A brief history of Māori involvement in the Bahá’í Faith
From 1931, the Bahá’í community sought to take the Message of Bahá’u’lláh to Māori. Contact began with a month-long visit to New Zealand by an overseas Bahá’í, Mrs Keith Ransom-Kehler, who was welcomed onto the Orakei Marae where she met with Māori leaders.
Two years later, in 1933, a pamphlet which had been prepared specifically to appeal to Māori was translated into their language: Te Whakatikenga Pahai Te Aonga Ake O Te Ra Hou/The Bahá’í Cause, the Dawn of a New Day. This was the first attempt to reach Māori in their own language. However, it was not until 1948 that the first person of Māori descent became a Bahá’í – Albert Tikitu White.
Albert, who descended from the Ngatiawa tribe, and his wife, Florence, naturally taught their children about their new Faith and four of their six children who reached adulthood became Bahá’ís. Daughters Margaret (now `Alá’í) and Robin (Dame Robin White), grandchildren and great grandchildren remain committed Bahá’ís who continue to serve at local, national and international levels. It was Albert who, when two distinguished Bahá’í guests arrived in New Zealand in 1953, travelled from his home in the upper part of the North Island to Christchurch, to welcome them on behalf of the New Zealand Bahá'í community.
In 1957, three Bahá’ís visited Parihaka where they gave a short talk about the Bahá’í Faith. One elderly Māori recorded for them the pamphlet Te Whakatikenga Pahai Te Aonga Ake O Te Ra Hou/The Bahá’í Cause, the Dawn of a New Day. From this original recording, several records were produced and sent to various Māori leaders including King Koroki, who also received a book of prayers.
In October 1958, a prominent African Bahá’í, Mr Enoch Olinga, met with Māori chiefs at Mangatoatoa Pā during a six day visit to New Zealand, the main purpose of which was to meet the Māori people. He went to Ngaruawahia where he met with King Koroki’s advisers, and to Rotorua where he was welcomed onto several marae and met Guide Rangi. During his visit Mr Olinga spoke to a gathering of two hundred Māori at Kihikihi.
Four years later, in 1962, Ephraim Te Paa, Te Rarawa, a Kaumātua (Māori elder) living in Ahipara, became a Bahá’í, having first heard of the Faith when Mr Olinga spoke at Ngaruawahia. When, in April of that year, another prominent Bahá’í, Dr Muhajir, travelled throughout the North Island meeting the Māori people, Ephraim accompanied him and explained the Faith in Māori to the various tribes they visited. During his long life as an active Bahá’í, Ephraim continued to promote mutual understanding between Māori and Bahá’ís.
Later in the 1960s, Bahá’ís were received by the Māori Queen and met with Māori Members of Parliament. They were presented with carefully selected Bahá’í material, which was “cordially received”.
By the late 1960s, even though the total number in the Bahá’í community was small, 7.5% were Māori – a ratio that was almost the same as the percentage of Māori in the general population. Ever since, the ratio of Māori in the Bahá’í community has remained consistent with the ratio in the general population.
In 1978 the first Māori Bahá’í was elected to serve on the national governing body of the New Zealand Bahá’í Community (the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of New Zealand) and continued to be re-elected for a number of years thereafter. Since then, there has consistently been at least one Māori Bahá’í serving on the national body – an institution which is elected on an annual basis without any form of nomination or electioneering. Māori have also served, and continue to serve, in other administrative and non-administrative capacities alongside their non-Māori colleagues.
In 1983 a group of Bahá’ís, including Ephraim Te Paa, travelled to the Rātana Pā. This was the first official attempt at reaching the Rātana community, although the earliest Bahá’í contact with them was probably via Shirley Charters, an audacious Bahá’í teacher, in the 1960s. Over the years that followed, a number of Bahá’í conferences were held at the Rātana Pā, with up to 700 people attending. By the mid-1990s, the Bahá’ís were invited to hold a spiritual retreat based on the study of the word of God (a “Nine Day Teaching Institute”) at Rātana Pā. The first one took place in April 1995.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, significant Bahá'í gatherings were held on Marae, including one on Tūrangawaewae in 1993 which included the then Māori Queen, Dame Te Atairangi Kaahu. Māori Bahá’ís continue to hold regular hui.
Over the years, the Bahá’í community has released a small number of publications in Te Reo Māori but it was not until 2007 that a major work was translated - Ngā Kupu Huna a Bahá’u’lláh (The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh). This was followed, in 2011, by a key introductory text, Bahá’u’lláh Me Te Wā Hōu (Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era). Both publications have been formally presented to Māori leaders, including King Te Arikinui Kiingi Tūheitia.