Waitohiariki Quayle was always a bit different from her seven sisters — all of them with names reflecting the sea on the Wairarapa coast near where they grew up, whereas her name came from the range of hills overlooking that sea. In due course, that difference showed up again in her stepping up to become the first Māori wāhine to become an Anglican bishop.

In this kōrero with Dale, she talks about her first contacts with the church, and touches on some of the challenges ahead of her as Bishop of Te Ūpoko o Te Ika.


Kia ora, Waitohiariki. As the Anglican Bishop of Te Ūpoko o Te Ika, you’re well and truly within the church these days. But I wonder if that role stems from an early association with the local church in Masterton? Did you and all 12 of your older brothers and sisters get into your Sunday best and roll on up to church every Sunday with your mum and dad?

I wish. No, we didn’t. We lived in the country, in Gladstone, about 10 kilometres out of Masterton. In those days, we didn’t have any transport to get into town to go to church. But the ministers used to come into the homes. Dad was a labourer, a fencing and shearing contractor. So we had a number of workers living at home — and that meant the priest had a captive audience on a Sunday when he turned up.

There’d be anywhere between 15 and 30 workers willingly coming to the service, although I should explain that, each Sunday, Mum used to cook the best Sunday roast. So it probably was a matter of the workers coming to the service in appreciation for the nice Sunday lunch that they were getting.

But, when I was at primary school, we used to learn the scriptures. And, when I think back, I’ve been involved with church in some form all my life. In my teenage years, my godfather (Te Awhiti “Bill” Tahana) lived across the road. This was in the 1960s. And he used to go in to church once a month to Te Hepara Pai in Masterton. So, to expose me to the big, wide world, as he’d say, he’d take me along.

That was my introduction to going to a service in a church. Then, after I married and my children came along, they were baptised at Te Hepara Pai. My husband was confirmed there, just prior to his passing. So that connection has been a long one.

Reo Māori — was that part of your life as well?

We were brought up in an era of kids hearing Māori but not speaking it. Often, my mum and dad would speak to us in te reo. But we were told quite clearly that we weren’t to speak it outside our door. Or outside of our whenua, anyway. And, when we went to school, we weren’t allowed to speak it there either.

That’s had an impact on me because it’s been so hard, as an adult, to stand up and speak te reo. I keep thinking I might get it wrong. And then get told off for making mistakes.

As Māori, we’re spread across various denominations: Anglicans, Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and so on. But how did you relate to Māori from other denominations?

Well, neither my dad or mum were brought up as Anglicans. I don’t know a lot about it, but Dad was brought up in Te Hāhi o te Rūri Tuawhitu o Ihowa (The Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah). That was his religious upbringing. And my mother grew up in the Mormon faith.

I don’t know how our family came to make the transition to Anglican — probably because the Anglican priests used to visit our home regularly. But so did the Mormon elders. We just accepted the ministers, Rātana, Katorika, or whatever. We all had a faith. We all believed there was a God. And we just got on with one another and lived our Christian values.

Did you puzzle over the apparent contradiction that, although God is great and good, there’s been widespread suffering and disadvantage for Māori?

I was brought up in an era, and in a farming community, where we never ever thought of ourselves as being disadvantaged. That didn’t change until I went off to college where we were sometimes asked questions like: “What percentage of Māori are you?” Or, “Are you quarter or half-caste?”

I didn’t understand what was going on because we weren’t brought up to think any differently of our Pākehā neighbours or any other ethnic group. So it was only then that I began learning a bit about colonisation and its consequences.

But we never looked at ourselves as being superior or inferior to anyone else. And, when I married my husband, Colin Quayle, a Pākehā, I never thought for a moment that I shouldn’t have married him — although my father did ask: “Do you realise what you two are doing? Because there might be a lot of ramifications when a white boy and a Māori girl get married.”

Interesting stuff. Thanks very much. I’ve got a Pākehā dad, too. And, like you, I’ve been uncomfortable when there’ve been questions about percentages of Māori whakapapa. But let’s pause for a moment to hear about where you went to school.

First there was Gladstone Country School and then next was Wairarapa College, a co-ed high school in Masterton. My sisters and brothers all went to Te Aute or Hukarere. Probably, when they got to me, as the youngest in the family, the money had run out. So I just caught the school bus that went past our gate and took us into Masterton. Never regretted it.

What in life would you say has given you most satisfaction?

Probably giving birth to my children. When I married Colin, when I was still only 19, our plan was to have our children early, and to be around for us to enjoy our grandchildren. So we had three kids. But Colin had a brain tumour and passed away when I was 38. So things didn’t quite work the way we’d planned.

That must’ve been a big blow for you, especially after losing your mum when you were 16.

Yeah. But the church has given me strength, even though the numbers at Te Hepara Pai were dropping. There was a period when we had three priests who were suffering from long-term illnesses and there was a prospect of our church having to shut down through lack of support.

I remember standing at the front of a meeting where we were agreeing that we should keep going. And I said: “Well, if we’re to keep going, someone’s gotta put their hand up — and step up.” And they go: “Yeah. That’s right. And you can do it.”

I thought: “There’s nothing stopping me from doing this, is there? If I’ve got a Bible and a prayer book to help me, then, yep, I can do this.” That was the start of me stepping up into the church. And it’s been like that ever since, with me using the Bible as a guide when stuff has got me down. I’ve thought: “Lord, you need to indicate to me where I need to go and how I handle this?” And I’ve been led by the Spirit.

That has brought you to the point where, just last month, you became the first Māori wāhine bishop in the Anglican Church. You’re the Bishop of Te Ūpoko o Te Ika. How has that sat with all your siblings?

Well, a number have passed on. I’ve just got three sisters now — and they were overwhelmed when I told them I was putting my name forward to the electoral college which makes the appointments. In fact, they were really overwhelmed. The whānau was telling me: “You can’t do this.”

They’re like that. They don’t hold back. If they feel like criticising you, they give it to you. But I told them: “If it’s supposed to be, it will be. And, if it’s not, I’ll be back here, annoying you all.” They have totally embraced it, though. They’re really proud.

You know, sis, your heart speaks volumes. I sense that you have a kindness within you that’s been noted by others who’ve seen something in you that was right for the mahi. So, kei te mihi atu kia koe. And kids being kids, no doubt they’ve offered mum some advice along the way.

Well, I used to encourage them to recognise that the world is their oyster and that you can make the most of life if you keep learning. In fact, I’ve followed that advice myself — I did my bachelor’s degree in bicultural social work at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in my mid-50s.

They told me I should’ve done it when I was 18. But I didn’t want to do it then. I did it at a later age. I enjoyed it then. And, in a way, that’s been an inspiration to my kids and other whānau too.

It’s still early days in your role as a bishop, but what positive steps have you been able to take so far?

My thing has been to bring us together again, as an amorangi, and to be all heading in the same direction, which isn’t easy in this day and age when there are so many distractions. But I’m taking little steps. And, although there’s been a push to concentrate on teaching our rangatahi, I believe we have to start younger, with our tamariki. That’s where the spiritual growth has to start.

In the past, there’ve been whānau who’ve brought their babies to church to be baptised, and then they go away and we become disconnected. And we probably don’t see them again until their nanny or koro passes away. Or until they’re really old themselves. I want to have our tamariki in the church where the church teachings can then permeate them as rangatahi and through all their ages.

Ka pai. Finally, here’s a question to wrap up our conversation. How can the church, and religion in general, remain relevant to our Māori people?

That’s a really hard question. And, for a start, it has me thinking about kōhanga reo and its amazing work in revitalising te reo Māori. But I know that, whereas a few years back in the Wairarapa, the kōhanga reo had huge numbers — there were anywhere from 35 to 60 tamariki in most of them — the numbers have dropped right down.

They moved on to whare kura and wānanga, so there now needs to be a boost, a regrowth. There’ll have to be ongoing training to get them back up to a sustainable level.

And with churches, for me, it’s no different. We need to keep providing that knowledge. Like with the kōhanga, the training has to continue. Otherwise there’s a disconnect.

Naturally, there’s a difference between te ao Māori, which is a world with a number of gods, and Christianity, where we believe there’s one God. There’s that disconnection, which I’m still working through. But I have great respect for both.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

© E-Tangata, 2019

Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and not-for-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going.

If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider making a one-off donation or contributing $5 or $10 a month.