Thursday, 26 July 2018

A Curse Passing Down the Generations

Clinging To A Poisoned Vine

Followers of current affairs in New Zealand will be aware of the disordered state of Maori in the northern most climes of the country.  We have in mind the divisions within the tribe Ngapuhi.  The government wants to conclude a Treaty settlement with the tribe.  The tribe is said to have over 110 hapu or clans, or family groupings of people related by genealogical descent.  The tribe also has these groups roughly grouped into over half a dozen "sub-tribes".

Some of these groups are bitterly at odds with others.  Some claim that no-one and no organization can represent all of Ngapuhi.  They are demanding that their particular hapu must negotiate with the Crown on its own behalf and on its own terms.  The Government has voted an amount for settlement; Ngapuhi sub-tribes cannot agree who or what group should represent them in negotiations with the Crown.  This has gone on for decades.

Well, actually, it has gone on for centuries amongst Ngapuhi.  Literally.
  One of the most prominent amongst the early missionaries to the Maori was Henry Williams.  For most of his ministry to Maori, he was based in Paihia--in the heart of Ngapuhi country.  A good deal of his time was spent acting as a good-faith negotiator between warring Ngapuhi hapu.  He was regarded as an honest broker: neutral--yet forcefully pressing upon the quarrelling combatants and warring sub-tribes the destructive futility of violence, making a call to reconciliation and peace from the Prince of Peace.

This was no small matter.  Williams's brother records that by 1839-40 there was growing demand upon the northern missionaries--to send missionaries further south.  There appeared to be a genuine spiritual hunger.  In particular, tribal authorities were asking for Henry Williams in person to be sent south to work in Wellington, Taranaki, and in the south-west of the North Island.  Williams (as always) was keen to respond.  But the Ngapuhi objected, arguing that Williams must not go.
The Rev. Henry Williams listened to this account with intense interest, and at once said that if there were no other person to undertake the mission, he would go himself.  This, however, was objected to, because the Ngapuhi had long been accustomed to look up to him as their adviser in their often-recurring quarrels, and his presence among them seemed to be necessary.  [William Williams, Christianity Among the New Zealanders (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), p.271. Emphasis, ours.]
Sadly, Ngapuhi are still bearing the curse of internecine division and quarreling to this day.  Surely by now it should be time to lay the quarrels down.  Nearly every other major tribe has reached settlement with the Crown, and in many cases putting the restitution funds to good work. 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ commands that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves.  This is the Gospel that Te Wiremu proclaimed for all the years of his service to His Lord and to Ngapuhi (from 1823 to  his death in 1867.  The Northern tribes have sadly rejected that command of the King of all kings.  They have gone another way--actually, they have reverted back to their old ways.  They are the ways of quarrelling and fighting without end.  How long will this stubborn and disobedient people persist?  How long will they prefer division and the ethics of utu and bitterness?

The ancestors of modern Ngapuhi were the first to hear the Gospel of Christ in Aotearoa.  They were the first to respond positively.  Yet a hardened core clung to the old ways.  The tribe and sub-tribes have persisted in those ways, despite their bitter fruits being repeated over and over.  How long do you want to bear the bitter fruits?  Do you want your children to be cursed with your sins as they follow in your ways?

As the Scriptures would say, "Turn you, O turn you, for why would you die, O house of Ngapuhi."

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