Rota Waitoa

The first Maori ordained in New Zealand, 1853


Rev Rota Waitoa
Rota Waitoa
The first Maori ordained in New Zealand

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Rota Waitoa is said to have been of Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Maru and Te Arawa descent and received his initial Christian education from Octavius Hadfield at Waikanae. He took the name Rota (Lot), probably at his baptism by Hadfield on 17 October 1841 at Otaki. Later he became Bishop Selwyn’s travelling companion and for 12 years accompanied Selwyn on his trips throughout New Zealand.

He entered St John’s College, Auckland, in the 1840s and was noted for his high standard of knowledge, his sincerity and his humility. He was described as “a man of integrity and exceptional intelligence”, possessing a warm and generous nature.

He was ordained a deacon on 22 May 1853, becoming the “first born” of the Maori clergy, and appointed to the Kawakawa pastorate at Te Araroa, East Cape.

During 1861 Rota took Archdeacon Charles Abraham through the Taranaki area to explain the Maori view of “whenua”. Rota believed that the people’s spirit would be renewed through the gathering of communities of faith. As the people’s spirit was crucified over these years, Rota believed it could be resurrected through the saving actions of Christ.

Rota's posting was in the territory of the famous Ngati Porou chief Te Houkamau, who was not sympathetic to the missionaries. The chief delighted in making Rota’s life difficult. He claimed his crops, had him move his garden as soon as Rota had it planted, refused him labour, and subverted his converts and students. Through all this Rota patiently went about spreading his message and replanting his garden every time it was shifted. He would also round up his stock when they were scattered and say nothing when they were killed. He simply went on encouraging his people when they were challenged by all these things. Gradually he won the respect of Te Houkamau with his doggedness and good humour.

They became close friends and allies, when Rota was sick and had to be taken to Auckland, the great chief pleaded for his return. He offered to be the church sweeper and bell ringer if only Rota would come back.. With Te Houkamau, Rota built two churches: St Barnabas’ at Hicks Bay and St Stephen’s at Te Araroa.

Te Houkamau was baptised Iharaira (Israel) by Rota, and the chief built a special pa, Makeronia (Macedonia), to shelter the faithful during the Hauhau conflict, unlike the European missionaries, forced to retreat from the area, Rota, stayed with his people.

Rota was ordained priest at Gisborne, by Bishop William Williams, on 4 March 1860; he was the first Maori priest. This occurred after extensive preparation and 7 years of probation as a deacon. Throughout 1865 and 1866 Rota went about rebuilding the faith of his people and once again travelled throughout his district supporting and encouraging his flock. On one of these trips to take a service, he was thrown from his horse and badly injured. Bishop Selwyn, on hearing of his accident, brought him and his family to Auckland so that he could have medical treatment. However, his injuries were too serious, and he died. His son followed in his footsteps and also became an Anglican clergyman. Rota’s memory and his line are woven into the story of Christianity on the East Coast.

BORN: Date Unknown, Waitoa, New Zealand

DIED: 22 July 1866, Auckland, New Zealand.