and sent messengers to various parts of the region inviting everyone to join them in Rangitukia. The next morning Piripi raised the queen’s flag and welcomed the continuous stream of visitors. After speeches and a hearty meal, Piripi began to pray.

That particular day happened to be New Year’s Day, 1834, the day that Piripi Taumataa-Kura preached the very first Christian sermon in the East Coast at Te Hātepe near the mouth of the Waiapu River in Rangitukia.

In 1836, in the battle of Te Toka-a-kuku between Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-a panui, Piripi Taumata-a-Kura, musket in one hand, Bible in the other, was said to have entered the fray, incredibly defying the whizzing bullets around him, to emerge unscathed, thereby reinforcing the power of his new found faith.

Did the people need any more convincing? In his own words:

‘Whatungarongaro he tangata
People perish
Toitū ko te hāhi’
But the church remains

(*Te Karuwhā – means ‘four eyes’ in reference to the glasses worn by the Rev. Henry Williams – a term of endearment)

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