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March 2009

Missionaries’ role in Treaty of Waitangi highlighted

By Paul Titus

Methodist Church leaders and students from Trinity Theological College were among the group of more than 500 people who attended the 170th anniversary commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which took place at Mangungu Mission in the Hokianga on February 12th.

The day-long event at marked the largest single Treaty signing anywhere in New Zealand. Sixty-nine rangatira signed the document at Mangungu on February 12th, 1840. Organisers say the commemoration was the culmination of several events held over five days, including a hikoi from the Bay of Islands.

One of the highlights of the day was the ceremonial waka salute. Four waka, including the 73 year old Ngatoki-mata-whao-rua ki Hokianga, came to Mangungu. This was the first time ‘Ngatoki’ had seen the waters of the Hokianga since 1948, and among those who manned it were descendants of the men who crewed it when it was built.

Mangungu was the site of a Wesleyan Missionary Society settlement from 1828 to 1855. The mission house was built in 1838. It has operated as a NZ Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) museum since 1977.

Along with members of the NZHPT national board, guests at the Treaty commemorations included MPs Shane Jones, Kelvin Davis, Hone Harawira and David Clendon as well as kaumatua, kuia and young people from the Hokianga area and further afield.


Guests arrive for the powhiri on the grounds below Mangungu Mission House.





President Rev Alan Upson and Tumuaki Rev Diana Tana address the gathering.


Rev Donald Phillipps gives his sermon during the karakia service watched by MPs Hone Harawira (centre) and Shane Jones (left).

Methodist president Rev Alan Upson, tumuaki Rev Diana Tana, and historian Rev Donald Phillipps led a church service during the powhiri.

Alan says his memories of the day include the drive of 10km along narrow, winding dirt roads before emerging at the mangrove-lined Hokianga harbour. "It felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere but people were directing cars and masses of people who had come to celebrate the signing of the Treaty."

Alan is impressed with important role the Methodist Church plays for the people of Mangungu and Horeke. In his reflection during the service he spoke of the early English missionaries who settled in a land so different to their home.

"Those with a narrowly defined gospel were probably overwhelmed by culture shock. Others had a sense of God’s presence in all places and were able to adapt and make the most of the situation."

Donald says at Mangungu in 1840, Rev John Hobbs acted as interpreter for lieutenant governor William Hobson. Hobbs made a unique contribution to the understanding of the Treaty when he described it to the 3000 assembled Maori people as a covenant rather than a treaty.

"One of my great-grandmothers was the niece of the early Methodist missionary William White. As a little child of five years, she was in the crowd when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed at Mangungu, and probably got bored by all the talking that went on.

"There was a lot of that at the commemoration as well. We gathered under a large marquee for worship, and it was my great privilege to be able to preach to the crowd who gathered on this occasion."

During the powhiri the NZHPT’s Maori heritage team presented a bronze hand bell to the community for use with marae and church as part of its koha for the day.

NZHPT destinations manager Gordon Hewston was part of the team who organised the day at Mangungu. He says the organisers are confident that the observance of the Treaty signing anniversary at Mangungu will continue to grow as an annual event.

"If the enthusiasm for this year is anything to go by, will become a significant Treaty commemoration in its own right in years to come," Gordon says.