14.7.07

Over at Passages, Jacky Bowring's site, there's three photos of churches. The second is of one I know well. After a visit there in 1980, I wrote about it:

On a high green hill just outside Raetihi stands a Ratana church with twin domed towers upon which Arepa and Omeka, Alpha and Omega, are traditionally written. We stopped the car by a clay bank on one side of a cutting through the hill, stepped through the fence and climbed up a steep slope luxuriant with gone-to-seed grass towards the church.

Flags were flying on the marae next door—the Ratana flag, the Union Jack, the New Zealand flag, the Rising Sun. A light rain was falling as we walked over to where a young girl sat on the steps of the whare kai. She got up and went into the building. Peering after her into the gloom, I could see the long trestle tables covered with newsprint, the orange and yellow and green and red of the bottles of soft drink, the big plates of sliced buttered bread. A man with red-rimmed eyes and a distracted air came out. He looked doubtful.


The church?
he said. It might be a bit difficult, you know, because we're having a tangi here today.

He stood on the porch looking out at the falling rain.


I don't know about the church,
he said at last. I'm not a Ratana, see. There's a fella in there who's a Ratana. He might be able to help you more than I can.

He turned and, stooping slightly, went back into that dark interior. He came out again with a younger man, short, stocky, well built. This man radiated that inner certainty and strength called mana. The deep, regular lines round his eyes were like the ravines we had seen up on the mountain.


Well, it's a bit difficult really,
the Ratana began. It's not us younger ones you see, it's the old people ... maybe not if it was any old time, but today, with this tangi on for one of our elders ...

Both men lit cigarettes, Rothmans, using a Bic suspended in a leather pouch on a thong round the Ratana’s neck. A scatter of kids drifted nearer.


How many go to the church?
Barry asked.

About two,
said the Ratana. No, I mean it. Two or three.

The church is down there now,
said Redeye, gesturing with his thumb towards the town.

Down the pub,
said the Ratana.

A thin woman came up, trailing a couple more kids. She lifted a smoke from Redeye.

I'm going home now, she said. There's no place for kids here.

She rubbed her thumb and forefinger together. Redeye reached into his pocket and pulled out some crumpled notes. He offered her a two, but her bony fingers extracted a five instead. While this was going on, another character appeared out of the darkness of the building. He was very black. The whites of his eyes glittered strangely in the gloom of the afternoon. He looked like a Dravidian.

Hey, why don't you get Him to turn the tap off up there? he said to the Ratana, jerking one hand towards the sky.

It would just come down again somewhere else,
was the equable reply.

The Dravidian’s eyes gleamed. He went off down the side of the building muttering to himself. There was a pause.

You can go in, but you can't take photographs. You can photograph the outside and you can have a look inside.


Inside was a little piece of heaven. The same segmented five-pointed star inside the cusp of the crescent moon was carved into the pew ends. Each segment of the star has its own colour: blue for the Father, white for the Son, red for the Holy Ghost; purple for the Angels and gold for the Mangai, T. W. Ratana. Everything in the church was painted, even the altar, which was strewn with flowers. On the wall behind it were murals, copies of the originals at the temple at Ratana.

They had been painted by a youth who was held to be a reincarnation of the prophet's son, Arepa; like Arepa, like Ratana's son Omeka, this boy died when his work was done. The murals tell the story of the movement, especially during the 1920s, when a crusade went out into the world: to the USA, to the League of Nations, to England to see the king. At Geneva the New Zealand representative to the League made sure the delegation was not received. In London, George V, King-Emperor, refused Ratana an audience.


In Japan, however, he was greeted with great ceremony by Bishop Juji Nakada of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Gifts were exchanged, marriages made. Ratana taught that both Maori and Japanese were among the lost tribes of Israel. The idea grew that Ratana had married the Maori race to the Japanese race, had enlisted their support for Maori grievances and prophesied the coming of a world war between the non-white and white races: this is why the Rising Sun still flew over Te Puke marae next to the Haahi Ratana at Raetihi.

from Waimarino County & other excursions, title essay, part VII

3 comments:

jacky said...

Martin - Glorious! Paradox in the backblocks. A tale of revelation in which our very odd configuration of religion, cultures, and landscape reverberate. (And our eternal chiasma - Mother England vs Asia Pacific!) It brings to mind, somehow, McCahon, of course ... the transposition of the biblical into the quotidian antipodean landscape ... your tale, a kind of parable, parallels this in a literary sense. And the evocation of colour, the description of the star, is a Byzantine moment for sure. (Must read Waimarino County! Just bought a copy of Luca Antara and it is the perfect antidote to the depths of winter here, single digit temperatures, fleeting daylight ...)

Martin Edmond said...

thanks, Jacky. btw, I love that photo of the church in Hokitika ... but when I tried to say so in the comments on your blog, all but the first sentence got deleted when I hit publish ... mysteries.

jacky said...

Ah, a mystery indeed - I have no idea why it isn't cooperative, but have posted a signpost by the church to your extract in case anyone strolls by...