Since all people groups come from Noah and his family, it should be no surprise that most have memories of the one true Creator God. The Maori people of New Zealand are no exception. Their traditions speak of such a God they call “Io Matua Kore” (Io the Parentless). Graham Cruickshank and his wife Tui, a dynamic couple, have found that this ancient tradition has been most significant in their Christian outreach to the Maori and their Pacific island relatives, much like Paul’s teaching of the “unknown God” to the Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17).
It was from their outreach experience that Graham and Tui came upon the significance of the Io knowledge to the Maori people and the Hebrew Scriptures. This knowledge had travelled with the ancestors of the Maori in their odyssey from the Middle East across the planet all the way to Hawaii and from there to New Zealand—to the ends of the earth.
Graham was first alerted that the Maori culture preserved the knowledge of God by Daniel Kikawa’s1 book about Io belief in Hawaii. Recalling the Maori migration from Hawaii, Graham researched New Zealand Io knowledge and found it to be faithful to that of Hawaii, despite 1,000 years of oral transmission. When he compared the names of Io with the names and attributes of Almighty God in the Bible he found they agreed precisely—there were no contradictions.
Graham said, “For me that was enough to know that here was a remarkable treasure residing in Maori culture.”
Sometimes at a Maori “marae” (meeting house) the speaker will begin, “Hawaiki, Hawaiki Roa, Hawaiki Nui, Hawaiki Pamamao.” Graham explained, “The names in this recitation retrace their ancestors’ journey from the west, beginning in the Middle East, through the Indo-Malay regions and then out into the wide expanses of the Pacific. To this day, enclaves of Polynesian peoples remain in places like the Naga Hills in Assam, the Karen Hills of Burma, the remote parts of Tibet and the islands of Indonesia and Melanesia.
Another remarkable confirmation of Genesis biblical history is found in the folklore of Polynesian groups dotted around the Pacific. In his book, Io Origins, Graham details the common denominators in these stories, including:
A man known as Lua-Nu’u, (the second Noah) who left his country, settling far to the south.
By command of his God, Lua-Nu’u introduced circumcision for all his descendants.
He had two sons, one by a slave girl and the other by a “chieftainess”.
He went up a mountain to sacrifice to his God.
Not only did Graham realise that Lua-Nu’u is the Abraham of Scripture, but he explained that further details of the folklore delineate Jacob. Even Joseph is enshrined in these stories, which predate any missionary contact.
Graham’s parents and grandparents were dairy farmers in New Zealand—pioneers who broke in the land. His great, great grandfather came from Scotland and other ancestors from Ireland. “Actually, I am a fourth generation Kiwi”,2 Graham said. “I grew up with Maori in my home district and knew at about age nine that I would marry a Maori, and did so, marrying Tui when I was 25.”
For Tui, however, four generations in New Zealand is not such a big deal. Her ancestors are from three of the many Maori tribes: the Ngati Kahu, the Ngapuhi, and the Ngati Whatua, and they can boast of a much longer sojourn in New Zealand.
As well as dairy farmers, Graham’s parents were active Christians, and for nearly 50 years ran the district Sunday school, collecting children in the family car. Graham vividly remembers when he was about age 11 a visitor came and preached and he was deeply convicted of sin. “I refused to yield, being a first-class, self-righteous sinner! It took two miserable weeks before I became ashamed that I was defying God and surrendered my life to Christ.”
Such dramatic encounters with God, including God’s removal of his irksome stutter, shaped his character and gave him direction for his life-long work. With his wife, Tui, Graham shared a powerful call to preach the Gospel to the Pacific nations. They spent eight years working in the South Sea islands with Samoans, Tongans, Fijians and Indians, pastoring cross-cultural churches and working at church planting and evangelism. Over many years, they have been senior pastors of a large church and Bible school in Whangarei, a city in the far north of New Zealand.
Graham and Tui’s deep interest in the indigenous “God factor” they had observed in South Pacific cultures came slowly. Graham had noticed how the modern university culture intentionally sidelined and even aggressively opposed any recognition of God in the teaching of science. He could see that the evolutionary underpinnings for science that these academics insisted upon were nothing to do with operational science but were virtually a religious belief code.
“True science should examine all the evidence without a closed mind to the ‘God factor’,” Graham said. “The apostle Paul speaks about those who suppress the evidence about God even when the evidence is before them (Romans 1:18–19). In fact Paul demonstrated open mindedness by acknowledging the God factor in Greek culture (Acts 17:22–32).”
Graham and Tui were also influenced by Don Richardson’s landmark book Eternity in Their Hearts.3 “That book vividly outlined the ‘God factor’ in many diverse cultures,” Graham said, “preserving knowledge of the one true God and predating any missionary influence. It was out of these seeds that I started collecting the material that is now set out in my book
Io Origins.” [available from CMI New Zealand web store]
Graham’s book has a strong appeal to Maori people. “Maori Christians long for accurate spiritual information about their past,” Graham said. “Evolutionary-based anthropology has had its own agenda and has actually suppressed the truth about the indigenous knowledge of the Almighty God—knowledge that is enshrined in their ancient beliefs about Io.”
Io Origins describes how this knowledge travelled with the first Maori immigrants from their previous home in Hawaii to New Zealand. Belief in the creator God, “Io”, was once pervasive in Hawaii and the society was peaceful and benevolent. Their tradition speaks of them travelling from the west and being known as the Menehune people.
This Hawaii culture was then overrun by enemies from Tahiti who installed their own bloodthirsty religion that elevated a cruel system of tapu (sacredness upheld by harsh penalties). Io priests were silenced by death or compelled to cease imparting Io knowledge.
Others fled from Hawaii carrying Io knowledge with them, some arriving in Aotearoa.4 Later immigrants did not carry Io knowledge, which is why some tribes in New Zealand have Io knowledge and others do not. At all times Io knowledge was tapu (sacred) and taught only to chiefs and tohunga (priests). That is why the early missionaries in both Hawaii and New Zealand were initially unaware of Io.
In his book, Graham outlines some of the rich legacy of the traditional Maori names of the Almighty—names that are still in use after millennia of oral transmission. All the names are biblically sound. Graham has brought together traditions from both sides of the vast Pacific, New Zealand and Hawaii, and shows that the people who migrated from the Middle East carried accurate information about Almighty God, right around the globe.
For Graham, the information about Io provides an effective pathway to cultural evangelism to much of Polynesia. The knowledge of Io links directly to their own history yet it is biblically accurate. He wants to see it widely disseminated.
Graham and Tui have a deep love for the Maori people of New Zealand. They see the Maori as being under siege today from traditionalists who falsely suggest Christianity has robbed them of their culture, from modernists who deny the rich heritage of belief in Io, and from activists who are intent on using Maori culture as a weapon against Christianity.
Deeply concerned about the welfare of the people of New Zealand and the islands of the Pacific, Graham and Tui grieve over the way seminaries are churning out graduates without confidence in the inspired truth of Scripture. Their desire is for seminaries to reclaim their confidence in the historicity of the events of Genesis, events such as the global Flood and the Tower of Babel, which link so powerfully with Maori culture. And they expressed hope for uplift and change.