Ratana was the son of Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, the founder of the Ratana church of New Zealand, which draws its membership overwhelmingly from the Maori people. His father died in 1939 and the baby was sent as a tamaiti whangai to the Wirihana family of Tuwharetoa.
His father was succeeded as leader by his daughter, Te Reo Hura, but on her death Raniera became head of the 50,000-member church, which also is a leading political force in the country. Among his most far-reaching acts was to discontinue the movement's close links with the NZ Labour Party and its automatic endorsement of Labour candidates for the reserved Maori seats in Parliament, which assured that the seats were held for over 50 years almost exclusively by Labour Ratana members.
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