Ratana legacy
supercedes Labour

How the man and the movement forced the Treaty back onto the political agenda

Keith Newman
(First published in July 2006 by Just Change, a publication of
Dev-Zone (www.dev-zone.org), an arm of the Development Resource Centre (DRC), a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation governed by a charitable trust.

Without the efforts of Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana and his followers, the Treaty of Waitangi may have remained a ‘nul­lity’, a mere curiosity, rather than its growing stature today as the birth certificate and found­ing document of the nation.

There’s no question Ratana helped lay the groundwork for the current renaissance of all things Māori despite the fact a number of modern publications on the subject of the Treaty of Waitangi do not even mention his name.

Seeing T.W. Ratana languishing between pioneering broadcaster Aunt Daisy and the original Tuhoe activist Rua Kenana near the bottom of a ‘Top 100 History Makers’ list in November 2005, made me realise how little we understand his

That’s probably not surprising, as nothing substantial has been published about his life or the movement he founded since 1972 when Jim McLeod Henderson summarised and re-published his research in the book Ratana, the Man, the Church, the Politi­cal Movement.

Even Ratana faithful have a hard time getting access to information about the movement’s history or material that records the words and actions of the man who was a political visionary and undoubted­ly one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most pow­erful faith healers and Māori leaders.

T.W. Ratana set out on a series of nation­wide and world tours between the two world wars, promising to breathe life back into the Treaty of Waitangi and restore Māori mana.The pan-tribal movement he founded had a profound impact, rallying the spirits of the dis­possessed and scattered tribes of Māoridom.

"There’s no question Ratana helped lay the ground work
for the current renaissance of all things Māori."

During a vision in 1918, at his farm between Wanganui and Palmerston North, he had been told to heal the people and turn Māori away from their belief in the old gods or atua Māori and urge them unite under one God (Ihoa), Je­hovah of the thousands (the Ture Wairua or the spiritual law). The second part of his mission was the Ture Tangata (the physical law), where he gathered signatures for a petition and evi­dence about land confiscation to convince the government to make the Treaty of Waitangi part of the law of the land.

In 1924, Ratana and a party of 40 followers including musicians and cultural performers paid their own way to England to attend the British Exhibition and try to gain an audience with British Government officials and King George V to present the petition which con­tained the names of two thirds of all Māori. He had with him a Māori copy of the Treaty
of Waitangi and sought confirmation from the Crown that it would be honoured. However everywhere he went, letters from the Aotearoa New Zealand Government had been sent in­sisting the group did not represent Māori. 

From 1928, after he had built the Ratana Temple and allowed the Ratana Church to be established, the prophet and healer said he would divide his body into four quarters, to win the Māori seats in Parliament. Their main goal would be to have the Treaty of Waitan­gi honoured and to improve conditions for all Māori. In 1932, his first successful candidate, Eruera Tirikatene, tabled the Ratana petition, which now contained 45,000 sig­natures and weighed in at 16 pounds (7.25kg). It was requested that the Treaty of Waitangi be entered into the statute books in an ef­fort to “preserve the ties of brotherhood between Māori and Pakeha for all time”.

The petition was ignored for many decades, and even to­day its requests have not been completely met.Ratana entered into the legendary ‘alliance’ with the Labour Party (Ngati Kai Mahi) be­cause he saw that the ideals and goals of Mi­chael Joseph Savage and his ‘Christian social­ism’ aligned with his own goals of raising the bar for the carpenters, shoemakers and blacksmiths – the ordinary people, of King Tawhiao’s prophecy. While the Ratana Inde­pendent candidates and many of Ratana’s fol­lowers joined Labour, their loyalty remained principally with Ratana. The relationship was always predicated on Ratana’s 1936 warning to Savage: “May you never forget your responsi­bilities to the Māori people, for when you for­get this, your government will fall.”

Tirikatene was joined by three other Rata­na candidates before the end of the Second World War. Nga koata e wha were backed and informed by an enormous network of advi­sors from across Māoridom. However, after the death of their greatest advocate Michael Joseph Savage, the Ratana MPs were regularly sidelined, over-ridden and dismissed in their efforts to introduce legislation and establish structures that would bring Māori closer to equality.

The Treaty continued to gather cobwebs until former Ratana youth leader Matiu Rata eventually pushed through legislation in 1974 recognising Waitangi Day as a national holiday, and paved the way for the Waitangi Tribunal to begin investigating breaches of the agreement between the two peoples in 1976.

Despite the Ratana-Labour alliance eventu­ally pushing through significant legislation that recognised Māori concerns, Labour’s efforts to undermine the Ratana ability to ‘block vote’ re­mained a sore point. This was evidenced even in recent years through the ‘unconstitutional’ actions of the Labour Party in 1999, which deregistered the 4000-strong Maramatanga Affiliate despite their fees and membership be­ing up to date. This effectively shut down the powerful Ratana-based network, which dated back to the 1930s.

Regardless, politicians still turn up in their droves to Ratana Pa every January 24th for Ratana’s birthday celebrations. There are many factions at work seeking to harness the political potential of the Ratana movement. While Māori Party co-leader Tariana Turia was brought up a Ratana, and many Ratana are keen to support her and her political aspira­tions, Labour continues to hold tenuously to an ancient and much compromised alliance.

While Ratana is better known for its political heritage, it remains largely a spiritual move­ment, strongly influenced
by the original Christian-based kaupapa, and the prophecies and sayings of its founder. There is a strong un­dercurrent within the church and movement to return to its turangawaewae or foundation. Pivotal among these are the words T.W. Ratana used frequently during his mission: “In one of my hands is the Bible; in the other the Treaty of Waitangi. If the spiritual side is attended to, all will be well on the physical side.”

Love, Ralph N. 1977, Policies of frustration: The growth of Ma-ori politics: The Ratana/Labour era (Masters Thesis), Victoria University of Wellington
Henderson, J. 1972, Ratana: The man, the church, the political move­ment, A. H. & A. W. Reed, Wellington 

Caption: T.W. Ratana, his wife Urumanao (Te Whaea) and their son Te Omeka with the large family Bible outside their homestead at Ratana Pa. Photo: Ratana Archives


The original Ratana articles:
Article: New Beginnings Inspire Ratana Youth and A Sleeping Giant (1986 & 2000)
Related poems: New Year's Day & Remnant Seed
Ratana Revisited (Reed, 2006) publication details

Angela Ballara’s extensive article on the Ratana movement:
The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography vol.3 (1996)http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/dnzb/vol3/VOL3RAT.html

Explore the Ratana Church official web site which is now back on-line: http://www.theratanachurch.org.nz/

The Ratana Revisited two-part documentary was broadcast on National Radio August 6th and 13th featuring interviews with tumuaki Harerangi Meihana, original Ratana biographer Jim McLeod Henderson, former Labour MP Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan and apotoro reihita Kereama Pene