Ratana Revisited - an unfinished legacy, by Keith Newman (Reeds 2006) Now available.
Ratana the Prophet. from Penguin due in stores January 2009


Story & photographs by Keith Newman 1986 (C) [revised]
Related poems: New Year's Day & Remnant Seed

A youthful group from the north of New Zealand organised a train to take 700 people to the largest birthday party in the country in January 1986. 

ratana1.JPG (14807 bytes)Members of the Morehu (remnant) youth movement, the junior arm of the Ratana Church, took it on themselves to resurrect the once annual train journey to celebrate the birthday of the founder of their church, T.W. Ratana. 

They called the chartered train the Morehu Express. It was the first time in 18 years that a train had been organised to take people from the north to the celebrations at Ratana Pa, near Bulls. 

It's virtually unheard of for passenger trains to travel north of Auckland but this one began its journey north of Whangarei. By the time it reached Pukekohe the Morehu Express had 10 carriages in tow and 95 percent of its passengers were Maori. 

Keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings were the Katipa, the black uniformed members of Ratana's police force with responsibilities similar to those of Maori Wardens. Another uniformed group were the members of the Morehu Youth Movement obvious by their bright blue jackets with rainbow strips over the right hand pocket. This proud group with their peaked caps and broad smiles were the force behind the revived Morehu Express. 

This year over 42 thousand people turned the small Rangitikei village into an overflowing shanty town. Some came to remember the miracles of the past others came believing the future still had miracles in store. 

This year's celebrations at Ratana Pa made history for several reasons. Representatives from all of Maoridom were present for the first time, the Maori Queen made her debut, a record number of young people made the journey, and it rained continuously for the first time in 40 years. 

Entering Ratana Pa for the first time is like entering another land. The 2000 seat
Te Temepara Tapu O Ihoa (Holy Temple of Jehovah) is like something right out of old Mexico or Japan. The Manuao (man-o-war), or administration complex, including dining room, has the seven canoes of the Great Migration plus the Heemeskerk and Endeavour depicted along its frontage. 

The Ratana symbol of a five-pointed star and a crescent moon - the Whetu Marama (divine enlightenment) - is repeated at equal spacing around the interior of the temple. Each is joined by five chains which symbolically hold the temple together. The colours of the five points of the Ratana star and the chains represent an aspect of divinity. The Father (Matua) is blue, the Son (Tama) is white, the Holy Spirit (Wairua Tapu) is red, the faithful or holy angels (Anahera Pono) are depicted as purple and the Mangai (the Mouthpiece) is yellow. Ratana, the man representing the people, is pink. 

At the front of the temple - the one God, Ihoa, is given prominence, rather than the many gods of early Maoridom. Also in a place of reverence is the name Ihu Karaiti or Jesus Christ. The stars (Whetu), the Moon (Marama) and the Sun (Ra) are shown next to the symbols of divinity. These show, as Ratana had stressed, that a starting point for unity is to recognise one creation, one God and one people. The rising Sun is not only to do with a spiritual allegiance forged with Japanese Bishop Juji Nakada in 1924 but is the future rising Son or Second Coming of Christ.

One aspect of Ratana's legacy that soon becomes evident to any visitor to the official celebrations is the importance of music. To Ratana it was the softener of human hearts. Like the Israelites of old he believed musicians would lead the procession into the promised land and bring down the strongholds of the old system, as illustrated in the felling of Jericho's walls. 

In keeping with that episode of biblical history, Ratana insisted there be seven brass bands scattered about the country. These all come together for the celebrations each year to march visitors onto the marae with a professionalism that would do the NZ Army Band proud.
ratband.JPG (18225 bytes)

The choirs, the various Maori cultural groups and the many fine young musicians who entertain the birthday guests each year, are also part of the Ratana heritage. Ratana spoke of faith in a greater spiritual force than oneself. He stressed the importance of individual destiny, saying that humanity was in a constant state of development or becoming. 

Many of the young people who visit Ratana Pa each year or who live there are acutely aware of their founder's prophecy that one day there will be a spiritual revival beginning with those who have followed his teachings. He had claimed that in the third generation a people empowered by the Wairua Tapu would arise and continue to spread the message of unity, first to their own people, then the Pakeha and on to the world. 

The new move would, like the onslaught on Jericho of old, be heralded by a fanfare of music. Whether dread-locked Rasta's, leather jacketed Black Power or Mongrel Mob; Samoan, Rarotongan, Pakeha or Maori it makes no difference at Ratana. Everyone shares the same privileges and there is rarely, if ever, a breach of etiquette. 

At the annual celebrations you soon begin to realise that somewhere along the Adamic line - our global whakapapa - we are one family under God. The official welcome on the actual date of Ratana's birthday is always a rare sight. It is as though you were witnessing something ancient and powerful being stirred up among the colourful yet solemn participants. 

The kuia (old women) dressed in black, the koro (old men) with their walking sticks, the roopu raupo (psalmists or custodians of the mysteries of Ratana), brightly adorned in orange; the awhina or sisters of mercy in their purple and white habits all stand in formation for hours on end. 

The official ministers of the church are robed in purple and those who act on a more personal level as spiritual counsellors dress in blue. The apotoro or apostles stand next to them wearing red stoles. The 1986 celebrations saw the worst rain to hit the festivities in over 40-years. Some saw it as symbolic. It was believed by some that the faithful were being tested and that an evil was being cleansed from their midst. A number of people talked of new beginning and of a time of change.

This year the official speeches went ahead as planned despite the constant downpour. Only a few umbrellas jutted though the crowd the rest of the guests and onlookers remained steadfast but soaked. The speeches were mainly in Maori. MP Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, who's family and heritage are firmly rooted in the Ratana movement, chose English. She spoke very briefly and gently saying that Ratana had by his example pointed the Maori people to God through Jesus Christ, and that they should seek a spiritual relationship with the Creator. 

The year previously, visiting American preacher, Dr Derek Prince had laboured that point and apparently upset some of the older members of the Ratana tradition. There was a caution about such things, particularly about the use of the name Jesus Christ. 

However many younger members of the community were only too eager to endorse Christ as head of their faith and see Ratana as he saw himself - a prophet, the mouthpiece of God - and not some god-like being to be worshipped in his own right. By Saturday night when everyone had just about given up hope of clemency from above, the rain come to an abrupt halt. The night-sky cleared and a full moon peered from above. 

At one point during the final nights concert a newly found friend tapped me on the shoulder and said: "Look up there, do you see that?" And sure enough, a rainbow half circled the bright orb of the moon. I reached for my camera and pointed it to the sky but the rainbow had gone. 

I thought of the rainbow on the jackets of the Morehu youth group uniform, I looked at the rainbow painted on the rear of the stage, I thought of the symbolic colours used by Ratana, and wondered about Noah's flood. I thought about Ratana's prophecy about the new generation who would carry on his work and wondered about the new beginnings. 


Ratangel.JPG (19606 bytes)Keith Newman
30 Sylvan Valley Avenue
Waitakere City
New Zealand
Email: wordman@wordworx.co.nz 

Much new information has been gathered since thus personal experience and is included in the book Ratana Revisited - an illustrated history published in July 2006 by Reed Publications.
The book features information never before translated from Maori into English, including the prophecies of T.W.Ratana.

The angel in the graveyard  is said to weep real tears.
The day I took this photo it was just rain dripping from her eyes -

Keith Newman returns to Ratana: See the 2002 article, A Sleeping Giant.