Short biographies by Susan Thompson

A visionary Methodist

Maharaia Winiata was one of Methodism’s most visionary Maori leaders. He began training for the ordained ministry in 1937, at a time when the Church’s policy regarding Maori was aimed at the amalgamation of Maori and European work.

From the time of the missionaries, it was taken for granted by Methodists and most other denominations that Maori culture would and should be assimilated or transformed into a Christian European norm. The churches had no understanding of the need for the development of an indigenous Maori ministry.

This was reflected in the training Maori students received at Trinity College in the 1930s. This gave no opportunities for reflection upon nature and requirements of ministry among Maori people and showed no concern for issues of Maori language or identity.

Winiata was an independent thinker who embarked on his own process of reflection and critique, writing a series of articles for the Trinity College Magazine from 1937 to 1939 on the interaction between Maori and Christianity.
Discussing the process of cultural change, Winiata argued that Maori had been “set adrift from the old moorings of the historical values, upon the strange seas of European systems.” He identified a high Maori death rate, appalling living conditions, and limited land and economic resources as factors causing concern for the future of the race.

Winiata recognised a need for Maori to take hold of some of the Pakeha world’s methods and standards of value in order to survive, but did not favour “the absolute Europeanisation” of Maori.

While affirming the role of the church in giving “the true orientation to Maori life”, he criticised the way the expectations of European Christians were often thrust upon Maori. Questioning the assumption that Christ should always be portrayed as a European, for example, he invoked an alternative image of the Christ “who treads the Maori Way.” He noted that conflict between denominations bewildered some Maori and was often a barrier to acceptance of Christianity.

Provocative and analytical, Winiata’s articles raised issues of local context and identity rarely addressed within New Zealand churches or society in the 1930s. Within the setting of the theological college, he issued a challenge for a radical re-evaluation of relations between Maori and Pakeha.
Winiata was received into probation in 1940 but, feeling led towards an unpaid ministry, was granted leave of absence in 1942 to enter the Auckland Teachers’ Training College. He went on to become a distinguished educationalist and was the first Maori tutor at the University of Auckland’s Department of Adult Education. He pursued doctoral studies at the University of Edinburgh and was said to be the first Maori to gain a PhD from a British University.

Retaining an active interest in Methodism, Winiata held the status of a Maori Home Missionary until his early death in 1960.

“Maori Problems”
by Maharaia Winiata

A unique event occurred at the Auckland University College during May last. Leading Pakeha intellectuals, fired by high humanitarian motives, mingled with keen-minded young Maoris, to discuss together the problems facing the Maori Race today. Experts from various fields, Economic, Educational and Health, supplied statistical data showing the actual position of the Maori people in each sphere.

The high death-rate, the appalling living conditions, the limited land and economic resources of a rapidly increasing people, are facts that cause deep concern. What then can be the future of the Maori Race?

Though the ultimate goal of the Maori, is mergence with the people of British stock, it is acknowledged that for generations yet, the Maori community will remain as a distinct microcosm within the larger macrocosm of Pakeha society.

The problems of the Maori, therefore, today cannot be viewed apart from the consideration of the future welfare of the entire population of New Zealand - with which these are vitally associated. In his struggle for a decent existence, the Maori is dependent upon the adoption of the techniques and value judgements of the European system of life. This does not necessarily mean the absolute Europeanisation of the Maori, but rather the taking hold of methods, ways of doing things, standards of values that belong to the Pakeha world.

And Education in the broad sense, is the main agency in the process. Education that commences in the home, that extends to the primary and secondary schools - academic and technical - through the cinema, the W.E.A. and various adult Education groups, and the Church organisations. But nevertheless an Education that recognises the value of selected elements in Maori culture, which do possess significance in the growth and development of Maori individuality. The Maori possesses qualities of mind and spirit that fundamentally form the basis of his contribution to the make-up of the future mixed people of this country.

It seems at first glance that the main problem of the Maori today is involved in the business of making a living. True - but an equally important problem, is something that lies deeper. In this respect the Church has still a relevant message for the Maori. There is an ancient proverb “Ka hinga he tetekura ka ara he tetekura” (“When a leader falls, another arises to his place.”) The necessity for this truth has never been more urgent than today. The Church schools must consciously lay the foundations for Maori leadership by producing young men of Christian outlook. Everywhere the people turn their gaze to the schools from whence they expect the leaders to help them along the mysterious paths of the Pakeha.

But the great opportunity of the Church is to mould a sustaining philosophy of life to integrate the fluid experience of the Maori in the whirl of modern civilisation. The Church must stem the moral drift and give the true orientation to Maori life, restoring the tapu or sanctity of the human personality. This is the Church’s real responsibility to the Maori people, but questions of Education, Health and Economics are not outside her sphere. The Christian religion recognises the unity of life and brooks no departmentalising and the Church must show the Maori that this is so.
Trinity College Magazine, 1939, p.10.

Kenneth Little, “Foreword” in Maharaia Winiata, The Changing Role of the Leader in Maori Society: A study in social change and race relations, Auckland, Blackwood and Janet Paul, 1967.

Maharaia Winiata, “Religious Movements Among the Maori People”, Trinity College Magazine, 1937; “The Maori and Christianity”, Ibid., 1938; and “Maori Problems”, Ibid., 1939.


Maharaia Winiata


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