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. In 1833 he joined Thomas Chapman, one of the lay missionaries of the Church Missionary Society, and his wife Anne, at Kerikeri, then Paihia. In 1835 they founded the first mission station in Rotorua, where he became, 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.
In 1846 Ihaia as part of the Chapmans missionary team moved his family with them to Maketu in the Bay of Plenty. In 1857 he began preparing for ordination. He went with his family to Tauranga to study under A.N. Brown, then during the autumn and winter of 1858, he went to St Stephen’s School, Auckland. He came first in a class examination and won a Bible, but poor health forced him to return to Maketu before his studies were completed. Returning to mission work he took over from Chapman in 1861 while Chapman was in Auckland. 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. While he and the Chapmans had established the mission station there in 1835, mission work had suffered as a result of the Maori Land Wars during the 1860s. 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 was buried at Maketu.
BORN:c.1823, Te Uri Taniwha hapu of
Nga Puhi in the
DIED: 7 July 1895, Kaikohe, New Zealand.