Bahá'í Faith in New Zealand
While the first mention of events related to the history of the Bahá'í Faith in New Zealand was in 1846 continuous contact began around 1904 when one individual after another came in contact with Bahá'ís and some of them published articles in print media in New Zealand as early as 1908. The first Bahá'í in the Antipodes was Dorothea Spinney who had just arrived from New York in Auckland in 1912. Shortly thereafter there were two converts about 1913 - Robert Felkin who had met `Abdu'l-Bahá in London in 1911 and moved to New Zealand in 1912 and is considered a Bahá'í by 1914 and Margaret Stevenson who first heard of the religion in 1911 and by her own testimony was a Bahá'í in 1913. After `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote the Tablets of the Divine Plan which mentions New Zealand the community grew quickly so that the first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly of the country was attempted in 1923 or 1924 and then succeeded in 1926. The Bahá'ís of New Zealand elected their first independent National Spiritual Assembly in 1957. By 1963 there were four Assemblies, and 18 localities with smaller groups of Bahá'ís. The 2006 census reports about 2800 Bahá'ís in some 45 local assemblies and about 20 smaller groups of Bahá'ís though the Association of Religion Data Archives estimated there were some 7400 Bahá'ís in 2005.
The first mention of events related to the history of the religion was a report in a Wellington newspaper in July 1846. These were reprints of an 1845 article in the London Times which relied on Muslim reactions to the new religion.
In 1853 there was an event with caused great suffering on Babís (whom Bahá'ís accept as spiritual procurers of their religion.) The Babís were blamed for an attempted assassination of the Shah of Persia. Recent scholarship has identified a fringe element distinct from all the major aspects of the religion, its community and leadership at the time. Nevertheless coverage in newspapers at the time often echoed the Persian government's view blaming the Babís and Babís in large numbers were in fact executed as a result.
Following this initial mention of incidents related to the religion there were several contacts between New Zealanders and Bahá'ís at the beginning of the 20th century. New Zealander Wilhelmina Sheriff Bain may have met Sarah Jane Farmer, a notable Bahá'í in the United States, (see Green Acre) in 1904. Whoever her contact was, Bain authored a large detailed article in the Otago Witness published 30 December 1908 edition about the Baha’i Faith. Other articles followed in 1909, 1911, and 1913. It is also known that letters were exchanged in 1910 between a Mildred Burdon of Geraldine and `Abdu’l-Bahá. Robert Felkin had met `Abdu'l-Bahá in London in 1911 and in 1912 moved to New Zealand where he helped found the Whare Ra. Felkin wrote an article for a New Zealand publication which was published around then too.
Meanwhile Auckland resident Margaret Stevenson's sister living in the United Kingdom had sent her a copy of "The Christian Commonwealth" which had reported on 'Abdu'l-Bahá's speech in London on 27 March 1911. In 1912 Stevenson rented a room to English Bahá'í Dorothea Spinney - a traveling performer of Greek plays - who had just arrived from New York via Auckland. Spinney's stay was probably brief as she is known to have been in New York in November 1912 and again in January 1913. Following learning from a Bahá'í first hand Stevenson decided to subscribed to a Star of the West and officially accepted the religion in 1913. Though Felkin is more known for being involved with other interests, another early Bahá'í, Maurice Chambers, counts Felkin as the Bahá'í through whom he learned of the religion and converted in 1914.
Whoever converted first, there was at least one Bahá'í in New Zealand in 1912 and more shortly thereafter.
Growth of the community
`Abdu'l-Bahá wrote a series of letters, or tablets, to the followers of the religion in the United States in 1916-1917; these letters were compiled together in the book titled Tablets of the Divine Plan. The seventh of the tablets was the first to mention spreading the Bahá'í Faith in New Zealand and was written on 11 April 1916, but was delayed in being presented in the United States until 1919 because of disruptions from World War I and the Spanish flu which strongly affected New Zealand and beyond. These tablets were translated and presented by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab on 4 April 1919, and published in Star of the West magazine on 12 December 1919. Chambers is known to have exchanged letters with `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1919. Stevenson received a visit by Australian community founders John and Clara Hyde-Dunn in 1922 and again in 1923 and the New Zealand community quickly grew, including Stevenson's sisters Amy and Lilias. The community tried to form an Assembly without properly following procedure in 1923 or 1924. In 1924 Martha Root shared news that Shoghi Effendi, then head of the religion, had space to receive New Zealander Bahá'ís undertaking pilgrimage. 1924 was also the year of the first pioneer from New Zealand when Nora Lee moved to Fiji from 1924 to about 1930. In 1925 Stevenson left with two other New Zealand converts as well as a contingent from Australia for a year long trip on pilgrimage where they stayed some 19 days and then visited with the community of the Bahá'í Faith in the United Kingdom. The news journal Herald of the South was begun publishing for New Zealand and Australia during their voyage out of Auckland (transferred publishing to Adelaide Australia in 1931.)
After receiving a compilation on forming Assemblies they then returned to New Zealand in December 1925. They also returned with some dust from the Tomb of Bahá'u'lláh which was placed in New Zealand soil at Stevenson's home in a ceremony held on 14 February 1926. Later in 1926 the Bahá'ís in Auckland were able to properly elect their first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly. In 1931 Keith Ransom-Kehler also visited. In 1934 Bahá'ís from Australia and New Zealand elected a regional National Assembly - there were three delegates from Auckland, three from Sydney and three from Adelaide. From 1934 to 1939 Stevenson served on the regional National Spiritual Assembly of Australia and New Zealand and then died shortly thereafter in 1941. In 1940 the community held its first season school. In 1947 Alvin and Gertrude Blum left the United States for New Zealand where they lived until 1953 when they pioneered and became Knights of Bahá'u'lláh for the Solomon Islands. In 1948 the first person of Māori descent to accept the Bahá’í Faith was Albert White, who was one quarter Māori. In 1949 the first Persian Bahá'í pioneer, Manoochehr Ala’i, arrived as a student at Massey College. In 1953 the first standing Hand of the Cause, `Alí-Akbar Furútan visited New Zealand. In 1957 the New Zealand community held its first independent convention to elect its own National Spiritual Assembly with three delegates from Auckland and two each from Devonport, New Plymouth and Wellington. This convention elected the first National Spiritual Assembly of New Zealand. In 1958 Hand of the Cause of God, Enoch Olinga visited the Ngaruawahia Marae and talked with elders and four years later, when Hand of the Cause of God, Dr Muhajir visited, Ephraim Te Paa, a Kaumatua (Māori elder) from Ahipara converted to the religion. In 1963 with the election of the Universal House of Justice the Hands of the Cause updated and published a kind of census of the religion. At that time there were four assemblies -Auckland, Devonport, Hamilton, Wellington - and 18 localities with smaller groups of Bahá'ís - see maps. The story of one convert in 1964 includes her concern for her bi-racial children and despair at the bigotry of interracial marriage among the very minorities her children were members (she being Celt and married a Māori) when she found this kind of marriage highly accepted among Bahá'ís. The members of the National Assembly, who participated in the convention for the first election of the Universal House of Justice, were: Hugh Blundell, John Carr, Margaret Harnish, Linda Hight, Percy Leadley, Phyllis Milne, Jean Simmons, Douglas Weeks, and Terry Stirling. The New Zealand Bahá'í community came to the assistance of refugees in 1979 from the persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran who were allowed to settle in New Zealand. Between 1987 and 1989, a further 142 Iranian Bahá'ís settled in New Zealand.
Since its inception the religion has had involvement in socio-economic development beginning by giving greater freedom to women, promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern, and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural coops, and clinics. The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Bahá'ís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Bahá'í teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. World-wide in 1979 there were 129 officially recognized Bahá'í socio-economic development projects. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482. In the modern Bahá'í community of New Zealand the Bahá'ís have multiplied their interests internally and externally. Aside from major themes there have also been individual work done in variety of topics - for example post-traumatic stress syndrome.
In 1997 the Bahá’í community approached the Race Relations Conciliator with a project to honor the memory of Hedi Moani, an Iranian-born Bahá'í who worked to promote positive race relations. Discussions took place over many months and on 10 December 1998 (Human Rights Day), the Race Relations Office formally announced that Race Unity Day would be celebrated in New Zealand on 21 March each year. The first awards were in 2001. There are reviews of speeches in 2007, 2008, and 2009. National covereage of events with the police was affirmed in 2008. In addition to national-scale events various localities have had local competitions - an example was the observance in Whangarei and Lower Hutt in 2009.
As the Bahá'í community has grown in size and complexity it has also run into controversies and survived. In the 1980s there was a controversy about the status of women not being electable to the Universal House of Justice. In 1989 there was a controversy over the burial of a Māori Bahá'í, Pakaka Tawhai. Though the National Assembly had consulted with Tawhai's wife about burial, Pakaka's tribal family, the Ngati Porou, confronted the Bahá'ís during the tangihanga, demanding to take his body back to Ruatoria. Ultimately they failed. Then member of the Universal House of Justice Peter Khan spoke at a conference in New Zealand in 2000, noting that the Universal House of Justice had received letters "written in distasteful language" from New Zealand - he encouraged systematic education of children, application of a moral life, a serious study of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, and study of the writings of Shoghi Effendi.
Beyond controversies, the Bahá'ís in New Zealand have broadened their interests both through individual initiatives and collective action. In 1991 an assembly was elected in the Kapiti Coast District. In 2000 two Bahá'í pioneers from New Zealand settled in Pitcairn Islands, one of the few nations on earth that had no Bahá'í presence. In 2006 Bahá'ís helped dedicate the temporary Spiritual Centre at Middlemore Hospital. In 2007 Dunedin Bahá'ís had been granted access to a community center. The Universal House of Justice called for a regional conference for the Baha'is from New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Hawaii, Kiribati, New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu to be held in Auckland’sManukau City, on the sacred grounds of their marae, in 2008 and it came to pass in February 2009. The Bahá'í on Air television show is broadcast weekly on Auckland's Triangle TV which also covers the Cook Islands, American Samoa, and Adelaide, Australia. There has also been an independent documentary by a non-Bahá'í New Zealander exploring the religion in 2007.
A 1999 report from the census bureau noted that of the citizens of New Zealand of Middle Eastern ethnicity, 4% were Bahá'í and 20% of the Bahá'ís in New Zealand are members of some ethnic minority. The 1991 and 2006 New Zealand census reports about 2800 Bahá'ís though the 1996 census listed just over 3100 Bahá'ís. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying mostly on the World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 7400 Bahá'ís in 2005. There are more than 65 local Bahá’í communities around New Zealand, the large city communities have hundreds of members and assemblies, while some rural areas having groups of just two or three Bahá'ís. About 46 are full fledged assemblies.
Well known individuals
The Bahá´í Association For the Arts and its publication Arts Dialogue has produced a lists of New Zealand Bahá'í artists, reviews of the shows and articles published dealing with New Zealand.
- Barry Crump was a writer of semi-autobiographical comic novels who travelled widely and became a Bahá'í about 1982.
- Sheryl Davis works for a charitable trust focused on promoting economic development and tourism in the northern part of the country.
- Russell Garcia - Garcia is from Oakland, California and is a composer who has worked with major Hollywood artists and producers. Garcia and his wife Gina have been members of the Bahá'í Faith since 1955. In 1966 they set sail and ended up in the south Pacific when some musicians from Auckland, New Zealand invited Russell to do some live concerts, radio and television shows and to lecture at the various universities around the country on behalf of the New Zealand Broadcasting Commission and Music Trades Association. Russell, finished with his lectures and concerts and on advice of friends, drove up to the Bay of Islands in the north of North Island where they live.
- Dr Sholeh Maani is an economist and an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland and was President of the New Zealand Association of Economists from 1995 to 1997.
- Heather Simpson is a District Court judge, enrolled in the Bahá'í community in 1983.
- Murray Smith was a member of the New Zealand Parliament from 1972 to 1975. He later enrolled in the Bahá’í community and served on the national governing body for two years before he and his wife, Miette, began a period of service at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel, which lasted from 1994 to 2007. At the Bahá’í World Centre, Murray served as Deputy Secretary General of the Bahá'í International Community, a role centred on developing the Bahá’í community's contributions to wider society. Note government service is not proscribed, just partisan politics.
- Ken Zemke - Zemke was a freelance film editor working in Hollywood in 1972 when he became a Bahá'í after working on comedy TV series such as Hogan's Heroes and eventually won an Emmy in 1974, for an episode in the series Medical Story TV Series. However he and his wife soon moved to New Zealand in 1981 where he continued work in movie production - winning New Zealand Guild of Film and Television award for best editing for Came a Hot Friday while continuing to be involved with documentaries and projects associated with the Bahá'í Faith through individual initiative or commissioned as well as his own ongoing project - Bahá'í on Air.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1997). Messages to the Antipodes:Communications from Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá'í Communities of Australasia. Mona Vale: Bahá'í Publications Australia. ISBN 978-0-909991-98-2.
- Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand Author: Shoghi Effendi, Source: Australia, 1971 reprint.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1946). Arohanui: Letters from Shoghi Effendi to New Zealand. Suva, Fiji Islands: Bahá’í Publishing Trust (published 1982).
- New Zealander Jess Firth has produced an independent serious documentary exploring the religion: The Wayfarer. Firth is interviewed at A Baha'i Perspective: Jess Firth.
- "Mahometan Schism". New Zealand Spectator Cook's Strait Guardian. 15 July 1846. p. 3 near the bottom. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- Bain, Wilhemenia Sherriff (8 December 1908). "Behaïsm". Otago Witness (New Zealand). p. 87. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
- Elsmore, Bronwyn (22 June 2007). "Stevenson, Margaret Beveridge 1865- 1941 Baha’i". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Online. New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- There isn't a definite date Felkin is considered a Baha'i except before 1914 - Arohanui, Introduction by Collis Featherstone.
- "New Zealand community — The first New Zealand Bahá'í". New Zealand Community. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- `Abdu'l-Bahá (1991) [1916-17]. Tablets of the Divine Plan (Paperback ed.). Wilmette, IL: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 47–59. ISBN 0-87743-233-3.
- Hassall, Graham (January 2000). "Clara and Hyde Dunn". draft of Short Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. bahai-library.com. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
- Effendi, Shoghi; J. E. Esslemont (1982). Arohanui: Letters from Shoghi Effendi to New Zealand. Suva, Fiji Islands: Bahá’í Publishing Trust of Suva, Fiji Islands. pp. Appendix,??.
- "New Zealand community — Historical timeline". New Zealand Community. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- Compiled by Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land. "The Bahá'í Faith: 1844-1963: Information Statistical and Comparative, Including the Achievements of the Ten Year International Bahá'í Teaching & Consolidation Plan 1953-1963". pp. 11, 104–5.
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- "About Us". The Bahá'í Community of the Kapiti Coast District of New Zealand. Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Kapiti. Retrieved 2009-09-31.
- "Most Baha'i Nations (2005)". QuickLists > Compare Nations > Religions >. The Association of Religion Data Archives. 2005. Retrieved 4 July 2009.
- National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States (1977). World Order. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- The Attempted Assassination of Nasir al Din Shah in 1852: Millennialism and Violence, by Moojan Momen, 2004-03-23
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- "Miscellany; How they punish treason in Persia", Daily Southern Cross, p. 4, (a bit up from the bottom), February 22, 1853
- "English Abstracts; Persia", New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian, p. 3, (near the middle), 19 March 1853
- "Miscellaneous; How they punish treason in Persia", New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian, p. 4, (near the bottom), 23 March 1853
- "English Extracts; Persian Heretics and Executioners", New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian, p. 3, (near the middle), 26 March 1853
- "Persian Heretics and Executioners", Otago Witness, p. 3, (from the top), 2 April 1853
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- Edney, Ken. Dr. Robert William Felkim and the S.R.I.A.. From the website of the Felkin College of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, Napier, New Zealand. Retrieved 29 March 2007.
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- Hassall, Graham (January 2000). "Pilgrimage". Ambassador at the Court: The Life and Photography of Effie Baker. bahai-library.com. Retrieved 2009-10-11.
- "Baha'i Activities in Other Lands; New Zealand". Bahá'í News (55): p. 6. September 1931.
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- Mathews, Loulie. Outposts of A World Religion by a Baha'i Traveler; Journeys Taken In 1933-1934-1935, Accompanied by Edward R. Mathews. Bahai-Library.com.
- "The Baha'i Faith in Solomon Islands have launched three stamps". Solomon Star Newspaper (Tooraj Enayati). 2006. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
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- Rabbani, R., ed. (1992). The Ministry of the Custodians 1957-1963. Bahá'í World Centre. p. 411. ISBN 0-85398-350-X.
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- Momen, Moojan. "History of the Baha'i Faith in Iran". draft "A Short Encyclopedia of the Baha'i Faith". Bahai-library.com. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- Kingdon, Geeta Gandhi (1997). "Education of women and socio-economic development". Baha'i Studies Review 7 (1).
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- "Involvement in society". New Zealand Community. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
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- "Speech competition promotes race unity". Ten One, Community Edition (New Zealand Police). April 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- "Settlement Support is a winner & Regional winner promoting racial harmony". Public Notices and News. Whangarei District Council. 2007. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- "Race Unity Speech Award". Lower Hutt Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- Universal House of Justice (31 May 1988). "1988 Letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of New Zealand". Letters from the Universal House of Justice, unpublished. Bahai-Library.com. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
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- Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (26 October 2001). "International Religious Freedom Report - New Zealand". United States State Department. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- "The local Bahá'í community". New Zealand Community. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- "Aotearoa / New Zealand". external LINKS. The Bahá´í Association For the Arts. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- Reid, Tony (20 November 1982). "'Crump Flags It Away'". New Zealand Listener (Wellington, N. Z.). pp. 21–22, 25, 26.
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- "Sheryl Davis". Profiles of Bahá'ís. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- Charmed Life: Shaynee Rainbolt Sings Russell Garcia Liner Notes - This Bio Was approved by Russell Garcia and Gina Garcia in connection to their collaboration on Charmed Life: Shaynee Rainbolt SINGS Russell Garcia
- "Russell Garcia". The Time Machine Project. Don Coleman. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- "Dr Sholeh Maani". Profiles of Bahá'ís. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- "Heather Simpson". Profiles of Bahá'ís. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- Bahá’í Institutions AND Global Governance An address given at the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of New Zealand, on 28 April 2007. By Murray Smith
- Dewes, Haydon; Palmer, Rebecca (31 July 2006). "Twenty New Zealanders in Haifa". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- Halle, Charlotte. "Lots of parties, a war, some bad press and an astounding garden terrace". Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- see for example Diane Anorpong who both worked in government ’Ala Mo’ui; Pathways to Pacific Health and Wellbeing 2010–2014. Wellington, NZ: Minister of Health and Minister of Pacific Island Affairs. January 2010. ISBN 978-0-478-33959-8. who is a Bahá'í - "Spiritual Assembly Of The Baha'is Of Wellington". Charity Summary. Charities Commission. 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
- Zemke, Ken (November 2002). "Ken Zemke film, video editor, New Zealand". Arts Dialogue 2002 (November).
- "Ken Zemke". Profiles of Bahá'ís. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- Ross, Margaret J. 1979. "Some Aspects of the Bahá'í Faith in New Zealand." M.A. Thesis. University of Auckland
- Official website of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand