Whare Tapu Taonga

Laurence Aberhart, Interior St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church, Pawarenga, Whangape Harbour, 1982.

Laurence Aberhart

30 July – 30 October 2022

Laurence Aberhart has been a practicing photographer since the 1970s, when he first gained recognition for his sombre and methodical architectural subjects, although his work would go on to encompass still life, landscapes, interiors and monuments. He has been photographing in and around the Northland area for over four decades.

Aberhart’s series of images of Northland churches was begun in 1982 as a result of a QEII Arts Council grant and represents one of the most instantly recognizable and critically acclaimed bodies of work in New Zealand photography. Whare Tapu Taonga is an exhibition drawn from this series, exemplifying Aberhart’s ability to capture not only the architecture of these buildings but something of their social and spiritual significance as well. His use of an antique Korona view camera, last commercially manufactured in the 1930s, lends his work a sense of atmosphere and substance that perfectly expresses the feeling of stillness and reverence for the past found in historical buildings.

The observation has often been made that the people of the Tai Tokerau were the first Māori to hear the gospel proclaimed, and the first to take up Christianity in its various forms. This is why one encounters so many houses of faith throughout the North, where almost every hapū built their own church or temple.

The first denomination to arrive was the Church of England—Te Hāhi Mihingare.

The famous haka “Te Hari a Ngāpuhi” was performed at Oihi  by five hundred Māori in response to the sermon preached on Christmas Day, 1814, by Samuel Marsden. Pīhopa Te Kitohi Pikaahu, Pīhopa o Te Tai Tokerau gives the words of “Te Hari a Ngāpuhi,” with a translation by the late rangatira Sir James Henare, as follows:

“It is moving; it is shifting
It is moving; it is shifting
Look to the open sea of Waitangi
Spread before u
like the shining cuckoo
It is good, all is well
Change is coming soon,
it is on the horizon
It is good, all is well,
let peace be established”

Next came the Methodists—Te Hāhi Wēteriana, when missionaries Samuel Leigh and William White established the first Wesleyan mission, Wesleydale, at Kaeo on the Whangaroa Harbour on 6 June, 1823. Under the leadership of the Reverend Nathaniel Turner, a mission was established a year later at Mangungu in the Hokianga. This mission baptised its first converts in 1830, and remains intact today. An ahurewa tapu, or sacred cairn of stones, stands upon the site of the first mission and was erected by Māori members of the Methodist Church under the guidance of the Rev A.J. Seamer.

Laurence Aberhart, Interior [Mary], Catholic Church, Lower Waihou, Hokianga Harbour, Northland, 1982.

Fifteen years later, the people of Hokianga witnessed the arrival of the Roman Catholic faith, brought by Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier. Pīhopa Pomaparie marked his arrival with the celebration of the first traditional Latin Mass in New Zealand at Tōtara Point on 13 January, 1838, at the home of Thomas and Mary Poynton. He went on to win the affection of many Māori, speaking and writing Māori fluently. Pihopa Pomaparie later died in France, but his remains were exhumed and returned to Aotearoa by a delegation lead by the late Rev Dr Pā Henare Tate. The remains were interred beneath the altar of Hāta Maria Church, Motuti. 

Following a vision on 8 November 1918, the Rātana Church founder Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana began his spiritual mission during that year’s influenza epidemic. By the early 1920s he had begun to successfully convert Māori from other denominations to the Rātana faith. Throughout the North, many Rātana temples can be observed in places such as Te Hāpua, Te Kao and Mangamuka. Each of these temples features the distinctive double towers common to Rātana temples, replicating those of Te Temepara Tapu o Ihoa at Rātana Pā.

Prominent also across the valleys and settlements of Tai Tokerau are a number of pristinely maintained Mormon temples, such as those seen in Pākanae and Te Horo.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church, began their missionary activities amongst Māori in 1881. Many northern hapū and communities remain strongly Mormon to this day. 

Laurence Aberhart’s photographs from the early 1980s beautifully capture the sacredness, stillness and solemnity of these magnificent places of worship and spiritual life, displaying their diversity of architectural form, liturgical tradition and layout. In the churches where  the sacrament of Holy Communion or the Eucharist is celebrated, one can see the very prominent role played by the altar, while in churches whose congregation observe a stronger gospel preaching tradition, the pulpit is the central and most prominent fixture. Many Catholic, and some Anglican churches photographed have sought to incorporate traditional whakairo (carving) and tukutuku (woven panels). Some were built in the popular gothic style, replicating the churches of England and France. One particular church, Hato Kereti Hato Remehio in Waihou, was built in the Spanish mission style under the leadership of the German-Dutch Catholic priest Father Carl Kreymborg and Dame Whine Cooper.

Interior Ratana Church, Mangamuka, Northland, 1982.

In the Rātana temples, the whetū mārama  (symbol of the star and moon) is prominently displayed as the central symbol of their faith. The Catholic churches display iconic liturgical symbols such as the crucifix, Italian statues of the Madonna and the patronal saints of the church and the central tabernacle containing the blessed sacrament. Many of the Anglican churches feature large shells used as baptismal fonts, detailed stained glass windows and often a richly embroidered banner of the Mothers’ Union organization. 

All of these churches show the importance to the faith of those tupuna (ancestors) who sacrificed whenua (land), time, money, resources and labor for the construction and maintenance of these central spiritual community buildings. Many sit prominently atop hills within the grounds of urupū or wāhi tapu (burial grounds) so that they are visible from multiple locations within their valley, river or harbor communities. Many were put in places where the bell could be heard to toll, indicating the imminent beginning of a service, or conveying other important messages such as a death of a hapū member or the calling of a meeting. 

Laurence Aberhart’s photographs beautifully display these churches without people inside them,  allowing us to enjoy them as they exist when they are not occupied by hapū and communities on Sunday mornings, or during weddings or funerals, the most common uses of these buildings in some of these very rural and isolated communities. It is heartening to know that since the 1980s many have been lovingly renovated and restored for the enjoyment and spiritual growth of future hakatupuranga (generations).

These spectacular yet almost haunting photographs show these churches as they exist for most of the year. Still, silent, lonely, but loved.

Ko Laurence Aberhart he ringaringa tangotango whakaahua mai i ngā 1970, i whiwhi rongo tuatahi ia mō ana kaupapa whakahoahoa hakuna me te pōuriuri, ahakoa ko āna mahi ka whakawhirinaki i te koiora whakarōau, whakaahua whenua, o roto whare, me ngā whakamaumaharatanga. Kua tango whakaahua ia ki roto, taiāwhio noa i te rohe o te Raki kō atu i te whā tekau tau.

Ko ngā raupapa mātātuhi a Aberhart o ngā whare karakia o Te Tai Tokerau i tīmataria i 1982, he hua whakaputa o te karāti a Te Kaunihera Toi QEII, ā, ka whakatohu i tētahi kohinga mahi tango whakaahua ki Aotearoa, mōhiotia inaianei tonutia, kua wānangatia whakanuitia. Ko Whare Tapu Taonga he Whakaaturanga i kōhia mai i tēnei raupapatanga, he tohungatanga o ngā pūkenga a Aberhart ki te hopu, ehara i te whakahoahoa noa iho o ēnei whare engari he āhua o tā rātou hiranga pāpori me te wairua anō hoki. Ko tāna ringaringa i tētahi kāmera tirohanga Korona tūturu, ko te mutunga o te hanga me te hoko i nga tau 1930 ka hiki he āhua kōhauhau me te ngako ka whakaatu tika rawa i te wairua whakarōau me te maruwehi mō te inanahi ka pū ake i aua whare hītōria.

Ko te kitenga i ngā wā tonu, ko te iwi o Te Taitokerau ngā Māori tuatahi kia rongo i te rongopai e whakaarerotia ana, a, ko te tuatahi ki te hiki ake i te Karaitiana me ōna tūmomo āhua. Koia te take ka tūtakitakingia ngā whare rongopai tinitini puta noa i te Raki, i whakatūwheratia ai e te nuinga hapū tōna ake whare karakia, temepara rānei.

Ko te hāhi tuatahi ka whakaeke mai ko te Hāhi Mihingare. Ko te “haka rongonui “Te Hari a Ngāpuhi” i tukungia e te Māori e rima rau hei whakautu i te kauhou i tukungia i te rā Kirihimete 1814 e Samuel Marsden. Na Pīhopa Te Kītohi Pikaahu, Pīhopa o Te Tai Tokerau i tuku mai ngā kupu o “Te Hari a Ngāpuhi,” koia tonu nei:Whai muri mai ko Te Hāhi Wēteriana, i te taenga mai o ngā kaikawe i a Samuel Leigh me William White, i tūwheratia ai te mīhana tuatahi a ngā Wēteriana, ko Wesleydale ki Kaeo ki te whanga o Whangaroa i 6 June, 1823. Ki raro i te ringa arataki a Reverend Nathaniel Turner, ka whakatūwheratia he mīhana ki Mangungu ki te tau i muri mai ki Te Hokianga. Ka iriiritia e tēnei mīhana āna pia i te tau 1830, e haere noa nei ki tēnei rangi. He ahurewa tapu, e tū ana ki runga i te tūnga o te mīhana tuatahi i hangaia e ngā mema Māori o Te Hāhi Wēteriana ki raro i te arahi a te Rev A.J. Seamer.

Tekau ma rima tau ki muri mai ka wheakotia ko te taenga mai o Te Hāhi Katorika, i a Pīhopa Jean-Baptiste Pompallier. Ka whakapuakitia e Pīhopa Pomapārie tōna taenga mai mā te rongopai o te Hapa Rātini tūturu tuatahi ki Tōtara Point i 13 January, 1838 te kāinga a Thomas rāua ko Mary Poynton. I haere tonu ia kia mau te aroha o te maha o te Māori, me tōna kōrero me te tuhituhi matatau i te reo Māori.  I mate a Pīhopa Pomapārie i muri mai ki Wiwi engari ka hahua me te whakahoki mai e te tira i tohia, nā Rev Dr Pā Henare Tate, kua hemo tata nei i arahi. Ko ngā kōiwi ka tōreretia ki raro i te āta o te Whare Karakia o Hata Maria ki Motutī.

“E! Ka nukunuku: E! Ka neke neke
Ka nukunuku:  E! Ka neke neke
Kia kite i te Au o Waitangi
E hora nei
me he Pīpīwharauroa
Takoto te pai!  Takoto te pai!
Whiti!  Ta tata!  Whiti!  Ta tata!
E rua nei nga ra kei tua
Takoto te pai!  Takoto te pai…”

Whai muri i tētahi matakitenga i 8 November 1918, ka tīmataria e te kaihanga o Te Hāhi Rātana e Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana tōna mīhana wairua waenga i tērā tau o te mate uruta. Tae noa ki ngā tau 1920 kua whakahuri oratia e ia te Māori mai i ētahi atu hāhi ki te Hāhi Rātana. E puta noa i Te Taitokerau, ka kitea he temepara Rātana ki ngā kāinga pērā i a Te Hāpua, Te Kao me Mangamuka. Ko ia temepara ka whakatohu i ngā pourewa e rua, e riterite nei ki ngā temepara Rātana katoa, e whakaōrite nei ki ērā o Te Temepara Tapu o Ihoa ki te Pā ki Rātana. 

He mea matua anō hoki ki ngā awaawa me ngā nohoanga hāpori o Te Tai Tokerau, he torutoru ngā temepara Moromona e tapu nei te tiaki ora, pērā i a Pākanae me Te Horo. Ko Te Hāhi o Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, e mōhiotia nei e te tini ko Te Hāhi Moromona, i tīmata i a rātou mahi mīhana i te tau 1881. E ū kaha tonu nei te maha o ngā hapū me ngā hāpori o te Raki ki tēnei rangi tonu.

Interior Catholic Church, Rawene, Hokianga Harbour, Northland, 1982.

Ko ngā whakaahua a Laurence Aberhart ki ngā tau moata o 1980 ka hopu ataahua i te whakarōau tapu me te whakamoemoea o aua wāhi whakahirahira hei piripono me te koiora wairua, e whakaatu ana i te kanorau o te āhua whakahoahoa, tikanga ritenga me te whakaraupapa. Ki ngā whare karakia, ka whakahaeretia te Hapa Tapu, ka kitea e tētahi te tino tikanga matua a te āta, kei ērā atu whare karakia kei tā te whakaminenga te hāpai i te kauhou rongopai tūturu, ko te atāmira te arahinga matua me te arotahinga. Ki te maha o ngā hāhi Katorika, ētahi Mihingare anō hoki kua tango whakaahuatia, ka whakawhirinaki i ngā whakairo tūturu me ngā tukutuku. Ko ētahi i hangaia ki te taera Gothic kia riterite ki ngā whare karakia o Ingarangi me Wīwī. Ko tētahi whare karakia tonu, ko Hato Kereti Hato Remehio i Waihou, i hangaia ki te tūmomo āhua mīhana Pāniora ki raro i te arataki a te Pirihi Katorika, Tiamani, Tatimana a Pā Carl Kreymborg me Te Tohukairangi i a Whina Cooper.

Ki roto i ngā temepara Rātana, ko te whetu mārama (tohu o te whetu me te mārama) ka tohutohutia matuatia hei te tino tohu o te hāhi. Ko ngā hāhi Katorika ka whakaatu tohu rongonui, tohu ritenga pērā i te rīpeka, ngā pākoko Itāria o te Madonna me ngā atua kairangi o te hāhi me te tāpenakara waengapū kei a ia te hapa tapu. Ko te maha o ngā hāhi Mihingare ka tohu kota rarahi ka whakamahia hei ipu iriiri, he matapihi karaehe kua tae whakanikonikotia, ā, he mea kitea rawa he kara tāniko whakairo o te whakahaerenga Ūniana Māmā.

Ko te katoa o ngā whare karakia nei ka whakatohu i te whakahirahira ki te hāhi o ērā mātua tūpuna i tākoha whenua, wā, moni, rawa me te mahi-ā-ringa mō te whakatūwheratanga me te tiaki ora ō aua whare hāpori wairua matua. Ko te nuinga e noho ana ki runga toro puke, ki waenga whenua urupā, wāhi tapu rānei, kia kitea wāteatia mai i ngā wāhi katoa i te awaawa, te awa, i ngā hāpori o ngā whanga rānei. I whakatūria te nuinga ki wāhi kia rangona te tatanga o te pere, hei whakatohu i te tīmatatanga tonu o tētahi whakahaerenga karakia, o ētahi ake kaupapa matua pērā i te matenga o tētahi mema o te hapū, i te karanga hui rānei.

Ko ngā tangonga whakaahua a Laurence Aberhart ka whakaatu ataahua i ēnei whare karakia, horekau he tāngata o roto, kia āhei ai tō tātou harikoa i tō rātou tū wātea i te wā horekau e whakamahia ana e ngā hapū me ngā hāpori, ki ngā ata Rātapu, ki ngā mārena, ki nga tangihanga rānei, ngā kaupapa whakamahi noa o ēnei whare ki ngā tino taiwhenua me nga hāpori noho mōtu. He mea whakamihi kia mōhio mai i ngā tau 1980 kua whakatikangia, kua whakaoratia te maha mō te oranga me te whakatupuranga wairua mō ngā tai rea kei te heke.

Ko ēnei whakaahua whakahirahira engari wairua poke ka whakatohu i ēnei whare karakia ki te ia o tā rātou tūnga mō te nuinga o te tau. Te whakarōau, te wahangu, te mokemoke, engari te arohaina.

Text by Geremy Hema. Translation by Daniel Hauraki.