Rangiatea Today  
Interior of Otake [Otaki] Church, New Zealand 1852

Interior of Otake [Ōtaki] Church, New Zealand 1852

colour lithograph by Charles Barraud Drawings and Prints Collection Alexander Turnbull Library

Rangiātea's architecture represents a unique blend of Māori and English church design. The ridge-pole, fashioned from a single totara tree, represents the belief in the one true Christian God, while the three central pillars symbolise the Holy Trinity. The mangopare (hammerhead shark pattern), painted on the rafters, signifies power and prestige. The large tukutuku panels of intricately woven flax display the purapura whetū (star seedling) pattern, which is said to be based on the patterns of the Milky Way.

Rangiātea lacks the intricate carving of other Māori churches, which the missionaries considered heathen and inappropriate for a Christian house of worship. However, carved elements, such as the altar rail and pulpit, were later introduced.

Rangiātea survived for 146 years relatively unchanged. When it was destroyed by fire in 1995, it was the oldest Māori church in New Zealand.


Native church [Rangiatea] 1853

Native church [Rangiātea] 1853 pencil and wash sketch by Janetta Cookson Drawings and Prints Collection Alexander Turnbull Library


The Building of Rangiātea

After the completion of the Waikanae church in 1843, Te Rauparaha, who had assisted in its construction, was determined to build a still finer church in his pa at Ōtaki. In 1844, he felled the necessary trees from his forest preserve at Ohau. They were then floated down the Ohau and Waikawa rivers, dragged along the coastline to Ōtaki, and hauled overland to Mūtikotiko, where the church was to be built.

The construction of the church was soon interrupted by two factors. Firstly, progress was slowed by the breakdown of Māori-European relations during the early 1840s. This was a result of the 1843 Wairau Affair (which resulted in the deaths of 22 European settlers and several Māori), and a series of clashes between Māori and Government troops in the Hutt Valley, which culminated in the battles at Horokiwi and Pauatahanui. These disturbances prompted Sir George Grey to arrest and illegally detain Te Rauparaha, in order to pacify the local Māori tribes.

The second factor which delayed the construction of Rangiātea was the serious illness of Octavius Hadfield. In late 1844, Hadfield was forced to retire to Wellington to convalesce. In 1847, Samuel Williams was appointed to replace Hadfield at the Ōtaki mission. Williams encouraged the Ngāti Raukawa to continue the building project, but progress was slow until the return of Te Rauparaha the following year.

On his return to Ōtaki in January 1848, Te Rauparaha was greeted by a large gathering of Maori chiefs from around the country. It was during this meeting that Te Rauparaha thrust his sword into the ground at the feet of the chief Te Pohotīraha, and challenged him to support the building of the church. Te Pohotīraha was the guardian of the sacred soil of the Tainui people, which had been brought to New Zealand centuries earlier from the ancient altar of Rai'atea (Rangiātea) in Polynesia.

Te Pohotīraha took up the challenge, and the sacred soil was buried under the altar of Rangiātea in a service officiated by the priest Koronīria.

Te Rauparaha and Te Pohotīraha commanded a huge labour force in the construction of Rangiātea. Contemporary European commentators estimated that upwards of 1,000 men were employed on the site. The first service at Rangiātea was held in 1849 to celebrate Hadfield's return to Ōtaki. However, the church was not completed until 1851.







Archdeacon Samuel Williams c 1900

Samuel Williams, the son of missionary Henry Williams, was 18 months old when his family emigrated to New Zealand in 1823. Growing up on a mission station, he soon became conversant with Māori language and customs.

In 1847, soon after his ordination in 1846, Samuel Williams was sent to work at the Ōtaki mission to replace Octavius Hadfield, who had returned to Wellington due to illness. In his absence, he worked to revitalise the project of rebuilding Rangiātea. However, it was not until Te Rauparaha returned to Ōtaki in 1848 that the building project took on a new impetus.

Samuel Williams played an important role in the building of Rangiātea. When a dispute arose about the length of the ridge pole (which was originally close to 100 feet), Williams settled it by cutting 10 feet off in the middle of the night.

Williams did much to develop the Native Māori College of Ōtaki and other village schools in the district. In 1852, he was transferred to Hawke's Bay where he established the famous Te Aute College. The college produced some of New Zealand's greatest Māori leaders, including Sir Āpirana Ngata, Sir Maui Pomare, and Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangihīroa).


  Archdeacon Samuel Williams c 1900
photograph by Stanley Polkinghorne Andrew Negative no G13381 1/1 Earle Andrew Collection Photographic Archive Alexander Turnbull Library





Baptism of the Maori chief Te Puni in Otaki Church,New Zealand 1853 oil painting by Charles Barraud Courtesy National Library of Australia

Baptism of the Māori chief Te Puni in Ōtaki Church, New Zealand 1853

This picture is actually a misrepresentation of Hōniana Te Puni's baptism. The influential chief was baptised at the Petone chapel in 1852 by Octavius Hadfield, in the presence of Sir George and Lady Grey, prominent settlers, and members of Te Puni's family. The baptism was considered a very important event, and was much commented on in the local papers.

In the same year, Sir George Grey commissioned Wellington artist Charles Barraud to paint a picture of the baptism. In the painting, however, the humble Petone Chapel was substituted by the much more impressive Māori church Rangiātea.

It has been suggested that this change may have been prompted by Sir George Grey. By placing the baptism in a well-known and beautiful church, whose architecture combined elements of both cultures, Grey hoped to emphasise the theme of successful colonisation and the assimilation of the Māori race.



The Jubilee Pole c 1895 photographer unknown Negative no G100567 1/2 Photographic Archive Alexander Turnbull Library


The Jubilee Pole c 1895

The Jubilee Pole was erected on 9 February 1880, to commemorate 40 years of the Christian mission on the Kapiti Coast. The pole itself, which was originally intended to be used as the Hauhau flagstaff, was refashioned under the guidance of the Reverend James McWilliam. The ceremony was officiated by Samuel Williams, and attended by some 500 Māori from Whanganui to Napier.

The attending clergy were the Reverends James McWilliam, Rāwiri Te Wanui, Hēnare Te Herekau, Pineaha Te Māhauariki, Ārona Te Hana, Samuel Williams, and R Burrows.


  Contact Rangiatea  
  National Library  


Home   l   History   l   Images   l   Rangiātea Today   l   Links
  *This website is copyright of the National Library of New Zealand and Te Rōpū Whakahaere o Rangiātea

*last updated June 2001