“Welcome to the Hui-Tau,” the annual conference of the New Zealand mission.
Missionaries began work among Europeans in New Zealand in 1870, with very modest success. In 1881, they established contacts with the native peoples – the Maori – who responded very favorably to the gospel as taught by the elders. It didn’t take long before the mission conference familiar in other parts of the world took on a unique Maori flavor in the New Zealand Mission. The conference – the hui tau – quickly became a multi-day cultural affair, usually scheduled to coincide with Salt Lake’s April conference, with religious instruction and rejoicing, communal feasts, and traditional cultural displays. Members planned their year around the hui tau, and the hui tau was planned around the year by whatever community was honored to host the next event. Two members of the Council of the Twelve – David O. McKay and Matthew Cowley – attended hui tau during their mission travels. The great hui tau celebrations lasted into the 1950s.
One elder – I don’t know who, since he signed his letter “Na Wuhrui” – described the 1910 hui tau for readers of the Deseret News:
One of the largest gatherings held for several years convened at Papawai, Wairarapa, April 1 to 3 inclusive. This was the first conference to convene there for 12 years and it reflects great credit on those supervising it for the excellent and satisfactory manner in which the vast gathering was cared for and for the decided success achieved. About 800 people assembled. Influential chiefs and a good representation from both islands were in attendance, among the number being [T]e Whatahora,* who gave invaluable assistance in the translation of the Book of Mormon. The meetings were all spirited and the spiritual feast was relished by all. Owing to a number of the surrounding settlers visiting on Sunday a European meeting was held in the afternoon and a very appreciative audience listened attentively to discourses on the first principles of the gospel.
This conference, we feel, has given a great impetus to the work in Wairarapa among both the Maoris and Europeans. And the representatives of the different conferences together with the visiting elders all left carrying the good spirit with them, therefore the good accruing throughout the whole mission cannot be estimated.
[*Hoani Te Whatahora (1841-1923), the son of an English carpenter and a Maori mother, worked on the translation of the Book of Mormon from 1886 to 1888, although he didn’t join the Church until 1900. His translation was replaced in 1918 by one prepared by a young Matthew Cowley.]
A much more interesting account of the sights and sounds of the hui tau of the following year (1911) — although he regrettably does not cover the cultural angle of the story — is preserved in the non-Mormon press of Wellington, New Zealand. The journalist’s tone is professional, his report of unfamiliar Mormon teachings is fair and remarkably accurate (allowing for errors in reconstructing his interview from non-verbatim notes). His commentary ranges from the wardrobe of the missionaries to Mormon doctrine of the gathering to the plans for the future Maori Agricultural College:
Over the cacophony of Maori tongues, the hissing of steam, the clanging of bells and the rattle of tins and chinaware in the Papawai pa [settlement] floated the sounds of a well-known [Ira D.] Sankey [(1840-1908)] hymn, “I Need thee Every Hour.” The singing was sweet; it came from a few young men and women grouped around an American organ. Outside before the large assembly house the Maori chiefs harangued their people, ever striking chords in the minor key, ever obtaining responsive vibrations.
The singing seemed to be a side-show. The Maoris came and went giving no heed to it, their wahines [women], unabashed by the presence of men, going on with toilettes in detail. Some of the men were sleeping on the straw, others chatted with the women, and clear above the laughter and chatter rose the langourous melody of the hymn.
The singers were Mormons. …
All the time, however, lying perdu was a large number of Mormon missionaries, fifty at least. They were in an upper room, and apparently the place had been set apart for their use by their Maori hosts, with whom they seem to be on the best of terms. …
These missionaries were typical American young men. They wore no distinguishing clerical garb, their collars buttoned in front. They appeared to be of the usual American college variety, well dressed (some even to the extent of the peg-leg trouser and long-waisted jacket of the American gilded youth of to-day). They seemed perfectly happy. While one group listened to a youth addressing, another gathered around a violist who was leading a hymn. Other and small groups stood around talking. Some of the young read aloud, others to themselves, others again lay on the straw asleep or gazing at the ceiling. Everything was casual, happy-go-lucky. There were a few women among them, perhaps five or six. The self-assurance characterising the youthful speakers at that moment would seem to bespeak for them graduation in Christian Endeavour polemics. Luggage lay about – rugs, valises, portmanteaux, and “grips.” The style of the impedimenta was in keeping with the appearance of the owners – that of well-to-do young Americans. Nothing whatever of the beggarly pilgrim or mendicant friar about it.
Next day there was more order and system, for a meeting was held in the upper room under the presidency of Mr. [George] Bowles [(1866-1942)]. It seemed to be a meeting preliminary to the Mormon conference.
Mr. Bowles is a tall, dark, good-looking man, this side of middle-age. His appearance suggested that of an alert American business man. He speaks in a clear, deep, rich voice; has sufficient confidence in his knowledge of Maori to address an assembly of chiefs, and has the air of a university man and impresses one as a worker.
Seeing that Mormonism has a grip of the Maori or of a large portion of the race, Mr. Bowles was asked by a representative of The Post if he cared to give an outline of his creed in relation to Maoris. He readily assented. It was pointed out that a creed which had taught polygamy as a virtue possessed at least that one feature as a claim upon the general interest. He thought so, too. “I will cheerfully answer any reasonable question you choose to put to me,” he added. “We are a misrepresented people in New Zealand as in the United States. But that does not matter.”
“You are holding a conference here – what for?” was the first question.
“We are discussing matters of interest to our Church and the people among whom we work.”
“Both Europeans and Maoris. This meeting is a gathering together of our missionaries. There are forty-five men and three sisters in attendance.”
“From what class do you recruit your missionaries?”
“Well, sir, they come in the main from the farming class of Utah – farmers’ sons, rather. Some are from banks, offices, and stores. They are educated young men and come out on the mission at their own charges, for two or three years’ work in New Zealand. They return at the expense of the Church.” …
“Is ‘Mormon’ a term of reproach or is it a correct designation of the body known by that name?”
“Thank you for that! Why, we call ourselves the Latter Day Saints of the Church of Jesus Christ.”
“How many members have you in New Zealand?”
“About 5600. Of these four-fifths are Maoris.” …
“We are particularly interested in the Maoris because we recognise them as of the lineage of Israel of the tribe of Manasseh. the Book of Mormon tells us this much. This book was given by revelation to Joseph Smith, inscribed on metal plates. One of these nations – the Nephites – was destroyed. The other – the Lamanite – survived, and the Red Indians are descended from them. So, too, are the Maoris. Those are our teachings – those are our beliefs through the revelations made to us. There is to be a great gathering of people, the Saints of the Latter Day.”
“That will take place – ”
“In the United States.” …
Mr. Bowles stated that the work among Maoris consisted of teaching them the useful arts, suitable trades, agriculture, and teaching them in schools. There were seven elementary Maori schools in New Zealand. These received not one penny from the State. The tenets of Mormonism was taught in the schools, as well as secular subjects. The text books adopted were those prescribed by the State, and the State’s required standard had to be adhered to. The Saints owned a farm of 130 acres in Hawkes Bay, where it is intended in the future to build a college for the instruction of young Maori men in useful arts, primarily those relating to agriculture. The headquarters in Auckland were purchased three years ago for £1700. These are for the reception and training of the young men coming out to work in New Zealand. These missionaries return after two or three years’ work, and necessarily constitute in Salt Lake City, and other Mormon districts, a leaven of quite young men who have seen life out in the great world beyond their own farmyards, and have come into contact with the rough side of it. …
When the interview finished a Maori sister greeted the president. Both shook hands, both performed the hongi, or Maori rubbing of nose with nose. Did this ready acquiescence in native custom explain the adaptability of the Mormon missionary to local circumstances, and, therefore, his success among the Maoris?
(I’ve abbreviated the lengthy report; you can read the full transcription here.)
The hui tau of New Zealand was like no other mission conference I’ve read about anywhere else in the world. Beyond the religious instruction, beyond the fellowshipping and solidarity created by these great annual meetings, the hui tau festivals assisted in the preservation of Maori culture during a time when traditional arts around the world were being lost in the rush to modernization. By the time the hui tau tradition ended in the 1950s – and I know you’re going to ask why; I don’t know, but will do some research, and welcome input from readers who may already know – folkways were beginning to be appreciated again, and the Mormon Maoris were a significant resource to their nation.
Haere Mai ki te Hui Tau!
1910 photograph identification:
Left to right, top row – a.E. burt, J.E. Johnson, O. Humphries, Waimate Anaru, O.M. Bates, Turi Ruruku, A.C. Sant, J. Latimer, J.H. Jenkins, A.H. Davis, O.B. Evans, Tahua Watson, O.S. Brown, M.D. Lowe and L.C. Henriod.
Second row – M.W. Woolley, W.H. Stevensen, Jr., W. Woolf, Hirini Heremaia, H.C. Perkins, L.J. Lamont, J.A. Meservy, J.S. Erickson, J.S. Johnson, Stuart Meha, J.W. Reeve, J.E. Ball, M.F. Malin, G.R. Doxey and W.A. Miller.
Third row – A.E. Anderson, L.E. Johnson, H.T. Te Whatahora, President Geo. Bowles, Mrs. G.A. Bowles, Secy. J.W. West, Jr., Tamihana Te Aweawe, F.E. Peck and S.R. Rowley.
Fourth row – A.L. Larson, Hone Peepe, D. Whitney, G.A. Garner, R.C. Haacke, H.H. Crouch, A.L. Francom, Henare Pere and T.E. Hall.
Front row – S.W. Case, G.A. Bowles, Jr., and A. Grant.