Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

Animism is the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand. Really?


New Zealand, along with all nations, is acutely religious. But, more than most Western countries, the dominant religion is now the Established Religion. We are using “established” in the historical sense of a religion prescribed and protected, so that all citizens must respect and honour that particular religion’s beliefs and practices. Established religion is the religion buttressed and proscribed by the law of the land and funded by tax money.

The established religion in New Zealand is Maori animism. In historical terms it is a pagan and primitive religion, riddled with superstition and idolatry. It is an offence and provocation to the Living God. But none who want official and public respect in New Zealand dare criticise the Establishment. Those, however, who fear God more than man are prepared to call it for what it is: stale hokey pokey–a thoroughly sour, ignorant and stupefying batch of mouldy ice-cream. Every Christian who understands what the Bible says about idolatry and false gods has no hesitation in flatly rejecting Maori animism. In so doing, we have become the new dissenters.

The above paragraphs are the first two of a guest blog by John Tertullian on MandM. I believe that it would be difficult to find a more ignorant, bigoted, piece of Christocentric, Eurocentric nonsense anywhere. Perhaps part of his statement on his About page explains it: “he finds the Scriptures to be more profound and instructive than a million books.”

Although the post is rather old, it is still relevant today, as there is a small section of Christianity in Aotearoa New Zealand that still holds the same view. He, as does those of a similar persuasion confuse religion and culture, which, while they are interrelated, are not the same thing,

The purpose of Tertullian’s post was to criticise a group of young Christians who apologised for offending the local iwi (tribe). In his view apologising was an affront to God. I’ve got news for him: his God was offended not one iota.

This article and a somewhat sensationalised Stuff article, which includes a video clip of the event, give a background of what happened. Essentially, A group of young Christians climbed Mt Taranaki and had a barbecue on the summit. Sounds innocent enough you might think, but to Taranaki iwi the mountain is tapu. In English tapu is often translated a sacred, but perhaps a better translation might be not ordinary.

To Taranaki Māori, Mt Taranaki is their symbolic (not literal) ancestor, and as such, it is tapu. The summit of the mountain represents the ancestor’s head, In Māori culture, the head is the most tapu part of the body, and the top of the head even more so. By having a cook-up on the summit they offended against the tapu, and hence the local iwi.

In That Guy’s tongue in cheek article on the subject, he makes the observation: A basic rule of thumb in New Zealand is: If in doubt, just assume that it is tapu. This has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with respecting the cultural values of the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Tertian tries to equate the reverence local iwi hold for Mt Taranaki with worship of the mountain as a god. He is way off the mark. Genealogy and reverence of ancestors is an important part of Māori culture, and as the mountain is is the “primary” ancestor, it deserves due respect.

It is important to note that the iwi made no claim that the barbecue offended any god, deity, or supernatural being. The offence was against the iwi itself. As Mr Mohi said in the Stuff article, he was disappointed by the actions of the Christians, and that they discourage such activities. There was no demand that the group should change their religious beliefs, or that they should be banned from using the mountain. All that was being asked is respect of Māori culture. Is that too much to ask? After all, Māori make up almost twenty percent of the population, and are Tangata whenua, People of the Land.

One important fact that Mr Tertian forgets is that while only about forty percent of all New Zealanders claim any Christian affiliation, however tenuous, around eighty percent of Māori are practising Christians. They have no issue with accommodating traditional practices within their faith, and as far as I know, their Christian God has shown no objection. If God okay with the concept of tapu, why can’t Mr Tertian?

As for his claim that animism being the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand, once again he fails to differentiate between religion and culture. Aspects of Māori culture are making their way into the wider New Zealand setting. Take, for example the haka. This is now a part of the spiritual fabric of what it is to be a New Zealander, and yet there is a small minority that sees it as no more more than a primitive war dance of a stone age people that has no place in a modern society. I firmly believe we are all the more richer as a society by being able to express ourselves through haka.

Likewise, karakia has made its way into the wider community. The karakia can be thought of as a prayer, blessing or incantation and there is barely a public occasion, such as the opening of a meeting or public building or the departure of an official delegation overseas where it won’t be performed. Karakia tend to contain a blend of Christian and traditional influence, but are not required to. They can be completely secular. They use especially poetic language which means that a literal translation into English isn’t always possible, Even to a non-Māori speaker such as myself, the beauty and majesty of a karakia is undeniable. One doesn’t need to be religious a appreciate it, and in fact, when it has been attacked by religious extremists, I notice atheists come to its defence just as often as liberal Christians.

The video clip below is a karakia performed at the opening of Whales: Giants of the Deep exhibition presented by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa at the American Museum of Natural History.

Powhiri (welcome ceremony) is also now part of NZ custom, having made to transition from a Māori only custom. It is full of meaning for those who care to understand, and a belief in deities is not required to appreciate it. It’s good manners brought to the level of ceremony. One person in the clip below will be familiar to all Americans. As an aside, notice the number of US Security Service personnel accompanying her, and compare that to how many minders our Prime Minister and two senior members of the Cabinet have. Some of US security staff look extremely nervous. I hope they had been briefed on what a powhiri entails.

Hillary makes a brave attempt at the hongi (the touching of forehead and nose), although she is clearly uncomfortable in performing it. Good on her for trying. I doubt her God was in any way offended by the action. Mr Tertian’s assertion that these practices are examples of animism having become the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand are just plain nonsense in my view.

By the way, the Neoclassical building into which the official party enters at the end of the clip is Parliament House. Although it appears to be clad in stone, it’s actually a wooden structure – even the pillars. Appearances can be deceiving.

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and discovered I am autistic at the age of sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

19 thoughts on “Animism is the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand. Really?

  1. Well said 🙂

  2. When I read this

    In historical terms it is a pagan and primitive religion, riddled with superstition and idolatry.

    I thought he was describing Christianity since better description can be offered. Maybe bigotry is embedded in religion

    • I’m not convinced that bigotry is embedded in religion. I’ve met just as many bigoted atheists as I have religious bigots. In fact in this country I’d wager there are as many, if not more, cultural bigots as there are religious ones – those that believe the cultural and social practices of minorities have no place alongside the dominant culture. I would classify Tertian as both a religious and cultural bigot.

      • It is, in most of the so called revealed religions, it is part of the text. Kill the infidel, do not interact with the disbeliever and so on. If that doesn’t lead to bigotry, I don’t know what does.
        Yes, there are many bigoted atheists. They can’t blame it on their godlessness. I would grant it is their nature.
        The religious bigot can count on his/ her religion to support the bigotry

        • Just because a tribal leader made those demands on his people centuries ago and attributed his authority to God doesn’t mean that people of a different time and place should pay any heed to such words. What it does show is that very little has changed over several thousand years. Leaders such as Kim Jong-un still make similar demands, although in his case, as it was with with Mao Tse Tung, it’s the Party and not God that is the Supreme being”.

          • Barry, we have been on this road before.
            The way religion is practiced in NZ maybe with sisterly love, outside of NZ, it is different

            • We have our religious bigots, although perhaps less than elsewhere. Mr Tertullian and the MandM bloggers are good representatives of their kind. As I mentioned in another comment, cultural bigotry would be more prevalent here than religious bigotry. While I acknowledge that bigotry is often part of (organised) religion, it isn’t a necessary component. People with an open, enquiring mind and, yes, even sceptical minds can be religious without having to be blinded by dogma, creeds and ancient texts.

            • Here we just call them tribalists.

        • I’ve just noticed that you attribute the bigotry of the religious to their religion, but the bigotry of atheists to their nature. Isn’t it also possible that the bigotry of a religious person is also in the nature of that person? Bigots will always find “supporting evidence” for their stance. Perhaps the only advantage a religious person has, is that if all else fails, he/she can fall back to faith/belief, an option not available to atheists.

          • Maybe I wasn’t very clear, for the religious bigot, he has the support of his religion for his bigotry. Bigots are gonna be bigots- religious and non religious alike

  3. Well written Barry. Thank You

  4. As always, Barry, I appreciate this cultural glimpses, and have a number of different trains of thought that I can’t follow as I’m racing out the door. One thing I’d say is, I envy the fact that indigenous culture is intermixed in your public life on these ceremonial occasions. At least from the clips you choose, seen from this side of the ocean, the inclusion feels respectful rather than “token.” I hope that’s how it feels there, and I think it’s sad that the writer of this article – and so many, many others in our world – feel too threatened to recognize the gifts conferred by cultural diversity. I very occasionally attend the Episcopal church in my town – as in, a couple times a year – because I like the rector. In one sermon, I remember him saying, “Power isn’t infinite until it’s shared.” I would add as a sidenote that within the American cultural and political context, the use of “Hillary” vs. something more formal, like “Mrs. Clinton” or “the former Secretary of State,” feels disparaging, and as a woman, I feel sensitive to that. As a final observation…who ever heard of moldy ice cream?!

    • I guess there was an element of tokenism when Māori ceremony first became common practice, but that has changed over the decades. I believe now most New Zealanders feel some pride in those parts of our life that have been made unique by the influence of Māori culture. Personally I would like to see more aspects of Māori culture become integrated into the wider society, but I accept that many Pakeha are more conservative than I am. Perhaps my liberalism can be attributed to my spouse being Japanese, and our children choosing spouses from multi-ethnic backgrounds.

      I apologise if you felt the use of “Hillary” was disparaging. In a NZ context it is far from it. Our present Prime Minister is referred to as “John” and out previous Prime Minister was referred to as “Hellen”. Use of more formal names/titles is reserved for formal occasions or if one doesn’t want to express support/approval for that person. So in the context of the video clip, the use of “Hillary” was entirely appropriate to a Kiwi. The reason I referred to John Tertullian as “Mr Tertullian” and not “John” was because I didn’t like his stance.

      Power sharing in the NZ context can be a touchy subject. Our founding document, The Treaty of Waitangi, has specific clauses on the sharing of power between Māori on the one hand, and the British crown on the other. Until the 1970s the treaty was largely ignored by the government (it was not mentioned in constitutional terms until then. The treaty was written in both English and Māori, but some English words such as “governance” and “sovereignty” had no equivalence in Māori and the substitute Māori have no equivalence in English. Effectively some clauses in the English version have different meaning in the Māori version. I’m sure it’s going to be a source of heated discussion for some time – probably generations.

      As for mouldy ice cream, I was once guilty of creating some. In our basement we have a set of matching upright fridge and freezer. The freezer is used all year round, but the fridge is used only when there is a significant shortage of space in the Kitchen fridge, and is switched off for much of the year. During one migraine episode, I put a container of ice cream into to the fridge instead of returning it to the freezer. When ir was discovered several months later, it was indeed mouldy – very mouldy!

      • Well, I learned yet another new thing from you today, Barry! I’m glad to have your explanation about use of names, so thanks for taking the time.

        • You’re welcome 🙂

          I only wish I had some of the differences between NZ and the USA explained to me before I first visited America. Things that Americans take for granted were so foreign to me. I knew of many difference (after all, American shows are seen on TV every day), but even knowing a difference didn’t always help me cope adequately.

          For example, I knew tipping was common practice in the US, but when I got there, I had no idea what was an appropriate amount, nor how one should pay it. But more importantly, I could never get over the feeling that I was being patronising and making a payment as a favour to someone of a lesser status. As a Kiwi, it seems to be demeaning to the receiver of the tip. It made me extremely uncomfortable, and I doubt I will ever feel comfortable about tipping. We’ve been on several ocean cruises where tipping is expected. I’ve got around the discomfort by paying gratuities as a lump sum when booking the trip. I don’t think I could enjoy the cruise otherwise.

          Even at a restaurant, the practice of asking the waiter for the bill and then paying while seated at the table was outside my comfort zone. It’s simply not done here, although it could be seen in a few posh restaurants before the 1980s. Back in the late 1870s and early 1980s, when EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale) was introduced, restaurants were early up takers of the system. Unlike credit cards, there was no equivalent to the old “Zip zap” machine with paper document. The transaction had to take place on an electronic terminal, which required the card owner to swipe his card, select what bank account to transfer money from and enter a PIN. Wireless technology wasn’t available back then so the terminal had to be tethered to the network by a cable. The practical solution was for the diners to pay at the checkout as they leave the restaurant. That’s the way it has been ever since.

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  6. That was an interesting post, and an interesting following discussion, something that isn’t easy to find on blogs.

    I agree that bigotry is not naturally in religion – maybe it fits well in fossilized religions, which the big organized religions are [90% fossilized I would say].

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