Today Kapiti Island north of Wellington is a sanctuary for some of New Zealand’s precious rare birds. 180 years ago it provided sanctuary of a different sort. In 1837 a group of young men hungry for truth established what was perhaps New Zealand’s first indigenous Bible college on the island. Tamihana Te Rauparaha (son of the great Ngati Toa chief) his cousin Matene Te Whiwhi and ten others retreated to Kapiti to study the new teachings of Christianity.
They had been introduced to the Gospel by Ripahau, a former slave of who had returned from the far north with the transforming new ideas he had he learnt from the missionaries. Ideas about peace, forgiveness, new life and hope beyond death.
Tamihana and his friends were excited about what they heard. However others in their tribes were less enthusiastic, even actively opposing their endeavours to learn more. In response the young seekers sought sanctuary across the waters on Kapiti Island where, as Keith Newman writes in his recent book Beyond Betrayal,
“They acquired paper and writing implements from whaling stations and, with fragments from (the) gospel, a prayer book and whatever Ripahau had memorised, they began their own Bible school.”
The several months these young men spent on their island retreat was to bear abundant fruit. Together with the missionary Octavius Hadfield whom they subsequently invited to join them, they became ministers of a great work of God which was established and flourished in Otaki and along the coast.
This work was to have a major impact in the Wellington region and beyond. Local tribal conflicts were quelled. Tamihana and his cousin journeyed to the South Island tribes to seek forgiveness and reconciliation for his father’s previous raids. Tamihana was also influential in establishing the Maori King movement with a vision for tribal unity. However when it later became militant against the Crown and conflict broke out he ensured that the Wellington region remained a “peace zone”.
These were nation changing events. But it all began when 12 young men sought the sanctuary of the Spirit on Kapiti Island.