Christianity, Colonisation and the Challenge of Māori History

Cherokee writer William Baldridge writes of missionaries: “they are a target as easy to hit as dirt and just as difficult to eliminate”. The same could be writ large of Christianity in settler nations, ever present as a malign force in the lives of indigenous people, one of the more insidious agents of colonisation. And yet, simultaneously, Christianity was a source of liberation, of creativity, and of keeping the embers of language and culture alive in the darkest of times.

This is the tension of telling the histories of Māori and Christianity. As monuments fall, as school curriculums are overhauled, as ‘national identity’ is reassessed and as the dream of indigenous sovereignty comes ever closer, what is the place for Christianity in these histories beyond the binary of oppressor-oppressed? What if cultural change does not always equate to cultural loss?

One answer is to turn to mātauranga as a framework for history – indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing. ‘Insider’ histories that can read and tell our own stories through our pain and loss but also through whanaungatanga (connectedness) and whakapapa (lines of descent). This is some of the challenge of Māori history that is explored in this lecture, the 2021 Ernest Scott Lecture Part II, delivered by Dr Hirini Kaa.


Dr Hirini Kaa of Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu and Rongowhakaata descent, has worked in the social services sector, as an academic at the University of Auckland, and for his iwi (tribe), and now works with Te Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa (the Māori Anglican Church) focusing on mātauranga (knowledge and ways of knowing). Since researching and presenting the historical documentary series The Prophets for Māori Television, he has gone on to become a significant media commentator on a range of critical topics.

Hirini Kaa’s book Te Hāhi Mihinare – the Māori Anglican Church (Bridget Williams Books, 2020) was the joint winner of the 2021 Ernest Scott Prize for Australian or New Zealand History (together with Grace Karskens), and was also a Finalist, General Non-fiction Award, at the 2021 Ockham NZ Book Awards.

The winner of the 2022 Ernest Scott Prize will be announced following the 2022 Kathleen Fitzpatrick lecture, to be presented online on 19 May 2022 by Professor Mark Edele.

You can browse through past winners of the Ernest Scott prize, from 1943 to 2021, here.

A recording of the 2021 Ernest Scott Lecture Part I, delivered by Grace Karskens, is available here


Feature image: St Mary’s Church, Tikitiki. Photographer: tjrehmann via Flickr