Bicultural UniversityTe Poho O Ihu KaraitiThe Glory of DiversityNew Zelaands futureUtopia Downloads

A project for healing and strengthening the church in Aotearoa / New Zealand

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.

Mission statement:

"To provide a tertiary institution of academic excellence offering bi-cultural Christian education for New Zealand youth"


  1. Offer Christian standards in bicultural tertiary education.
  2. Provide leadership training and corporate identity for diverse tribal groups living away from their Turangawaewae.
  3. Offer a spiritual foundation for Pakeha mainstream denominations to find their Turangawaewae (standing place) in Aotearoa New Zealand.
  4. Provide a tangible symbol that will offer healing and resolution for Church and secular failings against Maori peoples in the past.
The Project 
A  bi-cultural Christian University  -

A. pyramidal base with cruciform Wharenui connected to

B. ark like structure.

Te Poho o Ihu Karaiti will be placed within the context of two major structures: Firstly a cruciform/pyramidal base will be located below the Meeting House proper, and this will act as both administration centre, museum and cultural vessel for the containment of Maori taonga (or treasures). Secondly; beside the pyramidal building will be an elliptical Ark like structure. Its function will be to serve as both a marae (social and ceremonial place of meeting) and as an educational centre housing teaching facilities.

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:

13. " For through the baptism of the one Spirit we were all formed into one body, Jews or Greeks, servants or free men, and we're all made full of the same Spirit
14* For the body is not one part, but a number of parts....27* ...Now you are the body of Christ, and every one of you are the separate parts of it...."

Sources for structural forms:

  1. Maori Pa - war fortifications.
  2. Terracing of ancient hill sites.
  3. Tahitian temple platforms.
  4. Pyramidal structures found globally.
  5. Oral traditions of supreme God Io.
  6. Wharenui - Maori meeting house.
  7. Wakataua - Maori war canoes.
  8. Wakahuia - Maori feather boxes, containing sacred ornaments.
  9. European Christian Cathedrals.
  10. Davidic, Zerubabelian, and Herodian temples of Jewish history.
  11. Noahic ark.
  12. Mosaic ark of the covenant, and Tent Of Meeting.



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.

The traditional symbolism of the Maori Meeting House.

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.)

Alongside the pyramidal building is to be a circular building housing library, lecturing and associated educational facilities. However its cultural function will be to serve as an urban marae (ceremonial meeting area). The upper floor will act as the ground on which all welcoming and social interaction between Tangata Whenua (hosts) and Manuhiri (guests) takes place.  
This in Maoridom is always opposite the Meeting House proper. Likewise the upper floor marae and the cruciform Meeting House will be connected via a walkway linking the two structures. As in all Polynesian communities the marae is the focal point of community interaction and allowance for its social function is essential to the maintenance of cultural identity.
As has been already stated there are concerns amongst Maori people regarding the maintenance and development of their own cultural heritage. Past N.Z. Government education policies have been Eurocentric in their concerns and thus have made it difficult if not impossible for Maori perspectives to enter the general curriculum of N.Z. pre/primary/secondary and tertiary institutions. However, in recent years in an attempt to save Te reo Maori (Maori language) from extinction (as has been the fate of many other colonized indigenous peoples), Maori leaders have embarked on their own alternative bicultural education programs.  
Kohanga Reo (language nest) is the name of a preschool Maori education program designed to allow children to learn Te reo Maori within the nurturing environment of their own heritage. This has to a large degree been successful providing a sense of identity and self worth for a new generation of Maori youth. Principles within the program have now been extended to cover primary and secondary schools (Kura kaupapa) and as this new generation grows it is hoped that eventually these programs will be institituted at a tertiary level. It is with the later institutions in mind that this building has been conceived

The Symbolism Of The Ark / Waka.

"From the earliest centuries of Christianity the Ark of Noah has been a symbol of the church. In the ark all living creatures found refuge from the flood. The ark and the rainbow remind us of the covenant God made with Noah, and the new covenant God made with the church. 
The ship, a closely related symbol, is often used. The imagery of the ark or ship being tossed about by the stormy waves, yet reaching its destination, is descriptive of the church as it is opposed by persecution, heresy, and schism. The same imagery suggests the New Testament story of Jesus stilling the tempest on the Sea of Galilee. Sometimes the symbol shows the apostles and in some symbols (which may be seen in the catacombs), St Paul is pictured preaching from the stern of the ship. 
With a slight use of the imagination, the type of church building which is long , high, and narrow in design can be seen to resemble a ship. In the German churches the word Schiff is sometimes used to refer to the long body or nave of the church building. The word nave itself is derived from the Latin word navis, which means ship. The rowers on the benches in an ancient ship may be compared to people sitting in church pews, with Christ as the Captain, the ministers as officers, and the other workers constituting the crew. In this vein we may say that the spires resemble the masts of the ships, with the... .cross on the steeple, corresponding to the ensign. We are told that at the head of the center aisle a model of a ship is suspended from the ceiling in some of the Danish Lutheran churches to remind the worshippers that the Church is a ship on the sea of life"
(# Our Christian Symbols by Friedrich Rest, Page 37.) 
As already mentioned in the above quote, the Ark represents Gods mercy amid divine judgement. It demonstrates Gods loving compassion to his creatures by rescuing them from the calamity of an impending deluge. Inside the Ark Noah and his family (along with every sample species of all that the Elohim had created) were all and each set aside in order to establish a new beginning for the world. Similarly this structure symbolizes an attempt at retaining and concentrating that which is good from our heritage, and using this accumulation of knowledge as a dissemination point for future generations of biculturally aware leaders. 
Another common interpretation of the symbolism of the meeting house is to view the structure as the waka taua or Maori war canoe. Thus there is a cultural overlap between the Maori Meeting House and the European Christian Cathedral. Both cultures now have rights if you like to share in the richness of this buildings thematic symbols. The structure becomes a point of common understanding, a bridge between the two major people groups of the nation, and God willing, a symbol of racial reconciliation.


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.