By Ken Perrott 21/10/2015 5


In my post, European and Māori major non-believers in NZ, I posed the question:

“I wonder if these non-religious Māori feel as offended as I do when a Christian prayer, disguised as a karakia, is imposed on them?”

Ngaire McCarthy

So, I was pleased to get this article from a reader. It has just been posted on ON LINE  opinion  – Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate.

Ngaire reveals how karakia have been co-opted by Christians. As she says: “The word karakia then became just another tool of colonization.” She also goes on to argue against religious instruction on our secular school system.


Maori ritual and Christian indoctrination in New Zealand

By Ngaire McCarthy

I am a life member, past president, and now Trustee of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists in Auckland. I am a member of The Maori Women’s Welfare League. I am a Justice of the Peace.

MyIwi (tribal heritage) is Ngapuhi, Ngati Hako, and Ngati Tamatera.

I believe that there should be no ‘school prayer’ no ‘religious dogma’ or ‘creed’ taught in our state schools. Our state sponsored schools should be run on strictly secular, ‘separation of church and state’, non-sectarian principles.

Before the missionaries introduced Christianity into Aotearoa New Zealand, we Maori had karakia. These are customary, mostly secular, ritual chants. These traditions and customs continue to be an innate and important part of our culture. We still open and close numerous ceremonies with karakia.

There are hundreds of different karakia that are used for different occasions, but the majority of New Zealanders think there is only one.

The traditional karakia that is used to open and close ceremonies is not a Christian prayer, it is a ritual chant, a set form of words to state or make effective a ritual activity. Karakia are recited rapidly using traditional language, symbols and structures.

The early missionaries saw Maori traditions through a Biblical framework and believed that karakia was always a prayer, so they took the word and reinterpreted it to mean Christian prayer. The word karakia then became just another tool of colonization.

If the few kaumatua (elderly Maori) who articulate the karakia, are Christian, they will continue to misrepresent our customary karakia. This puts them into direct conflict with our pre-colonization customary traditions.

This is not to say that our customs and traditions cannot evolve to meet the changing times. They have and they do. We, the indigenous first nation people of Aotearoa, have a Treaty partnership with the New Zealand government. Our social customs are an important part of the cultural diversity of this country, recognised in the Treaty of Waitangi, and as such, are inviolable.

Returning to the case for the removal of religious instruction and prayers from our state schools, I argue we must focus on religion itself. The language, nationality or race of the religious people involved in instruction and prayer in state schools is irrelevant. It all has to go.

In New Zealand, the religions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and others, have the privilege of state funding for their private schools and buildings of worship, but it seems that those privileges are not enough for them.

We atheists, freethinkers, or indeed, open religiously-minded parents who believe in the separation of church and state, enrol our children into a state school, believing that the school will be free from any form of religious prayers, hymns or instruction.

Children are susceptible and suggestible, and will, without question, believe anything an adult tells them. To take the mind of a child and teach them about religion as if it were an established fact, is tantamount to child abuse and the state should not be encouraging it.

In some of our state schools the practice of segregating/separating religious and non-religious children into groups for religious instruction is unprincipled, and encourages discrimination between the two groups in the playground.

There is also a real danger that non-religious children will be judged/evaluated negatively by religious teachers. That can undermine performance, cognitive flexibility and will power. Teachers at state schools should not be cognizant to the religious belief or the non-religious belief of the children in their care.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 permits religious instruction and observance in schools as long as it is done in a way that does not ‘discriminate’ against anyone who does not share that belief. But as long as religion in any form is enabled by government to allow instructions/prayer in our state schools, then discrimination is an inevitable fact.

It is not a question of equal access to children’s minds for all, it is a question of allowing innocent children the right to come to a belief in their own good time.

The 2013 New Zealand Census found that the population of indigenous Maori stood at 598,605. Of that, 263,517 of us Maori ticked the ‘no religion’ box. That was 46.3 per cent of Maori, almost the same percentage of New Zealanders of European descent, at 46.9 per cent, with no religion.

These figures show that in spite of two centuries of pressure from the dominant Christian religious culture of New Zealand, Maori are rapidly breaking free from dogmatic religion.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference.

As one of the 263,517 Maori who have no religion, I believe that our conscience, our freedom of thought, our freedom from religion, are, with the aid of the state, being jeopardized through the prejudice of privileging religion through our taxes and our schools..

Since colonization, the arrival of other religious traditions on our shores have compromised Maori karakia, as I discussed above, and entrenched mainly Christian indoctrination in our state schools.

If we fail to remove all religion from our state schools we will be sacrificing our future well-being merely in order to appease imposed religious belief systems that show little, or no tolerance, toward those who disagree with them.


5 Responses to “Christian co-option of karakia”

  • […] Yesterday there was a article in the New Zealand Herald suggesting that karakia could be affected by the legal action being taken by Jeff McClintock, David Hines and Tanya Jacob. Regardless of the nature of karakia the status of prayer in class is already legally clear, The Education Act of 1877 established New Zealand schools as Universal, Free and Secular. This means that all children should be welcome at state schools regardless of race, religion or financial status. Reciting karakia does not depend on the legal loophole which allows Christian Ministries to enter schools to preach to children after the school formally closes. Holding prayer in class is already a violation of the Education Act. Our former President, Ngaire McCarthy, of Ngapuhi, Ngati Hako, andNgati Tamatera has addressed this issue in an article on SciBlogs. […]

  • God Almighty creator of the Heavens and Earth, i give you Thanks, Great is your Wisdom and Glory
    God Almighty as you have spoken in Ezekiel 18:32 let you Mercy keep us from harm, Lord Jesus i ask you reveal yourself to both Ken Perrott and Ngaire McCarthy and as the Testimony in 2 Peter 3:9 is given for our benefit I ask. for your loving Kindness and Mercy, Just as your inspired word of 1 Timothy 2:4, may you accept this Text as a personal Prayer request and testament to your Love in Jesus Mighty Name Amen

  • Greetings Ken and consequently Ngaire,
    I am a Christian with, I discovered thru my uncle recently, Maori and other cultures blood. I find your thinking to be interesting as I come from what was a very anti Christian home. You see for me I could and still cannot see why the education system is seen as primarily secular when it is clearly not so, unless we understand ‘secular’ as meaning a particular set of beliefs. At school our children were subjected to constant pressure to accept a world view that is not based in real science but rather in a philosophical view of the world with claim to scientific backing. I love real science that is based in fact and that is both clearly proven without any gaps or guesses. One of the definitions of religion is: ‘a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith’. I respectfully would like to state that the views propagated in our state school system are in fact not neutral as supposed by many but that much of it is a system of beliefs that is held dearly by many. As a Baptist Christian we respect that. We Baptists, (with some exceptions) hold the view that people should be free to believe what they choose, free to speak and practice their beliefs and free to express those views and that every person should be allowed to have an opportunity to understand those beliefs. I’m sad that I never had the opportunity to understand the Christian faith in my younger years, simply because my parents and the education system did not educate me so I had to wait until I was an adult. I believe that Children are as capable of deciding what they believe but it is unfair to allow a heavily biased and distorted belief system to be propagated as the basis of our education in NZ. I may not agree or even believe the other view is correct but I also believe that God gives us the freedom to choose in spite of the consequences of our choice. Bless you.

    • Garry, I am unsure of the relevance of your comments to my post.

      You say “At school our children were subjected to constant pressure to accept a world view that is not based in real science but rather in a philosophical view of the world with claim to scientific backing.” Could you please explain that? What specific world view is promoted and how is it not based in real science?

      What specifically are “the views propagated in our state school system,” and why do you object to them.

      You say you are “sad that I never had the opportunity to understand the Christian faith in my younger years.” Are you also sad that you never had the opportunity to understand Marxism, Hinduism or Buddhism in those years?

      And finally, what is the “heavily biased and distorted belief system . . . propagated as the basis of our education in NZ?”

  • I often sit and wonder if this is also true of Government Departments. So often now we are subjected to karakia, powhiri and “blessings” of the morning tea. So much for a secular government.

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