Ihaia Te Ahu, one of the earliest of the Maori clergy, was a missionary to the people of Te Arawa for more than 50 years. He was born into the Te Uri Taniwha hapu of Nga Puhi. In 1833 he joined Thomas Chapman, one of the lay missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), at Kerikeri and lived with the Chapmans there before moving to Paihia. When Thomas and Anne Chapman moved to Rotorua in 1835 to begin the first mission station there, Ihaia went with them and worked as a missionary assistant. He married Rangirauaka of Ngati Riripo, and both were baptised by A.N. Brown on 9 May 1841. That was when he took the name Ihaia (Isaiah). By 1845 he was Chapman’s leading teacher and was entrusted with conducting the Sunday services when Chapman was absent. Chapman himself noted that Ihaia’s abilities were “fully acknowledged around by all”. As a Nga Puhi from the north, Ihaia was able to move with some freedom during the tribal conflicts in the Rotorua area.
When the Chapmans moved to Maketu in the Bay of Plenty in 1846, Ihaia and his family again accompanied them. In 1857 he began preparing for ordination. He went first with his family to Tauranga to study under A.N. Brown, and then, during the autumn and winter of 1858, he went to St Stephen’s School, Auckland. There he came first in a class examination and was given a Bible as his prize. Poor health forced him to return to Maketu before his studies were completed. He returned to mission work and eventually took over from Chapman when the latter went to Auckland in 1861. On 3 November 1861 Ihaia was ordained deacon by Bishop William Williams.
Ihaia was responsible for the building of St Thomas’ Church, Maketu, which was opened in 1869. Ihaia was not always confident about the success of the mission. He spent time at Rotorua, and was appointed the first vicar of the Ohinemutu pastorate in Rotorua in 1882. One of his first tasks was to start a drive to build a church. Although the Chapmans had established a mission station in Rotorua in 1835, mission work in the area suffered as a result of the War (Maori Land Wars). The people of Te Arawa had seen something of “the hollowness of the Christianity of civilised men”. The Hauhau movement and the events surrounding Te Kooti had also contributed to the unsettled state of affairs.
Ihaia had virtually to re-establish the work of the church in the Rotorua area. This he did to great effect, so that he became known as the “hero of missionary effort” in Rotorua. His plans to build a church came to fruition with the consecration of St Faith’s Church, Ohinemutu, on 15 March 1885, by Bishop E.C. Stuart of Waiapu. The extent of his influence can be gauged from the following lines:
Kaore te aroha ki te kororia tapu
E waewae ake ana i te ara kuiti!
Nau mai, e tama, ka haere taua i
Ki a Ihaia kia monitatia i,
Kia huihui tatou ko he nohoanga nui ei,
Kia hopukia iho te kupu a te Atua i,
Kia awhi taua ki a Ihu Karaiti ei,
Kia murua te hara i taku tinana nei!
How much I love the holy glory
That clears the narrow path!
Come, my son, and we will go
To be ministered to by Ihaia!
We will meet together and long remain,
We will grasp the word of the Lord
And embrace Jesus Christ,
And my sins will be forgiven!
Ihaia left Ohinemutu in 1889. He served briefly at St Stephen’s College, Auckland, but had retired by 1892 and moved to Kaikohe. He died there and was buried at Maketu.
Ihaia is commemorated on 13 May. This date marks the beginning of a series of commemora-tions of Maori Christians from 13 to 18 May. These Maori were chosen from many Maori Christians of their time as representative of the outstanding Maori witness that caused the gospel to be sown and take root in many parts of the whole country.
BORN: c.1823, Okaihau area, New Zealand
DIED: 7 July 1895, Kaikohe, New Zealand