Background to Project
Early missionaries played a significant role in the transformation of Maori society offering a spiritual interface to an advancing colonial British Empire. The God of the Missionaries the Hebrew "Elohim" however was not totally alien to Maori religion and, like other ancient cultures around the world, taha wairua Maori contained vestigial knowledge of a supreme God on a par with Elohim of the Bible. Unfortunately due to a first world cultural blindness (fear), most missionaries did not perceive the relevance of understanding Maori cosmologies or esoteric-s.. The end result was a presentation of a gospel message that bull dozed the unfamiliar, dismissing existing cultural building blocks as compromising the Western vantage of Elohim. Thus many Maori struggled with ownership of a Eurocentric gospel message. A message which was at times clouded by the social conditioning of its missionary advocates. Ever since those days Maori without their spiritual roots have welcomed Christ, but have struggled to celebrate wholly their identity as Christian Tangata Maori amongst their Pakeha peers.
At the same time as the missionaries preached the Gospel message the devastating impact of British colonisation began to be felt on Maori society. For a variety of reasons Christian leaders choose not to speak out against Colonial injustices and in Maori eyes the two became synonymous, with the Missionary being cynically linked to the provoked land wars and institutionalised stealing of lands through the Maori 'land courts'. However, Christianity and more particularly the Old Testament narrative did provide a necessary spiritual anchor for many Maori people as they 'rode out the storm' of their changing environments
The huge upheaval that Maoridom underwent in the late nineteenth and early Twentieth century confronted the leaders of that society with the bewildering task of redefining their own community identity and ensuring their communities survival into the twentieth century. Bold steps had to be taken as the best of the introduced western culture was accepted and absorbed, whilst at the same time some irrelevant traditional practices were discarded. The rural marae with its wharenui and associated cultural patterns has emerged from those changing years as an essential formula sustaining Maori self -expression.
However, since the nineteen fifties there has been a progressive movement of Maori people shifting from the cultural sanctum of the rural marae and moving to the larger towns and major industrial cities. Within the urban environment the old hapu and tribal boundaries which had traditionally defined corporate Maori identity are under pressure and continue to be eroded. And so the ongoing task of refocusing Maori corporate distinctiveness and existence continues into the twenty first century.
The Project "Te Poho o Ihu Karaiti" provides opportunity for the church to incarnate the gospel message, offering 21st century Christ centred educational solutions, for Maori and Pakeha in Aotearoa New Zealand.
"To provide a tertiary institution of academic excellence offering bi-cultural Christian education for New Zealand youth"
A. pyramidal base with cruciform Wharenui connected to
B. ark like structure.
The wharenui or Maori Meeting House of Maoridom is not just a physical or a social place of meeting, the Wharenui is a cosmological statement of spiritual intent expressing identity. It uniquely expresses in its' art forms the values, belief systems and teachings of a community. What better canvas exists within the New Zealand culture to display the teachings of Christ for generations to come? Amonst the cultures of the world we have our own unique indigenous art heritage in the wharenui.
This project involves the design and construction of a cruciform wharenui "Te Poho o Ihu Karaiti" (or CHRIST'S BODY). The spiritual theme of "unity in diversity' is taken directly from scripture -
1 Corinthians 12:
Sources for structural forms:
A. PYRAMIDAL BASE WITH CRUCIFORM WHARENUI.
The form of this structure relates to the oral traditions of the Supreme God Io and of his dwelling place in the twelfth and uppermost heaven. Thus the structure has twelve levels. Each lower level denotes a succeeding degree of mana (authority) and tapu (holiness) emanating from the being of Io at his twelfth and highest level. The world of man is at the bottom level and this is symbolised by the form of a square (relating to the four corners of the earth). The wharenui proper will be located at the highest point of the building overlooking the realms of man below. Its design will be cruciform and this shape will modify and echo its form in succeeding gradations of lower levels till finally translating Into the realm of man symbolised by the square found at the lowest level.
As mentioned, twelve heavens surmount the realm of man on earth. The whole cruciform/pyramidal structure thus, will be raised up on pillars giving the sense of weightlessness and ethereal floating. Traditionally (for example Cheops) the pyramid has been associated with permanence, solidity and has also functionally been used as a point of transcendence between the physical and spiritual realms.
Now with the raising up of such a symbol of earthly solidity into the heavens themselves, a strange juxtaposition of old thought association occurs: Mans security, his umbilical chord, his method of relating to the Supreme Being above him, is now cut. The reality of our separation from our creator is emphasised. Our sense of hopelessness becomes more apparent and the necessity of Christ's intercession with a holy God gathers significance.
In the traditional symbolism of the Maori Meeting House the structure is seen as the body of a tribal eponymous ancestor or as the body of a waka (canoe).
"The Meeting House (whare whakairo) is conceptualized as the eponymous ancestor of the tribe. At the apex of the gable; attached to the ridgepole (2 tahuhu) is the head (1 koruru). The barge boards (3 maihi) are the outstretched arms welcoming the guests. The ridgepole is the backbone and the rafters are the ribs (6 heke). People in the house are protected in the bosom of their ancestors: thus we have names like "Te Poho 0 Rawiri" (the bosom of David) and "Te Poho 0 Hinepare (the bosom of Hinepare). The porch is termed the roro (7) or brains. The door (8 kuwaha) is the mouth where the physical and the spiritual realms come together. The window becomes the eye (9 or matapihi) and the interior the womb (10 or koopu) The carved posts (11 pou pou) depict notable descendants from the eponymous ancestor ... .this reinforces the spiritual unity with human forebears right back to the beginning ,.... this visualization of the house of an ancestor (male or female) brings together its individual members into a united organism sharing life and a common heritage." - (Tanenui-a-Rangi - Paki Harrison).
Symbolism of the cross shape.
Because the structural form of the Meeting House has been governed by this metaphorical allusion to the human body , the Meeting House has been rectangular in shape. However, Maori oral cosmologies record the existence of a cruciform Meeting House named Rangiatea", a sacred house found in the twelfth and uppermost heaven. Rangiatea was the heavenly dwelling of the most holy of beings, the Supreme God Io Matua (God the Father). Thus the relevance of the cruciform shape becomes apparent when it is seen that this Meeting House is the union of two bodies. In Christian terminology it is the union of the heavenly and the earthly Christ. Christ as the divine being and Christ as a human being, Christs divinity and Christs humanity united in one.
"In the sign of the cross heaven and earth are combined harmoniously. It is a symbol universally understood throughout different cultures even prior to Christianity. Through Christ the Savior of the world (as the vertical component) fallen man (as the horizontal component) was brought into communion with a Holy God. That Jesus of Nazareth should die on such a potent symbol is very apt. The cross speaks not only of Christs death but also of his incarnation - being truly God and yet truly man."
(# for context of comment see Te Poho 0 Ihu Karaiti - A Thematic Alternative., chap 4.)
Between the two buildings will be a narrow causeway extending the entry of the cruciform Meeting House and linking the Meeting House proper with the marae area on top of the circular building. This passage relates to Maori perception of the doorway being the transitional point between the physical and spiritual world.
Christ described himself as the only doorway to God the Father and in so doing, he revealed (by example of his conversation with Nicodemus) that mankind must be born again. Christ spoke of our need to have a change in the spiritual state of our being, firstly in order to free us from the burden of our own sin and secondly, and more importantly, to allow us entry into Gods presence.
This causeway is the birth canal between the physical world and the spiritual presence of God the Father. Jesus himself becomes the gateway through which we enter. He alone removes our sin. He alone allows us to walk without condemnation beneath his protecting lintel, totally cleansed from sin. He alone allows us to enter into the presence of a Holy God.
The interior of this causeway will be enclosed within the extended walls and roof of the porch of the Meeting House. Lighting will be subdued and generated almost entirely by very thin stained glass windows on the side walls. The whole interior will be fully carved and the theme of its work will be the birth and sequential narration of the creation of the cosmos over seven day/night periods of time (#note: the version of this event as recorded in the oral traditions of Io Matua are an almost sentence for sentence paraphrase of the Hebrew Old Testament passage found in Genesis ch 1. And so this shared theme between the two different N.Z. cultures can become yet another point of mutual appreciation)4.
Prior to the coming of the 'white man' to Aotearoa - the voice of Maori prophecy foresaw not only his arrival, but also the good God that he would bring. "They will call him the Son who was raised to life". (For those who are interested in finding out more information I would encourage the studying of the life and prophecies of Te Kooti Rikurangi and of his uncle Toira Rikurangi).
Of all the missionaries that came to Aotearoa, Thomas Kendell was perhaps the one who came closest to understanding the cosmologies and esoterics of pre-European Maori religion. His natural gifts with language and a certain social empathy meant he was able to win trust and gain access to higher levels of tapu information from learned priests.
From a modern vantage of cultural sensitivity Kendell made an ideal missionary. Yet his attempts to enter Maori beliefs, were judged as compromising of the 'true' faith of western Christianity . This attitude along with the breakdown of Kendall’s relationship with his fellow workers and wife meant that eventually Kendell was 'relocated' to South America and New South Wales where he died a disillusioned man
The need to honour the good in Maori spirituality is absolutely necessary and foundational to the building of a truthful national identity,
The colonial mentality of dominating the physical landscape to determine financial security has it's spiritual equivalent in the pakeha evangelical church dominating the cultural landscape of New Zealand spiritual expression to determine a euro centric security. If there has been a failure in the past it has been that we have failed to listen and search for Christ within the culture of the Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa. To bulldoze the occultic 'forms' of Maori spirituality (and yes there is a wrong Maori spirituality) is to indiscriminately destroy those precious jewels that Yahweh intended for the adornment of our own indigenous Christian inheritance.
Christ's whole ministry recognised and honoured all that the Father did. And so here amongst the diverse cultures of the earth Yahweh invites New Zealand Christians to recognise value and honour the correct forms that he has already placed within Maoridom to bless and found our nations spiritual future.