By Tamati Tiananga of Maori Television
Immediate Rātana whānau members, who have led the largest Hāhī Māori in the country for over 100 years, are starting discussions to select the eighth tumuaki of the Rātana faith following the death of Harerangi Meihana last week.
It's a rigorous task for the whānau, appointing someone to lead 40,000 followers.
"You can call yourself a mōrehu if you believe in the one true god," Rātana spokesman Piri Rurawhe says.
"This māramatanga came to us to break away from all of those things that stopped us from uniting and taking away all the barriers as a people."
The mōrehu will follow a constitution written in 2002 to appoint the new leader.
Rurawhe said, "In the church constitution of 2002 it states a clear process so the Rātana whānau will meet and they will choose one from within."
Rātana's influence on Hāhi Māori
Rātana is based on the foundation of church unity, something which also features in the Ringatū, Paimārire and Anglican churches.
"I can assume religion is still strong with Māoridom," Rev Chris Huriwai said. "Even though we don't see large numbers coming into our churches, religious faith and practices run deep within Māori whānau."
Te Kahautu Maxwell said, "The Ringatū faith is still alive although we had no pou tikanga for 35 years. It wasn't until 2014 a pou tikanga was appointed. Through our visits, our discussions, and engagements with Rātana, Ringatū was able to survive."
Kiingitanga spokesman Rāhui Papa said,"This has been a show of support between the three Māori faiths created here in New Zealand - Rātana, Ringatū, and Paimarire. There have been other faiths that have been brought into our culture, but this is one of the faiths that were originally created here in this country."
• Tahupotiki Wiremu Rātana (1925–1939)
• Haami Tokouru Rātana (1939–1944)
• Matiu Rātana (1944–1950)
• Puhi o Aotea Ratahi (1950–1966)
• Maata "Te Reo" Hura (1966–1991)
• Raniera Te Aou Hou Rātana (1991–1998)
• Harerangi Meihana (1998–2022)
In its 104 years, the church has had seven tumuaki, with Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana the first. So far, it has had five male and two female tumuaki. Jamie Nepia has served three tumuaki.
"I was known as the nosy child hanging around our koeke and our tumuaki," Nepia recalls. "I have served three tumuaki. I served Maata "Te Reo" Hura, and also Raniera Te Aou Hou Rātana and Harerangi Meihana."
A kawe mate for the late tumuaki will be taken to Tūrangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawāhia to the annual coronation celebration of King Tūheitia in August.