I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a pepeha (or saying) from among my own peculiar people, Ngāti Porou:

E tipu, e rea

I’ve shared these thoughts at different stages with bible study groups, at staff retreats, and in a couple of sermons lately. It’s nothing new or unique, just something that I’ve been thinking and teaching lately as part of a broader habit of building Atuatanga or Māori theology into my own practice and faith.

Here’s the crux of it:

The phrase E tipu, e rea is part of a longer pepeha that was written by the great Ta Apirana Ngata in 1949. He wrote it for a young girl called Rangi Bennett, who as one story has it was all of 7 years old at the time, and whose parents asked Ta Apirana to inscribe something in her homework book that might inspire their daughter for years to come. Here’s the full saying:

E tipu, e rea,

Mo ngā ra o tōu ao;

Ko tō ringa ki ngā rākau a te Pāhekā

Hei ara mō tō tinana,

Ko tō ngākau ki ngā taonga a o tipuna

Hei tikitiki mō tō mahuna,

A, ko tō wairua ki te Atua,

Nāna nei ngā mea katoa.

Ta Apirana wrote this only about a year, maybe less, before he died – and as it was, this pepeha was written towards the end of a long life of service and accomplishment. By this time, Ta Apirana had been the first Māori graduate of a University (and the first New Zealander, Māori or Pākehā, to earn a double-degree), the first Māori lawyer (admitted to the Bar), the first Māori Member of Parliament, and the first Māori Minister of the Cabinet. He had overseen ground-breaking economic initiatives for Māori, played a central role in a renaissance of Māori cultural expression (including kapa haka and the building of traditional Māori decorated meeting-houses, or marae), and was a tireless advocate for the amelioration of the condition of the Māori race. Ta Apirana was also a great Churchman who worked to establish and strengthen the ministry and influence of the Māori Anglican Church.

We could summise then that his pepeha, e tipu e rea, was a distillation, a synthesis of all his life’s work and experience into a few short but powerful sentences.

E tipu, e rea,
Mo ngā ra o tōu ao;

I’ve heard this phrase translated as “Grow, oh young tender plant, in the days destined for you.”

The word rea has a connection to the word reanga which means generation; while the phrase “mo ngā ra o tou ao” (lit. for the days of your world) we can take to mean “for your time”, or “for your world”. This gives us the sense that Ta Apirana was encouraging young Rangi Bennet to grow and thrive as a child of her time.

Ko tō ringa ki ngā rākau a te Pāhekā,
hei ara mō tō tinana

Often translated  in its most basic sense as “Lay hold of the ways of the Pakeha, to make a way for yourself”, this sentence offers additional possibilities: “Lay hold of the technology, the educational opportunities, the understanding and the insight, not only of the Pakeha, but of the entire world.”

The word ringa means hand, but also action. Rākau can mean branch, tree, or pillar. The sense here of being encouraged to actively pursue and use the pillars of human endeavour (ngā rākau a te Pakeha) aligns with Ta Apirana’s own endeavours. He was utterly convinced that education and economy were essential pillars for the uplifting of the Māori race.

Ko tō ngākau ki ngā taonga a o tipuna,
hei tikitiki mō tō mahuna

I’ve heard this translated quaintly as “In your heart, lay hold of the treasures of your ancestors, so that they may be a diadem, a crowning jewel upon your head.”

Ta Apirana was a passionate advocate for the preservation and advancement of Māori culture. He was almost single-handly responsible for a renaissance in traditional Māori carving (whakairo) in the early 20th century, and the resulting explosion of marae construction that occurred around the country beginning in the 1920s and 1930s. Beyond this he was a great exponent of Māori waiata, haka, moteatea, and of course Māori language. As a key member of a group translating the Bible into Māori language, Ta Apirana was referred to as a having a mind that soared above the translation process, introducing ancient idiom and concept to more accurately express the spirit of scripture in authentic Māori ways.

Ta Apirana believed that our culture was a gift from our ancestors that could embue us with diginity and pride.

A, ko tō wairua ki te Atua,
Nāna nei ngā mea katoa.

We could take this last sentence as follows: “Give your spirit – your entire life essence – to God, because God is the maker of all things.”

Ta Apirana is often remembered as the graduate, the lawyer, the parliamentarian, and the Māori leader. What is often forgotten is that he was also a man of the church, and a man of faith. He knew that the only way to get the edge in our human endeavours was to put God first, because “God is the author of all things” – Nāna nei ngā mea katoa.

Even though Ta Apirana noted the crucial importance of education, advancement, and cultural heritage, he saw faith in God as the over-arching, and all-encompassing thing. It was fundamental to all his endeavour and accomplishment.

Let me draw a biblical parallel just quickly. In the Gospel story, Jesus was asked a taxing question: Is it lawful to pay tribute (tax) to Caesar? (Mark 12:12-17)

It is a story that is often used to justify a separation between the secular and the sacred, the state and the church.

Jesus’ answered:

Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar; and render unto God what belongs to God.

Jesus was asked a trick question, and he responded with a trick answer: Caesar may have a claim on his own currency, but God has a claim on his entire created universe. Everything belongs to God, even the secular and the state.  When Ta Apirana said “Nāna nei ngā mea katoa”, I think he was seeking to reflect what Jesus said.

So, if Ta Apirana was still here, and you asked him for advice, I guess he would say “E tipu, e rea, mo ngā rā o tōu ao …”

Grow, and keep growing. Do your best with the days that God has given to you. Seek out opportunities to grow, and change, and improve. Be a person of culture and heritage, stand with dignity and pride.

And in everything you do, put God first.

Nāna nei ngā mea katoa.

Walking the faith ain't easy, even if you are an Anglican priest. So I keep my family first, stay grateful, and try to live a little.