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Focusing on the female side of God
by Megan Jones

An interview with Ritchie Wilson, a representative of Manu Ariki spiritual community in New Zealand, about the appearance of the Madonna there. 

Manu Ariki Marae, a spiritual community situated on the North Island of New Zealand, was founded in the 1950s and is based on the philosophy and vision of Alexander Phillips, an 80-year-old Maori prophet and healer. Marae are sacred pieces of land, situated throughout New Zealand, where the indigenous Maori people, tangata whenua, acknowledge their traditions and ancestors and express their spirituality.

An Elder of the Tuhoe tribe gives the following description: "Marae are places of refuge for our people and provide facilities to enable us to continue with our own way of life within the total structure of our own terms and values. We need our marae to rise tall in oratory, weep for our dead, pray to God, have our feasts, house our guests, have our meetings, have our weddings, have our reunions, sing, dance and then know the richness of life and the proud heritage which is truly ours."

Situated on 120 acres, the buildings of Manu Ariki Marae include a hilltop temple in the shape of an 8-pointed star, large dining and accommodation facilities, an administration block and conference facilities. Affiliated with the Ngati Haaua tribe, the members also welcome those from other Maori tribes. They conduct community programmes and host a regular cultural festival and indigenous peoples conference.

In 1995 one of New Zealandís television stations reported on an appearance of the Madonna which took place there. Megan Jones interviewed Ritchie Wilson, a representative of Manu Ariki, regarding this miracle as well as the community itself.

Megan Jones: When was Manu Ariki Marae first established?

Ritchie Wilson: It didnít develop into its current form until 1975 ó both physically and with regard to programmes for its own members and tribal groups. In doing so, they also developed programmes for youth at risk, and rehabilitation for people who had been in prison.

Mr. Phillips had the vision and a lot of the Elders throughout New Zealand support him because his visions are so true and his ideals are appropriate for the Maori people.

MJ: What programmes do you have at Manu Ariki Marae?

RW: Drug and alcohol, family counselling, one-to-one counselling. We have spiritual counselling, managed by Mr. Phillips himself. And we have talks with regard to illnesses that we think are terminal such as cancer and heart disease. Itís a local and national programme. People come from all over New Zealand and the world for spiritual sustenance, and specifically for Mr. Phillips ó to see him and talk to him about the curses between individuals, families, tribes and cultures that have been handed down from generation to generation. They donít know of anybody else who can undo or change them.

MJ: Does his service work mainly entail Manu Ariki Marae?

RW: He has established an organization that handles administration, raising funds, building developments, recreational programmes, drug and alcohol programmes, and he provides the directorship and philosophy to all the programmes.

MJ: Do you find that the people that come to these programmes are receiving benefit? Do they go away feeling better for what theyíve done here?

RW: You actually canít measure the success of people until you look at the second and third generation. Say, for example we take a 20-year-old who has been into drugs, alcohol, and theft. Itís not until he has children and you can see if they slip into the same pattern that you know whether or not you have been successful.

It has been predicted by the Elders here: Unity among all people and Unity to all creation will come. They say that the year 2000 is the beginning. Thereafter, itís entirely up to the generations that follow.

MJ: How many people actually work here?

RW: On a day-to-day basis there are between 80 and 100 people who look after the grounds (lawns, gardens and farmland) and administer the community programmes, about 50 of whom live in close proximity to the complex. When we have a major function, for example a cultural festival, weíd have between 5,000 and 6,000 people at the marae. The festival involves primary schools, kohanga reo (Maori language schools) and high schools in song and dance competitions and other activities. The indigenous conference is slightly different. Thatís where the Elders and parents come to talk about issues that are very serious in regard to the welfare and the future of the people ó the Maori people, the American Indians, Pacific Islanders, Aborigines.

MJ: I understand youíve had quite a few miraculous things happen here. One of New Zealandís television stations reported on an appearance of the Madonna at Manu Ariki Marae.  When did this particular vision occur, and who originally saw it?

RW: It happened in September 1995. Only a small group of people initially saw the vision, so they rang around and they ended up with about 250 people sitting and watching the vision. It was about 30 feet high, faced the main building, was dressed in a long, white, hooded robe, and lasted two to three hours.

MJ: Did you feel any different in the Marae after that vision happened? Did it change anything?

RW: We didnít feel any change because we live on the Marae and we acknowledge the Mother, so it has become part of our life. But to those whoíve never been here and saw this vision, they would have noticed a change from their current lifestyle to something different. It isnít a miracle to us because every day She appears.

MJ: By visions, what do you mean?

RW: We see visions of the Mother ó just a shape, a shadow of a female ó all over the Marae. It becomes part of our life. Itís a living thing. Itís normal. Whereas for people who have never been exposed to that, it is a miracle. Weíve taken it for granted because we live here, and we have a carving in Her image. We have people come on the Marae every day and they see Her. Itís fantastic, but itís nothing fantastic if weíre here all the time.

MJ: Have you personally seen any visions of Mary?

RW: I have seen a couple but Iím one of those who sit in the category of "I donít have to see a vision because I have faith within."

MJ: Do you think that there is a specific purpose for all these visions happening or do you think itís just, as you say, a part of everyday life here?

RW: It is what our Elders have done. Theyíve sanctioned and blessed the ground that Manu Ariki stands on as a footstool or resting place for the spirit. And if thatís the case then anything could happen. It is a place for the spirit to come and look and observe, a stopping place before travelling on somewhere else.

We assume that a lot of people who see the visions associate the visions with Mother Mary, whereas we associate those visions with the Mother who was there in the beginning of the creation, who was responsible for providing the love, care, protection, and the beauty in creation. In other words she was the female side of God ó and still is. According to our traditions and customs, it is our understanding that when God created He created male and female ó all the way through. Here at Manu Ariki we bring both male and female together, spiritual and material.

MJ: Do other indigenous tribes have similar concepts?

RW: As far as we know Manu Ariki is the only one who has made this approach to bringing the male and female together. The indigenous groups acknowledge the Mother Earth as being female, and the white races have the male side: which is the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. But nobody has ever brought the two together.

MJ: How do you see the role of Manu Ariki Marae in New Zealand and the world?

RW: To bring an awareness with regard to the acknowledgment of the Female. In the last 2,000 years our world has predominantly been Male, and bringing the Female into her right position would bring together both Male and Female ó as equals. So itís mainly a role of increasing awareness.

We have the circle of Spiritual Elders who have come because of the prophecies and visions of their people. So weíll have a major role with regard to helping other cultures and religions. In what form, weíre not sure, because it doesnít start today and finish tomorrow ó itís a never-ending awareness and procedure and it will continue. The form of assistance will always be different, will always change depending on the circumstances ó whether it is religious, cultural or just people helping people or sharing information.

MJ: So it is a role of trying to bring together the different cultures and find similar viewpoints?

RW: Yes, to find common ground. Not saying that our church is the real church and you should come to our church, or our culture is the real culture. It is taking people, putting aside their churches and their personal status, and sitting down as people. So that I donít become higher than you. You and I sit on the same level. When we talk about helping people, weíre on the same ground, same height, both giving 100 per cent.

MJ: What do you think will happen in the next 20 years as regards the different indigenous peoples around the world? Do you think there will be that coming together?

RW: Yes, definitely. It has been predicted by the Elders here: Unity among all people and Unity to all creation will come. They say that the year 2000 is the beginning. Thereafter, itís entirely up to the generations that follow.

From the July/August 1998 issue of Share International

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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005