Volume 74 1965 > Volume 74, No. 4 > Papahurihia, first Maori prophet, by Ormond Wilson, p 473 - 483
PAPAHURIHIA, FIRST MAORI PROPHET
Religious prophets and teachers, and founders of sects and churches, have played a significant part in Maori history since the introduction of Christianity. The most notable of them, Te Ua, Te Kooti, Te Whiti, Rua, and Ratana, have been written about at length, but their earliest predecessor, Papahurihia, has been granted hardly more than an occasional footnote. The purpose of this article is to assemble the information recorded about him during the time he was recognised as a religious leader.
For fifteen years after Marsden established the first mission in New Zealand, Christianity made little headway among the Maori people. A few unimportant and usually dying converts were baptised between 1825 and 1830, but it was not until the early 1830s that the tide turned. Thereafter the rate of baptism increased rapidly year by year. William Williams was probably justified in claiming congregations in 1840 totalling 30,000 who worshipped according to the rites of the Church of England, in addition to the followers of the Wesleyans and Catholics. 1
Conversion to Christianity was stimulated by the spread of literacy and by the large printings of missionary translations of the scriptures, hymns, and catechisms. These in turn gave rise to new interpretations of the scriptures, and to various rites and practices disapproved of by the missionaries. The rivalry between Church of England and Wesleyan missions, which came into the open in 1834, and the arrival of the Catholic Bishop Pompallier in 1838, excited religious disputes, but were not responsible for the earliest appearance of a dissenting creed. The - 474 doctrines of the sect which regarded Papahurihia as its prophet were an amalgam of different ideas, Christian, Judaic and Maori, but they were formulated before the squabbles between existing Christian denominations became public.
The earliest references to Papahurihia are to be found in the journals and letters of the Church Missionary Society missionaries in the Bay of Islands in 1833 and 1834. Sometime in 1834 he moved from the Bay to the Hokianga, and there he is reported on in the Wesleyan and Catholic records betwen 1836 and 1843. The first European to declare that he had acutally met him was John Webster, who arrived in the Hokianga in 1841. 2In 1845 Papahurihia (then known as Te Atua Wera) merged into the historical records of the war of 1845-6. He died in 1875, and a photograph taken of him after his death 3 was included by Hocken in the 1930 edition of Maning's Old New Zealand. As already indicated, however, this article is concerned only with Papahurihia's life during the ten years 1833 to 1843 when he was known to Europeans as the leader of a religious sect.
On Wednesday, 3rd July, 1833, Richard Davis, one of the C.M.S. Missionaries at Waimate, wrote in his journal: “This morning there was a great deal of talk respecting one of the Native Gods having been conversing with some of my people, but as the account seems to be a little confused at present I shall endeavour to get it at some future time.” He did not, however, delay warning all and sundry of the dangers attendant on listening to false gods, and on Sunday of the same week he spoke to some visiting chiefs “of the delusions of Satan, and in particular from his wish to introduce those new regulations by this god which has lately been among them.” The following Sunday, when it was his turn to preach the sermon, Davis took the opportunity to expose “the absurdity of the sentiments which are said to have been advanced by their god Papahurihia.” It was not, apparently, till the beginning of August that he gained specific information about the new religion, or deity. The old chief Te Morenga, rival of Hongi and friend of Marsden, came to see him. Te Morenga, Davis wrote, “told me that some of the people of Taiamai had set apart a day as a sabbath (if I may use the term) in which to worship the God Papahurihia.” Te Morenga was on the way to becoming a believer in the Christian God, and told Davis that he would have nothing to do with the followers of this new one. 4
It is difficult to judge from these cryptic entries who was supposed to be abroad — a man bringing messages from the god Papahurihia, or the god himself. The next references to the cult give a somewhat different slant to it, and a different name to the creed. On 10th November, 1833, William Williams visited Puketona, which lay on the route between Paihia and Waimate. There, he wrote in his journal, he had “much altercation with some of the natives on the subject of their superstitions, especially concerning a new doctrine lately originated among them.” 5 - 475 A month later, on his Sunday rounds, Henry Williams visited Otuihu, near Kororareka, where he got himself involved in a dispute with “old Hihi”: “The old man endeavoured to enter into a disputation respecting the Nakahi, a new doctrine which has sprung recently amongst them in opposition to our instruction. The old man appears to be in the gaul of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” Four Sundays later he was again at Otuihu: “I went to Hihi who was full of the new doctrine, he was in a sad state.” Later entries in his journal during 1834 indicate that the cult had gained many adherents up the Kawakawa River, and that among its supporters at Kororareka were Tareha and Titore. 6
In June, 1834, Henry Williams described the cult in general terms:
“Some new doctrine has recently appeared amongst the people, at least new in name, as they borrow no less a one than that of ‘Nakahi’, the native name for the Serpent—Gen. 3.1. Also, Papahurihia, who relates wonders. They observe a Sabbath, but not with us, as it is on the Saturday—they have services and baptism and profess to know the scriptures. I have not yet been able to meet with any of these leading men, though I have frequently been challenged, but Papahurihia has invariably been out of the way. The new doctrine has been brought forward by some, who after residing awhile with us and obtained a superficial knowledge, have gone forth two-fold more the child of the Devil than they were before.” 7
From Te Puna in December, 1834, John King, last survivor of the original missionaries who settled at Rangihoua in 1814, reported similarly. Some of the natives, he wrote to the C.M.S.,
“have appointed Satuarday for their sabbath telling us that we are under a mistake, for satuarday is the ancient sabbath and that the Apostles turned Monday into a sabbath for us &c. They hoist a flag on a pole, pay little or no respect to the day, but at night a few assemble together (as the workers of darkness chooses darkness) their priest performs his foolish ceremonies, and mixes portions of the Holy Scriptures which they have learned with their old superstitions, which causes much dispute and inquiry among themselves, he tells them that the spirits of the departed tell him all about heaven and hell &c and many wonderful tales—” 8
Davis continued to write of Papahurihia as the name of a god. In August, 1835, he reported gloomily:
“Papahurihia, their new god, or their old god in a new dress, is said to be making rapid strides, in procuring converts: there is certainly a very great stir amongst some of the natives in consequence—he seems to be the Antichrist of the country—in fact, it appears to me to be the same spirit employed by the same which is now working over nearly the face of the whole earth.” 9
In W. R. Wade's journal of about the same date there is a suggestion that the name had been transferred from the god to its human mouthpiece: - 476
“Papahourihia, or the individual who is propagating new doctrines as if from a god of that name, was taught to read in one of the Mission Schools; but now seems to get himself a name by broaching a new religion—a sort of mixture of Christianity, Judaism & New-Zealandism.” 10
Thus, in the mission records, the prophet of the new cult began to acquire an identity and a name. As a pupil at a mission school he must have been known to at least one of the missionaries, but whoever had the privilege of instructing him gave no account of his pupil in any record that has survived. This in itself may suggest that John King, the least addicted of all the missionaries to letter and journal writing, should have the credit, or blame. It is certain that the cult had a strong following in the neighbourhood of his station. Charles Baker visited the nearby village of Wairoa in November, 1833, and found all those present “bitterly opposed” to his instruction. He wrote in his journal that “one remark they made was ‘that the Bible was true, but that we gave a wrong interpretation to it & thereby corrupted the word of God’.” 11 In Ocober, 1834, when Henry Williams encountered some “disciples of Papahurihia” up the Kawakawa River, he learnt that they were about to pay a visit to Rangihoua “where their leaders are.” 12 One of the leaders was Hongi's kinsman, Waikato, now acknowledged as the principal chief of the district. He was among those who opposed Charles Baker, and in March, 1835, he opposed William Williams with equal vigour. Williams wrote that Waikato was “a favorer of a new superstition which recognizes Papahurihia as the only teacher of truth. We held a long argument with the poor man, which on his part was conducted with blind obstinacy.” 13
In November, 1834, Henry Williams reported that Papahurihia had “gone over to Hokianga to make converts there.” 14 There are no further reports of his having been seen in the Bay of Islands and his influence there declined after his departure. For some years Waikato continued his support, possibly rather out of opposition to the missionaries than because of belief in Papahurihia's doctrines. Charles Baker was probably somewhat premature when he wrote in March, 1835, that “The cause of Papahurihia has given way & many of his followers have been put to confusion.” 15 John King wrote more cautiously in 1837 that “The delusion among the natives which my other letter referred to has been partly ceased, hoisting their flag on a pole on satuarday and their public meetings at night are laid aside, but sin is still their element, they have not turned to the Lord . . .” 16 The absence of references to Papahurihia in the other letters and journals of the C.M.S. missionaries after 1835 suggests, however, that the cult ceased to be of significance in their territory. When Papahurihia reappears in the Wesleyan missionary - 477 journals he seems to have taken on a new guise, along with a new name, and the cult which he propagated had become a sect, with a name for itself.
The first Wesleyan to mention Papahurihia and his followers was William Woon. In May, 1836, he recorded that he had visited Pakanae, at the Hokianga Heads, to help select a site for a new station there. The people were somewhat cool towards the Wesleyans: “the natives do not appear very desirous for a Missionary to reside among them, & some of them are very covetous. They are called Hurais (Jews) by the people in the river as they have imbibed Jewish sentiments.” It is regrettable that Woon was not more explicit. Was covetousness the Jewish sentiment to which he refers? Subsequent entries suggest it may have been. In August he wrote: “the people at Parkanai do not appear very willing for a Missy. to reside among them; and they are disposed to be exorbitant in their demands for land labour &c.” And a few days later: “Natives asking 5 & 6 negro heads of Tobacco for a basket of potatoes!!! Hard times in this river.” But the following month he implies a different significance:
“Went to Parkanai yesterday and preached to the English families in the neighbourhood . . . . Met with some natives who have imbibed Jewish sentiments, and endeavoured to reason them out of their superstitions in vain. Some of them profess to be the followers of a man called Papaurihia, who has fallen in with some Jews and learnt juggling &c. and on this account he is regarded as a wonderful man, many are led as may by his proceedings.”
In January, 1837, Woon wrote of Papahurihia as a “juggling deceiver” and reported that “hundreds if not thousands” were under his influence. 17
A few days before Woon made this last entry in his journal George Hawke, a visitor to the Wesleyan mission at Mangungu, also recorded what he had heard about Papahurihia. He was careful to note that the information came to him only from others, though he found that the statements of “several people” tallied with one another. If the several people were Wesleyan missionaries his account may be more useful in summarising their opinions than in resolving the uncertainties about the man. Hawke wrote:
“A few years since a native of this Country who is a ventriloquist got with a juggling Jew, who pretended to swallow knives etc. This native learnt the art of juggling, and professed to embrace Judaism. The Jew and the native, or the native alone set up a religion of his own, and established saturday as the sabbath, according to the Levitical law: but he pretended that he was inspired by Popahudihia, his god; and by his juggling and ventriloquism he easily imposed on the New Zealanders: and as his religion put no restraint on their vicious dispositions and practices, he made a great number of converts to his religion. The ventriloquist assumed the name of ‘Atua Wera’ (the red god). He said that he was inspired by Popahudihia his god; and now all who profess to be of that religion are called ‘Popahudihia's men’.” 18- 478
Whatever Europeans may have called the followers of the new creed, among their own countrymen in the Hokianga they were known as Hurai and regarded as an independent Christian sect. When Pompallier arrived at the beginning of 1838 and introduced another element of discord into the ranks of those influenced by mission doctrines, the dissensions between the sects provided an excuse for outsiders to stay outside. In August, 1838, James Buller reported a discussion with a prominent chief, Papahia, who found this argument useful:
“there he said are the Hurai, referring to the followers of Papahurihia, there is the church at the Bay of Islands, here are you, and now there is the hunga wakapakoko (Image people) meaning the R. Catholics. You all say you are right & how am I to know who is. Therefore I will not cleave to either of you but keep to my old way & be on friendly terms with all.” 19
Five years later Woon disclosed that along with “the wiles of Popery” the pretensions of the “imposter” Papahurihia were still a thorn in the Wesleyan flesh. He wrote that Papahurihia “pretends to raise the dead, and relates what he has heard from departed Chiefs,” and he also reported that a brilliant comet, seen for a fortnight, “has excited the attention of this deceiver, who is giving the people his opinion of it, its design in appearing at this time, and further, that it is under his controul!!!” 20
It is possible that Papahurihia took some interest in, or felt some sympathy for, the new sect of Catholics. If so, Father Servant, who spent four years in the Hokianga from 1838 to 1842, did not appreciate this support. He wrote that “Although Atuawera preaches in support of the Catholic religion, he certainly harms it by the gross errors he tells peoples who are utterly superstitious.” According to Servant, Papahurihia, or Te Atua Wera, had been told by his god Nakahi (Servant writes the name “Tanakahi”), that “the natives should turn to the bishop only as long as he gave them plenty of clothes,” but that if they accepted Catholic baptism they would suffer the penalty of Satan's fire. 21
Servant wrote an account of the new god, Tanakahi, and his prophet, Atuawera, in the course of a general account of Maori life, customs and beliefs. I am indebted to Mr. D. R. Simmons for the microfilm copy of the original MS., held in the headquarters of the Marist Order in Rome, and to Dr J. Dunmore for the translation. Apart from the polemical passages quoted above, it is worth giving in full:
“This god is quite new, but he is fashionable among the natives. He has been much talked about in recent years.
“In 1836, Atuawera, chief of Tepuna in the Bay of Island began to preach a new dogma to the natives. He announced, before we arrived, the forthcoming arrival of Ministers of the true church; nothing in this seems extraordinary: he could have known of the forthcoming arrival of the true ministers in New Zealand through the Whites who, at that time, were - 479 already becoming numerous. Whatever the truth might be, this chief has done a great deal of harm to the missionary cause. This is how he deals with them: he says that Tanakahi has compared the heretics to aotea's tree; this tree is placed in a straight line to which another tree leads placed along a curved line which begins at the foot of the straight tree. This tree is called the judgement tree. At the end of the curved tree are the heretical missionaries, in prayer; they are taking the path that leads to Satan's fire; the sound of the men of the fire is heard. Tanakahi, the new god, pasess under the curved tree and goes to stir up the eternal fire; then he climbs the straight tree the top of which touches the sky; the heretics also try to climb but, when they think they are reaching the sky, the sky flees above them and they fall back into the abyss. . . .
“This Tanakahi is represented as a spirit who appears from time to time at night and who makes himself heard by whistling. But it must be believed that all this system is a tissue of lies made up by Atuawera who is said to be a ventriloquist.
“Here is what is reported to have been said by Tanakahi concerning the other life. When a good man has left this life, which is nothing but a night, he goes to Hungi's atoea. That is the land of happiness, the residence of those who are good. You feel there neither the rigours of cold, nor of hunger or thirst; you enjoy unending light. Everything is found in plenty, flour, sugar, guns, ships; there too murder and sensual pleasure reign.
“As for the evil man, he goes to a place belonging to the Reinga, called Hotoke. That is where Satan's fire is found; but this fire is only for those who are evil according to Tanakahi, that is to say, for the heretical missionaries and those who speak ill of Tanakahi.”
Three other contemporary writers, who lived in the Bay of Islands during the period of Papahurihia's religious mission, wrote brief accounts of him. The first, in order of time, was the C.M.S. missionary William Yate. Yate left New Zealand in 1834 and his book appeared in 1835. In it he devotes a page or so to an exposure of Papahurihia's fraudulent claims, though curiously he had never mentioned the man or the cult in his New Zealand journals. Papahurihia, he wrote in his book, had been on several voyages with a seaman skilled in ventriloquism. The seaman taught him the art, and put it into his head that he could by this means claim to be the mouthpiece of a god. Papahurihia did as instructed, but despite his successes, Yate wrote:
“some very strange things were asserted, which, notwithstanding the wonderful display of his ventriloquism, convinced the Natives, almost universally, that he must be an imposter. We thought the better way was, to watch its progress in silence, lest by much interference we should give a notoriety to the subject, convinced, at the same time, that, as it was not of God, it must soon come to nought.” 22
The second author to mention Papahurihia was J. S. Polack, a trader who lived first in the Hokianga and then at Kororareka from 1831 to 1837, and who published his two volume account of his experiences in New Zealand in 1838. Polack's brief report on Papahurihia mentions the Saturday Sabbath and goes on: - 480
“This novel credenda consists in a God of fire or Wero being president, and he has sent forth a prophet to work miracles, teach the people that the missionaries are cheats, and other similar silly tales. This fiction, it is said, was invented by the master of a whale ship, which if true, he must have been contemptibly wicked, to attempt to delude these people from the knowledge of a true God . . . . Papahurihia is certainly on the decline, and the less notice there is taken of it, the earlier it will be forgotten.” 23
Apart from the reference to Wero (possibly a misprint for Wera), and despite the absence of any mention of ventriloquism, Polack's account reads very much like a rehash of Yate's, which it probably was. Polack had already settled at Kororareka by the time Papahurihia moved over to the Hokianga, and it is likely that he had barely heard of, or interested himself in, the cult. Just before returning to England, however, he visited the Wesleyans at Mangungu, and arrived there at a critical time. Some of Papahurihia's followers, led by the chiefs Kaitoke and Pi, shot dead two young Wesleyan converts. Polack describes the subsequent conflict as a “war”, which it certainly was not, though it developed into a skirmish in which a few were killed on both sides, and Kaitoke was wounded and taken prisoner. There is no indication that Papahurihia instigated the attack apart from a popular and persistent story that he had given Kaitoke a musket which was to render him invulnerable. It was naturally a source of satisfaction to Europeans who repeated this legend that the charm had not worked. 24 In a report to the Colonial Secretary in New South Wales, James Busby suggested that the assault on the Wesleyan converts was inspired by Waikato and that the muskets and powder had come from him. He also declared that a party of Papahurihia's followers from the Bay of Islands had taken revenge for Kaitoke's capture by raiding the European settlers in the Hokianga and stealing valuable property from them, including dollars to the value of £200. 25
James Busby, British Resident from 1833 to 1840, was the third writer to mention Papahurihia in his reminiscences. His account is given in an unpublished work written in 1865:
“Waikato's tribe gave out that one of them had been visited by the devil in the form of a Serpent, who had desired them to worship him; and for a long time they were called Papahurihia from the Seer or Priest of their new religion, who possessed the faculty of ventriloquism, and for many years made great gain, and became rich by his pretended conversations with the spirits of the dead, and his influence with the Seprent—never hesitating to tell the relations of the lately deceased person that it was the desire of his spirit that they should conciliate the Serpent by conveying to his Priest—a valuable Canoe, a favourite Mere, or anything in their possession which was particularly valuable.” 26
So much for the contemporary evidence. Out of these conflicting reports some few conclusions may be tentatively drawn. Papahurihia was - 481 taught at one of the mission schools in the Bay of Islands, possibly by John King at Te Puna; he claimed to have been visited by a serpent, whose instructions he followed; it is possible that he also claimed to be acting on behalf of a god called Papahurihia, though it seems more likely that this idea arose through some misunderstanding; after moving over to the Hokianga he took on the name of Te Atua Wera, and his followers became known as Hurai; he was a skilled ventriloquist, and probably indulged in spiritualistic hocus-pocus. From the reports given of his doctrines and ritual it seems clear that they were based essentially on what he had learnt at the mission, but modified to suit his own taste, or the taste of his followers. It would be difficult, from the evidence, to separate out the Christian, or biblical, influences, from those which derived from Papahurihia's Maori heritage. The serpent, the nakahi, may have been taken from Genesis, but it is unlikely in his mind to have been very different from a Maori ngarara. The doctrine of hell fire was basic to the evangelical creed of the Protestant missionaries, but the symbolism of the trees seems to have been Papahurihia's own. Heaven and hell were mission inspired, but their association with Maori lore was presumably his gloss on what he had learnt. The delights of heaven were certainly not those suggested by the missionaries. Where he got the idea of the Saturday Sabbath can only be guessed at; it is nevertheless significant that he should retain and also amend the one and only aspect of mission teaching which had from the beginning been acceptable to the Maori.
Any attempts to explain or interpret Papahurihia's doctrines and ritual must in the nature of the case be speculative. It may however be worth examining the two explanations put forward by Europeans at the time. The one, adumbrated by Yate and repeated by Polack, was that he came under the influence of some seaman or whaling captain; the other, reported by Woon and repeated by Hawke, that he had learnt his tricks from a “juggling Jew”.
The second theory is plausible but improbable. It was not suggested until at least three years after Papahurihia had first preached his new doctrines, and when he was already known as a ventriloquist. It may well have arisen out of the name given to his followers in the Hokianga. It is also possible that the phrases used by Woon and Hawke were intended to be taken in an objugatory rather than a literal sense. When Shakespeare's Macbeth cried out, “And be these juggling fiends no more believed,” he stigmatized his enemies as deceivers, not as conjurors; and Woon's contemporary, Thomas Chapman, C.M.S. missionary at Rotorua, used the term in the same sense when he wrote of “the laxity, the jugglery” of his Catholic rivals. 27 It was natural that the Wesleyans should blame Jewish influence for Papahurihia's adoption of a Jewish doctrine, but some of the terms applied to him may be seen rather as an expression of anti-Semitism than as statements of fact.- 482
Yate's story that Papahurihia learnt the art of venriloquism from a seaman is probably pure invention. Papahurihia was not alone in possessing this skill. William Williams met a ventriloquist “priest” in 1829 of whose ability he did not think much. 28 Polack also seemed to think that Maori efforts could not be compared with those of skilled practitioners in Europe and Asia, but he found that ventriloquism was commonly known about and practised. 29 The remarkable ability of the ventriloquist tohunga whose séance was described by Maning in Old New Zealand may have been exceptional, and the tohunga may indeed have been Papahurihia himself, but Maning does not suggest that he was unique in possessing this skill. 30 There is therefore no reason to suppose that Papahurihia learnt his ventriloquism from a seaman; and even if he had done so, this would not alone have given him any special claim to fame.
The missionaries regularly blamed their enemies the seamen for the backsliding of Maori converts. When Baker found himself opposed by Waikato and others in November, 1833, and was told that the missionaries had wrongly interpreted the Bible, he noted in his journal that he had no doubt that the idea had been given them by an Englishman, and he deplored the intercourse with seamen who were scoffers at religion. 31 It is of course possible that a European seaman, or even a Jewish seaman, contributed towards the moulding of Papahurihia's ideas. If there were such a man he had however less influence on his doctrines than the missionaries. But the most significant influence was the Bible. In putting his own interpretation on the scriptures Papahurihia followed, unknown to himself, in the steps of the great religious leaders of the past and prepared the way for later and better known successors among his own countrymen.
1 Williams, W., 1867:279.
2 Webster 1908:259.
3 McLean, Papers: von Stürmer to McLean, 8 November 1875.
4 Davis, Journal: 3, 7, 14 July, 3 August, 1833.
5 Williams, W., Journal: 10 November 1833.
6 Williams, H., 1961: 354, 357, 377-8, 387-9, 396, 402.
7 Williams, H., Letters: II 304-5.
8 King, Letters: 3 December 1834.
9 Davis, Journal: 7 August 1835.
10 Wade, Journal: 12 July 1835.
11 Baker, Journal: 3 November 1833.
12 Williams, H., 1961:396.
13 Williams, W., Journal: 14 March 1835.
14 Williams, H., 1961: 400.
15 Baker, Journal: 28 March 1835.
16 King, Letters: 7 April 1837.
17 Woon, Journal: 16 May, 14, 18 August, 26 September 1836, 27 January 1837.
18 Hawke, Journal: 22, 25 January 1837.
19 Buller, Journal: 13 August 1838.
20 Woon, Journal: 18 March 1843.
21 Servant, MS.
22 Yate 1835:220-1.
23 Polack 1838: II 63-4.
24 House of Lords 1838: 87; Polack 1838: II 63-4; Hawke, Journal: 22-27 January 1837; Davis 1876: 27; Buller 1878: 39-44.
25 Busby to Colonial Secretary, 28 March 1837.
26 Busby: I, 32.
27 Shakespeare, Macbeth V, 8. Chapman, Letters and Journals: Chapman to C.M.S., 19 February 1842.
28 Williams, W., Journal: 26 August 1829.
29 Polack 1838: II 255-7.
30 Maning 1930: 169-177.
31 Baker, Journal: 3 November 1833.