In June 2020, the national administrator for the Baptist Churches of New Zealand, Winston Hema, announced he had changed his name. His decision, he explains, is rooted in his whakapapa, his whānau, his cultural identity and his faith.
Kia ora whānau, tēnā koutou e hoa mā, I would like to share with you all the reason behind my change of name. I am sure many of you have questions as to why I have done this, so I have pulled this kōrero together to try to enlighten.
Starting with Scripture is never a bad idea:
But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control (Philippians 3:20-21, NLT).
God is restoring what he has created. We can see this in the way that our world is shaking significantly in the areas of identity, racism and leadership. I have found myself striving to provide space and time to listen to the Māori voice within my family. All cultures, races and peoples are citizens of heaven. God is drawing us closer to himself, that our weak mortal bodies will become more like him.
I have been considering changing my name for some years and have discussed the idea with a number of people close to me over the past few months. My full name prior to this change was Winston Rangi Hema, but legally my name changed to Rangiaruaru Winston Hema as of 13th June 2020.
In early 2018 I was asked to preach at the church I attend, Long Bay Baptist. I do not profess to be a preacher but was keen to share about my journey as a Māori Christian. I had only discussed the topic I was preaching on with my pastor. The week before I was about to preach, a friend of mine from church tapped me on the shoulder in the middle of worship and asked, “Winston, what is it called when two people touch noses?” I replied, “A hongi.” She said “I have just had a vision of you and Jesus touching noses. So that’s a hongi?” I replied, “Yes, that is correct.”
I don’t get many visions like this but this certainly has been one I have taken absolute notice of. The timing of this really spoke to me, just prior to me preaching on my identity as Māori. This vision spoke to me very clearly and, in short, represents the breath of life and the sharing of breath with Jesus. I had already been baptised, but this vision of the sharing of breath with Jesus represents that giving of life, the new life in baptism. God was speaking to me in a very Māori way.
I have also received other helpful encouragements and affirmations through Scripture that have been a driving factor for many of my steps towards pursuing and restoring my Māori identity.
Rangiaruaru is the name of my koro (grandfather). He passed away when my father was very young. He was mostly known as Rangi or ‘Digger’, and he was renowned for his hard work ethic on the land, and with the many different jobs he did around the land that I am from, Rangiahua.
I am unsure why my koro was named Rangiaruaru, however as I have grown in the understanding of te reo I have learnt that ‘aruaru’ means to pursue or chase, and ‘rangi’ can mean sky, but also means heaven. The pursuit of heaven/the pursuit of Jesus! Well this is a no-brainer then – that this name would affirm my faith and all of where I feel God has been pointing was an awesome moment of ‘yes’.
For many Māori the story I am about to share is sadly similar, and it is for me another reason that affirms this is God’s work of restoration. My father is Māori, of Ngāti Kahungunu descent, and my mother was born in England. We have many family members in the United Kingdom.
My Māori whānau have been disconnected from our marae. I have pursued restoring that bridge; it has been hard, but it is slowly taking shape. We have no speakers of te reo from my Hema whānau that I have met so far. I am sure they are out there but within my close extended whānau it does not exist. There are Māori whānau that are five or six generations of non-reo-speaking Māori.
My grandmother’s maiden name was Whatuira, another strong Māori whānau. My grandmother raised my father and his siblings basically by herself. They worked really hard and they survived. They did what they had to and their reality was if they did not embrace Pākehā life, language, culture and work, they wouldn’t survive. My father was named Roland, his brother Victor and the other Nicholas. My grandmother loved these strong European names.
I provide all of this because it gives more understanding to why the next part is significant. My father always wanted to name me Rangi! I actually only learnt this recently. I spoke to my mother about changing my name and she said, “Oh, your father will be happy; he always wanted to name you Rangi.” This was the final confirmation for me.
Mum explained how they discussed it when I was born and felt it was probably best for me to not have this name, as at that time the 1980s blatant racism towards Māori was alive and well. Winston would be more acceptable, and therefore the middle name I was given was Rangi, to honour my father’s wishes.
My names are a reflection of the reality of our society then, and hopefully now we are changing. Māori have purposefully chosen Pākehā names for their children to survive, to protect them, to help them. My names are a reflection of that same story. By changing the names around, I honour my mother by retaining Winston as my middle name. But I step out saying, “I am Māori, I am Rangiaruaru, I am a pursuer of Jesus.”
I feel with the strength of my whānau behind me, and with God’s encouragement, that God is restoring his creation. We can stand as Māori and embrace our full identity and all of who we are.
For those of you who have read this far I want to say thank you. But this is only the beginning; the journey ahead is exciting and I know that with God leading our paths we will achieve great things for his name. I love my Baptist Churches of New Zealand family, Long Bay Baptist family and my extended family.
“Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua.”
We move backwards into the future with our face to the past. If we don’t know our past we are likely to repeat it.
As I reflect on my whakapapa and the history of my whānau, I see God’s hand restoring and reconciling. I see God pursuing his Kingdom here in Aotearoa.
Contributor: Rangiaruaru Winston Hema