At a dawn ceremony on Sunday at Waitangi Māori elder Kerei Tia Toa told those listening that he had a vision of Wellington devastated by an earthquake and tsunami. As is common with all who hold themselves up as prophets, he was remarkably short on detail, apart from his belief that it would be in June. This gives him a one-in twelve chance of being right as it is only a matter of time before a major quake causes widespread damage and loss of life in the capital. That is no prophecy – rather telling us what we already know – which is not always a bad thing as Civil Defence are keen to get the message across that we must be prepared to look after ourselves and our own after the big one.
Kerei Tia Toa’s speech livened things up, but it’s unlikely to place him among the pantheon of Māori prophets such as Te Whiti, Te Mahuki and others. They all had pretty poor track records in their predictions. Te Mahuki prophesied in October 1890 that the second coming would occur on 2 November 1890. In anticipation, his followers took over Te Kuiti stores. For this he served a year in jail.
Some elements of Christianity had commonality with pre-European Māori society in which tohunga and matakite (seers) had acted as visionaries. Māori were especially taken with the Old Testament. Nineteenth-century prophets saw themselves as leaders of the persecuted, their lands dispossessed, and found resonance with stories of a landless forsaken people wandering the desert. Māori Zionism may at first seem curious, yet ultimately it was a response to what was happening at the time. Te Mahuki and Te Whiti’s status, and those of other Māori prophets, rests more on their actions of resistance (passive or active) to colonial land grabs and concerns for the wellbeing for their people, rather than any ability to see into the future.
The prophets have been very influential spawning the Rātana and Ringatū faiths, and showing that Māori movements could successfully cut across iwi divisions. Politically they have also had a legacy – in recent years the prime minister and leader of the opposition have headed to Rātana pā in January to commemorate the birth of the founder of the movement, Tahupōtiki Rātana.
All this and more is detailed in Judith Binney’s soon-to-be-published entry on Māori prophetic movements. My prediction, nay my prophecy, is that when it is published in April it will become one of the most popular Te Ara entries. I think I’ve got a greater than one-in-twelve chance of being right on that. And I won’t be leaving Wellington every June.