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Parekura Horomia: 'Kia Ora Chief'

Parekura Horomia: 'Kia Ora Chief'

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Parekura Horomia: 'Kia Ora Chief'

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Dec 1, 2014


This biography of Parekura Horomia celebrates the life and achievements of one of New Zealand’s well-known politicians and Māori leaders. The book is based on interviews with sixty-five of Parekura Horomia’s family, friends and colleagues, and it shares stories about his qualities, abilities and his tireless work. The personal stories pay tribute to his leadership and ability to be equally comfortable with and work with common people and those in positions of power. The stories build a picture of this man with a large heart and huge commitment and give insights into little-known parts of his life.
Dec 1, 2014

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Parekura Horomia - Wira Gardiner




If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch, …

‘If’, Rudyard Kipling, 1895

Parekura once told Caucus as part of the wise advice he gave from time to time, ‘People may forget what you have said, people may forget what you have done, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’

Hon Rick Barker MP (retired)

Iknew Parekura for nearly 30 years. I first met him in 1984 when he was a speaker at the Hui Taumata, Māori Economic Summit Conference. The fourth Labour Government, under the charismatic leadership of David Lange, had swept into power in July of that year. And in September of the same year, the new Government held an economic summit conference, at which leading trade unionists, business, M ā ori and community leaders met with Ministers to address the challenges facing New Zealand.

The Minister of Māori Affairs, the Hon Koro Wētere¹ and his senior advisors who attended the September conference decided to hold a similar conference for Māori leaders. Professor Sir Ngatata Love,² on behalf of the Minister of Māori Affairs, and the Secretary for the Department of Māori Affairs, Dr Sir Tamati Reedy,³ were the driving force behind the conference. In 1984, I was National Director of Civil Defence, and my headquarters was in the basement of the Beehive, the executive wing of New Zealand’s Parliament. Members of Ngatata’s secretariat, including John Dyall⁴ from the Department of Māori Affairs, would come and use the Civil Defence photocopier and other resources. While I was not an active participant at the conference, which had brought together Māori leaders from all levels of society, I was an interested observer and noted that Parekura was a youth representative. Interestingly, Parekura and his cousin Hekia Parata⁵ over the years would both good-naturedly claim to be the youth representative at the conference. She would chidingly suggest that, at 34 years of age, he was hardly representative of youth! The answer is that there were a number of youth representatives, and both Parekura and Hekia were part of the official programme: Hekia was scheduled to address the conference, and her address was televised, and Parekura was a presenter to the general assembly.

In 1985, when I was employed by Tamati Reedy to head a new employment and training unit in the Department of Māori Affairs, I came across Parekura more frequently. Some four years later, in 1989, the Department of Māori Affairs was restructured, and I was appointed to head the newly created Iwi Transition Agency (ITA), which replaced it. The department’s policy functions were transferred to the newly created Ministry of Māori Affairs (Manatū Māori) led by John Clarke,⁶ and the remaining staff and programmes were transferred to the ITA.

Parekura by then was playing an increasingly active role in the work schemes of the Department of Labour. In 1984, he had entered the public service and had been appointed as Gisborne representative for the Group Employment Liaison Scheme (GELS). GELS, was a unit in the Department of Labour (DoL). By 1988, he had been appointed Director of the Māori Perspective Unit of the Department of Labour, and a year later, in 1989, he was appointed General Manager of the Community Employment Group (CEG). He held both these position for the next 10 years. So, by the time I was appointed as General Manager of the ITA, Parekura was already a seasoned public servant. He and his staff often worked with my senior advisor on business development, former publican and businessman, Bert Mackie (known as Uncle Bert).⁷ Over the years, as Parekura and I worked together, our professional association and friendship grew and strengthened.

Parekura was a public servant in all senses of the word. His life was about service to his community, to his work and finally to his vocation as a politician. During his lifetime, he belonged to three whānau groups. His first loyalties were to his whakapapa whānau and to his beloved Mangatuna, Uawa, Tolaga Bay, and Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti (Hauiti). When Parekura talked about Mangatuna, he did so in such glowing terms that eventually when I got to visit the place, I looked for evidence of the glory that he had so fervently described. I found instead a small rural settlement with a marae and a few scattered houses. It was from this place and its people that Parekura had learned the skills and behaviours that stood him in good stead throughout his life. When he got into politics, some locals talked about Mangatuna being Parekura’s ‘Para-dise’!

Parekura’s second whānau was the Department of Labour. He spent nearly 20 years working for the Department of Labour, initially as a community contractor managing Project Employment Programmes (PEPs) and then 15 years as a public servant. His period in the Department of Labour brought formality and structure to his work. The Department of Labour became for him the means to achieve many of the goals that he had thought about while growing up. He took his service ethos to Māori and Pākehā communities across New Zealand, and he introduced to a wider audience the skills he had observed and learned as a boy growing up in Mangatuna: manaakitanga (hospitality), and aroha ki te tāngata (love for people).

His third whānau was the New Zealand Labour Party. Here, with the authority and power of his role as Minister of Māori Affairs and as a senior Minister in the Rt Hon Helen Clark’s⁸ government, Parekura was finally in a position to bring his life experiences together and translate them into action. He always struggled to master the intricacies of the debating chamber of Parliament, and he never really succeeded, but he flourished in his face-to-face interactions with the public at large.

In 2006, Parekura and I discussed the possibility of writing about his life. In June 2007, he came to Te Kaha for a celebration by Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Ngāti Porou of Corporal Willie Apiata’s⁹ award of the Victoria Cross. While there, he stayed at our home, and we talked more about the book. I thought that his story was one that would provide inspiration for many Māori. The story would show that it was possible to come from a background with few material possessions or educational opportunities and yet rise to sit on the front bench of the Parliament of the country. Our aim was to produce a book by the 2008 elections.

Parekura was keen on the idea and wanted me to start on the task immediately. I told him that I would need access to his personal papers, diaries and any notes he had made about his life. Very quickly, it became obvious that Parekura’s keenness for the project was not matched by a ready availability of any personal documentation. I asked him to begin by spending a short time each day or week recording his thoughts on tape. I emphasised that the sequence of his recollections was not important, but what would be useful to me would be the volume of material. He agreed to this. But, as was always the case with Parekura, his extraordinary programme of activities precluded him from providing me with the material, although, every now and again, he would assure me that he had begun the process.

After Labour lost the 2008 elections, the idea of cataloguing his papers and recording his life arose once more. In 2011, he told me that he was ready, seriously, to address the project. After some hesitation, I told him that the time had passed for such a book, as he was no longer the Minister of Māori Affairs and the memory of his period in that role was already declining. Nevertheless, he did tell me that he would stick to the idea of recording his history in some form or other. It is with sadness and regret, I was not able to record the life and times of a man who had proven by his actions that anything was possible and have it published while he was alive. He would have derived much pleasure from that.

However, I’m delighted that my assessment that Parekura was no longer newsworthy and, in political parlance, was ‘yesterday’s fish and chips wrapping’ and of little relevance was misplaced. The enormous outpouring of grief across the country, the attendance of thousands of mourners at his tangi and the thousands of words written about him demonstrated how wrong I could be. His is indeed a story that must be told.

I gave the final eulogy for Parekura at his tangi, and in my farewell words to a friend, I made a promise to his sons – Desmond,¹⁰ Wallace¹¹ and Turei,¹² that I would take up the task again and write his book. However, to ensure that I stuck to the task, I also indicated that the book would be ready for when the boys decided to have the unveiling of their father’s headstone. In essence, I had to produce a credible book in a relatively short space of time. While this is not an impossible task, it would require the help of his many friends and colleagues. I met with the principals of Huia Publishers to discuss this book proposal, and they were keen.

However, I discovered that 2013 was not a good year for the project as I had over-estimated the willingness of those interviewed to be engaged so soon after his death. They needed time to reflect and to put some distance from Parekura’s death before they could sensibly respond to an interview on his life. From the beginning of 2014, the project took on a life of its own and gathered pace as we contacted and interviewed a wide range of people.

One of the challenges for someone writing about a close friend is to avoid making the record simply an extension of a eulogy. Parekura was a big man in so many ways. His was not a simple character, nor was it flawless, and it is important for his sons and grandchildren that he be remembered as a human being; challenged with all of the vicissitudes of life and demonstrating the range of raw emotions that make us who we are. He would have expected me to record his story as accurately as possible: this was the Parekura I knew, and this is the Parekura that should emerge from this book. Having said that, there were moments in the writing where I wrestled with the tension between telling his story as accurately as possible and revealing aspects of his life that might appear trivial. In the end, I decided that, notwithstanding my own sensitivities and desire to protect his legacy, I would need to write about the whole man and not just those bits that would be more appropriate for a eulogy.

In a farewell article, ‘Big Chief – a man of the people’, written for Mana magazine by Derek Fox,¹³ Parekura’s close relation and one-time political opponent, Fox said that Parekura’s political legacy had yet to be written but was not likely to be extensive. He opined that Parekura had not left any ground-breaking legislation. In the same article, he said, ‘But the people whose birthdays and sports days and other hui he attended in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, loved him. When adverse comments were made about his language or weight, the people of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti loved him even more – they were likely to be big people too; and maybe a little inarticulate as well.’

On the one hand, I totally agree with Derek’s assessment of Parekura’s human qualities. Parekura had something powerful to offer us all; Māori and Pākehā, men and women; and this was an essential ordinariness that could be translated into great success and achievement. On the other hand, I cannot agree with Derek’s assessment about Parekura’s political legacy. Derek made his assessment on the basis of pieces of legislation passed. A politician is remembered not only for what he or she achieved in Parliament but also for how these actions changed the fate or direction of a nation. Ground-breaking legislation might be one of the elements against which one can assess a politician’s legacy, but it is not the only indicator.

Parekura’s term as Minister of Māori Affairs coincided with the watershed events of the launching of the Māori Television Service (MTS) and the foreshore and seabed debate. The political management around the passage of new legislation to halt Māori challenging the ownership of the foreshore and seabed provides an insight into the huge personal cost this piece of legislation had, not only for Parekura but also for his Party and for the body politic of New Zealand. His immense courage in the face of enormous pressure and his loyalty to his leader and the Labour Party are legacies of which any individual would be proud. The foreshore and seabed controversy was Parekura’s personal ‘Gallipoli’. It was a huge defeat in political terms but a stunning personal victory for him.

Parekura left few, if any, personal notes, diaries and published or unpublished papers. In a public sense, the last 20 years of his life have been well reported through newspapers, TV and radio broadcasts. However, his private life, which he protected with an intensity that saw him compartmentalise his friends and even his relations, has been harder to compile. Nevertheless, the willingness of his whānau, friends and colleagues to share their information has been helpful, and I have tried to build a picture of Parekura that provides signposts along his life’s journey, even though, at times, the twists, turns and detail are less defined. However, it is necessary to inject a note of caution. Because he was so successful at keeping those closest to him, including his family, at a distance, it has been difficult to corroborate some aspects of his life. Nevertheless, I have not hesitated to use my judgement where I have found similar trends in the recollections of other interviewees.

One of the interesting aspects of collecting stories and memories of Parekura was the number of times I heard similar stories, but with slight twists to meet the local conditions. It was as if the original ‘Parekura’ story had been passed along and had grown in the telling and re-telling until it had reached the status of apocryphal dimensions. More often than not, these stories would demonstrate one of Parekura’s behavioural characteristics; not surprisingly, many of the stories were about his generosity of spirit, others were about his legendary travel programme and still others were about food. And all of them would be told as if the story were personal to the narrator or had happened to someone they knew.

Not everybody I wanted to interview was available, but I have been able to build a more than adequate picture of Parekura’s life. Some short periods of his life will, for the time being, remain a mystery as I was unable to track down people who shared that part of his life. So, for example, when Peter Franks¹⁴ interviewed Parekura for a book on the printers’ union, because he was one of the very few Māori who had worked in a newspaper, Parekura told him that he had gone to Blenheim to play rugby, met Gladwyn¹⁵ and they had got married there! This does not match the information provided by family members who said he had met Gladwyn in Tolaga Bay, and they were married there in 1969. Desmond thinks his mother Gladwyn went to Blenheim in 1968/69 on a nursing course, and his father followed her down there. In the grand scale of things, it is not a big issue, but it demonstrates that Parekura led a life of many compartments, where those who shared confidences and relationships in one part of his life did not necessarily know about another part!

As this is about the life and times of a larger-than-life character, from time to time, I have let the commentators speak for themselves, apart from some brief introductory remarks. The content of the farewell speeches made in Parliament on 7 May 2013 has been taken from New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) and is printed directly from the record. I have only printed the leaders’ speeches, although I have read all of the eulogies and used parts of some of the speeches by other MPs to illustrate aspects of Parekura’s character. Some of Parekura’s friends, such as Robert Whaitiri¹⁶ and Star Olsen,¹⁷ have provided stories that I have left standing on their own.

Given that this book has been written from the perspective of so many people who knew Parekura in his various roles during his lifetime, there is bound to be repetition, and no doubt, there will be recollections that might not accord with the views of others who might also have been present at the event or activity that is being reported. Where possible, I have aligned aspects that appear to be significantly out of kilter, but by and large, I have let people speak for themselves. As I have already indicated, Parekura led a remarkably compartmentalised life, and even those closest to him only knew the bits he allowed them to be privy to. As I wrote this book, I was constantly being surprised by new vistas on his life and relationships that opened up and that I had had no idea about: and I had known him as a close friend for most of 30 years!

As I compiled the material for this book and criss-crossed the country interviewing people, I kept looking for that elusive set of words that might best encapsulate what Parekura was all about. It was not until the end of my interviews that I got a glimpse of some appropriate words. They came when I interviewed Andy Jefferd¹⁸ from Ngatapa, Gisborne, who had played rugby for Tokomaru against Parekura, had been with him in the East Coast team and had gone on to become an All Black. I asked him what legacy he thought Parekura might have left. He said that Parekura’s life reminded him of a Rudyard Kipling poem ‘If’, written in 1895. In particular, he quoted the words ‘Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch’. I thought that those words more than adequately captured the quintessential Parekura and paraphrased might be: He walked with kings and yet kept the common touch.

Finally, I was involved in many of the contentious matters that affected Parekura during his years in politics. My involvements were at his invitation and generally came in the form of a short message sent by him but delivered by someone else – Could I help on a certain matter? I have inserted myself in the narrative of this book where necessary to indicate the role I played. Most of my roles were incidental aspects of the larger story of Parekura’s life, but they illustrate the intertwined relationships that he built and maintained over his life. For those of us who were fortunate, or indeed at times unfortunate, enough to be involved in Parekura’s life, these cameo roles are a reminder of why we unhesitatingly offered to serve for, and with, him.

1 Hon Koro Wētere, Minister of Māori Affairs, 1984–1989, Tainui

2 Professor Sir Ngatata Love, GKNZM, BCom, BCA (Hons), PhD, Professor Business Development, Victoria University, Te Āti Awa

3 Dr Sir Tamati Reedy, KNZM, MA, MA (Hawaii), PhD, Secretary for Department of Māori Affairs 1985–1989, Ngāti Porou

4 John Dyall, BCom (Hons), Tainui

5 Hon Hekia Parata, National Party, List MP, 2008–present, Ngāti Horowai, Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu

6 John Clarke, CMNZ, CEO, Manatū Māori, 1999–2002, Ngāti Porou

7 Bert Mackie, advisor, Te Puni Kōkiri, 1989–2012, Ngāti Wai

8 Rt Hon Helen Clark, Prime Minister, 1999–2008

9 Cpl Willie Apiata, VC, Ngāpuhi

10 Desmond John Horomia, oldest son, Parekura and Gladwyn Horomia, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu

11 Wallace Kaa Horomia, second son, Parekura and Gladwyn Horomia,

Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu

12 Turei Harawira Horomia, youngest son, Parekura and Gladwyn Horomia, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu

13 Derek Tini Fox, Mana, Issue 112, June–July 2013, page 9, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu

14 Peter Franks, note to author, 19 October 2002

15 Gladwyn (Kaa) Horomia, Parekura’s wife, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāti Porou

16 Robert Whaitiri, Hawke’s Bay, friend and supporter, brother of Meka Whaitiri MP, Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Porou

17 Star Olsen, relation, friend and supporter, whose wife (Tui, Ngāti Hamoa) worked in Parekura’s office for a period, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāti Porou

18 Andy Jefferd, farmer, interview, 30 April 2014


Death of a Rangatira

Parekura Tureia Horomia died at 4.30 p.m. on Monday 29 April 2013 after a period of illness, but a lifetime of struggle with his weight and the impact of obesity on his organs and general health.

As the story hit the news bulletins on radio, television, and the newspapers, social media cranked up and started to spread news of his death. Heartfelt tributes came from all parts of the country. Jason Ake¹⁹, a journalist who had worked in Parekura’s office as a media adviser, almost immediately posted this farewell:

Kua oti te mamae katahi ka haere atu koe ki to hoa wahine. Kua ngaro haere nga kupu korero kei roto i ahau mou e takoto nei. No reira Parekura moe mai i roto i te ariki. Ka tangi mai nga putatara o te kainga mou kia hoki wairua mai. Piki ake

ki nga taumata o nga maunga whakahi o te Rawhiti. Noho mai i runga i te waka e kore e hoki mai. Moe mai e hoa.²⁰

(Your pain is over, and you are going to join your wife [Gladwyn who died in 1994]. I am at a loss for words to express my feelings on your passing. Parekura, lie in peace in the embrace of the Lord. The bugles are calling your spirit home. Climb the lofty mountains of the East Coast. Lie in your waka for your journey, from which there is no return. Rest in peace my friend.)

Hera Ngata-Gibson²¹, one of the many young people whose lives were touched by Parekura, facebooked her thoughts:

Kia ora Uncle Para for simply being you, the epitome of common sense and ‘manaaki’! I am truly proud of your achievements, uncle and proud of your whānau, and the Uawa/Te Aitanga a Hauiti hau kainga for compromises made and support given to help ensure success in your political career. We will miss you and your attention and time for the little things!

His old boss, Rt Hon Helen Clark,²² who had tried a couple of times to speak to Parekura over the previous week, paid a tribute from New York²³. She talked about his value to her government and how she had relied on him for his advice about Māoridom and Māoritanga. She went on to say:

Parekura was infallibly a source of good advice and insights. He prioritised Māori economic, social, and cultural development, and was enormously and justifiably proud of the achievements during his time as Minister of Māori Affairs. He put himself at the service of his people and New Zealand. He worked tirelessly as a Minister and as a Member of Parliament for one of New Zealand’s largest electorates. For me, Parekura was a very good friend and colleague. He will be greatly missed by me. My heart goes out to Parekura’s whānau and community at this sad time. Parekura was one of the kindest people I have ever known.

David Shearer,²⁴ Leader of the Opposition said:

We send our love and thoughts to his whānau, especially his sons and his mokopuna, and to all the others whose lives he has touched. New Zealand has lost a truly great Māori leader. Parekura devoted his life to championing Māori aspiration and achievement. Before entering politics he was a leader in work and community employment schemes on the East Coast. He took his grassroots knowledge through to leadership within the public sector, in roles in community employment and Māori development. As a politician there were few who could match Parekura’s knowledge of Māori issues. At every marae and town in this country, Parekura was welcomed as a leader and a friend. He was respected across New Zealand and across political lines. His wisdom, passion and humour were a guiding light for Labour, and I will miss him and his advice tremendously. His loyalty to Labour and to our values of inclusion, fairness and solidarity was absolute. He stood strong for the people of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti and for the rights of all Māori. We have lost a man of immense mana, a man of conviction and of compassion. We celebrate his contribution to Aotearoa-New Zealand, and we mourn the loss of a great leader. The Labour whānau is heartbroken today.

Prime Minister Rt Hon John Key²⁵ joined other leaders in sending his condolences to the whānau:

I am thinking of his whānau at this very sad time. It is difficult to grieve privately when your father, grandfather, brother or uncle was a very public figure. The Horomia family will take comfort in the achievements of a life well lived and know that he made a difference in the lives of many.

Tributes flowed from across the political spectrum and from the most unusual sources. Whaleoil blogger, Cameron Slater²⁶ best known for his right-wing blogging, posted a blog on Parekura describing a debate that he had attended in 2008. Cameron and his mate David Farrar,²⁷ another right-wing blogger, had gone to Gisborne to observe a political debate between Parekura and his main opponent Derek Fox,²⁸ for the seat of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti. They were guests of Richard Harmon, whose production company had been commissioned by TVNZ to film the debate as part of a series called: ‘The Swing Seats’.

Cameron Slater takes up the story:

The theatre, I forget its name now, was packed; there were rosettes, banners and good fun being had. It was a good old-fashioned election meeting with opposing teams sledging each other in good-natured banter. The stage was set, everyone was ready, and then the pollies came out to play. Derek Fox came out first; his supporters went berserk with clapping and cheering. He sat on the stool provided. Then Parekura Horomia came out; same reception, but he stopped, stared down at what was now apparent to everyone there as the tiny little stool, he threw back his head and laughed, then turned around and proceeded to ever-so slowly back himself down onto the stool. The audience hushed, everyone stopped, and as he sat down, the legs on the tiny little stool groaned and spread, and then Parekura stood up and called for a more robust chair. Everyone roared with laughter, and the debate got started. Parekura even joked about it several times.

That night was probably one of the most enjoyable political occasions I have ever attended, for the raw politics, for the old-fashioned campaigning and for the enjoyment of everyone in attendance. Afterwards, we all went out to dinner and stayed eating and drinking till late into the night. It was all very convivial and hugely entertaining. I will always remember that night, and it is one of my more enduring memories of Parekura Horomia. To me, he was a man who tried to achieve many great things, but more importantly was a man who knew people; you could see that during the night, it was obvious. Labour lost a good MP yesterday. My only hope is that the person they select is even half as good as Parekura Horomia was for his electorate.

The Hon Tariana Turia, MP for Te Tai Hauāuru,²⁹ writing a personal piece in the Whanganui Chronicle, spoke of the stress and pressure placed on families of MPs. ‘Life in Parliament is not easy on families’, she said. ‘It takes its toll on your health and your personal time’. Notwithstanding these pressures, she observed that Parekura was not deterred from attending tangi and whānau events across the country. ‘Even though unwell, he would keep going, because that was the kind of person he was. He was known to drive in the middle of the night to attend tangi. He lived as a Māori and honoured our tikanga’. She further observed that, ‘Parekura would spend a full day at work in Wellington and then after that would leave, late at night, to attend a tangi somewhere in the country. He would arrive quietly, provide comfort to the whānau pani (bereaved family) and then slip out, driving all night for a full day of appointments ahead’. Tariana recalled spending time with Parekura in Wainuiomata, before his death, when he arrived to support her launch of a Smokefree Cars campaign. ‘Despite his own ailing health, he supported this kaupapa because that was in the best interests of our people.’

Parekura’s reach into the lives of ordinary New Zealanders was truly remarkable, as one can see from this posting on NZ PC World on 29 April 2013:³⁰

We all know Parekura was a big man, but he had a huge heart. Many years ago my (Pākehā) cousin and two of his mates ‘washed up’ at Tolaga Bay. With no money or place to stay, they looked for an empty house for temporary shelter. Finding one that was both remote and looked ‘vacant’, they broke in through an open window. Once inside, they realised someone had recently been there, ‘is it a bach,’ they wondered. Suddenly a car approached, so they ran for the beach to hide. The man saw them make their escape and called out to them that it was okay, and he wouldn’t call the cops. The man sounded friendly and asked if they wanted a feed. Out they came from their hiding spots and met Parekura for the first time. He made them that feed and put them up for the night (and a few more after). To top off all of that, he found them all jobs working on the roads, which was the MOW³¹ at the time. Time has moved on and so have my cousin and his mates. But they still holiday at beautiful Tolaga Bay with their families and try to catch up with the man who called everyone ‘Chief.’

In the week before he died, Parekura had reached out to three of his Hauiti relations and friends to provide support and to help lock down the security around his farm so that he could maintain his privacy and not let anyone in, including his own close family. His able lieutenants were Dr Wayne Ngata,³² Victor Walker³³ and Māui Tangohau.³⁴ It became obvious as the days went by that Parekura was slipping away. To them fell the unenviable but necessary task of trying to talk to Parekura about making arrangements for his tangi. This was not an easy topic to raise with Parekura as, at least on the surface, he refused to countenance the thought that he was going to die. Nevertheless, it was in the minds of those closest to him. Moreover, his insistence, contrary to the medical evidence, that he was going to get better would have made the task of talking about death, even more difficult.

On the day he died, I was driving to our home at Te Kaha and was about a kilometre short of home when my mobile pinged, which was fortunate as there are not too many places in Te Kaha that have mobile reception. I pulled over to the side of the road, just past the medical centre and looked at the message: ‘Kua hinga a Parekura (Parekura has died)’. While this was not a surprise, I just sat and looked out to sea for a few moments and reflected on my good fortune in having the opportunity to see him the previous Saturday and to talk briefly with him. I called my wife, Hekia Parata³⁵ in Wellington and told her I was going back to Mangatuna immediately, to see him before he was taken to the undertakers. I arrived at the house about 8 p.m. Monday night, and it was remarkably calm. When I went into the room, Parekura was lying in his bed. He looked at peace, and while, on the one hand, I was very sad at the death of a close friend, I was also pleased that he was no longer in pain and that he was at peace at last.

Parekura’s middle son Wallace (Waldo),³⁶ who lived permanently on the farm, was looking understandably shattered as he had experienced every hour, minute and second of his father’s last week. His eldest son Desmond,³⁷ Desmond’s wife Robyn³⁸ and their daughter Theresa³⁹ had arrived from Auckland, and Parekura’s sister Roberta (Bobby) Reedy⁴⁰ (who had flown back from Australia) and her husband Tim Reedy,⁴¹ who had been close to Parekura, were also there. The family were waiting for Parekura’s youngest son, Turei,⁴² to arrive from Wellington. When he eventually arrived, Turei asked those in the room to give him some private time with his father. The three boys were together to privately farewell a father whose public life meant that they had not been able to share the same level of quality time with him that he or they might have wanted.

With Parekura’s death, a number of significant but culturally and personally sensitive decisions had to be made. In normal circumstances, a deceased’s body is taken to an undertakers for preparation and then brought back to the chosen marae by members of the close family. Close relations ensure that the deceased is not left alone unless absolutely necessary. While at the undertaker’s, they can if they so choose, and most do, help dress the deceased in a favourite set of clothes. When the body leaves the undertaker’s and returns to the house or a marae, those close to the family and whānau, hapū and iwi members then have an opportunity to spend time honouring, acknowledging and farewelling the deceased. After that, the mourners from outside the close whanāu, hapū and iwi circle will arrive to pay their respects.

Given Parekura’s national profile and the likelihood that many hundreds, if not thousands, of mourners could turn up for his tangi, the family needed to consider the logistics and the physical capacity of a marae to cope with the expected numbers. Desmond,⁴³ now the head of the family, had difficulty keeping track of the various strands of discussions going on around him and his brothers during the period immediately after his father’s death. He told me that during the tangi, ‘I found it difficult at times to rein in the different thoughts and wishes of my aunties and uncles. People were making decisions without consulting us’.

The family decided to keep Parekura’s body at home overnight. This allowed close family members to spend the night with him and say their private farewells. It was also decided that, the following morning, his body would be taken to his marae, Hinemaurea ki Mangatuna (Hinemaurea) where the local people would also be able to farewell him, albeit briefly, before his body was taken to Evans Funeral Services, Gisborne.

Discussions now turned to where he would lie for the period of the tangi. It was acknowledged that the logistics and capacity of Hinemaurea marae, which would have been Parekura’s preferred option, would not be able to cope with the expected crowds. To cater for the anticipated large numbers, the best marae was Hauiti marae, which is on the Gisborne side of the Uawa River. This was not an easy decision for Desmond. As he recalls, ‘in my heart our marae Hinemaurea at Mangatuna would have been the right place to go’. But the practicalities meant that the marae would not have coped with large numbers, especially as the ablution block was prone to seizing up when it was only a small event. Desmond suggested to his Uncle Wayne Ngata that they needed to go to Hauiti. He also knew that this decision would offend some of his relations, but he was prepared to take that criticism to ensure that the many hundreds and thousands would be properly looked after.

For Desmond⁴⁴ and his brothers, negotiations around various aspects of the tangi were ongoing. Desmond recounts, ‘When we got to Evans’,⁴⁵ I realised that there were lots of discussions going on. I stood apart from these discussions for the time being, as I needed to make my own decision in my own way without getting caught up in the politics of the situation.’ Desmond wanted to make sure that his brothers were all right and not feeling pressured or overwhelmed by the process. When they reached the funeral home, the talk had already moved to where their father would be buried.

To complicate matters further it was no longer possible to take Parekura’s body back to Tolaga Bay as had been planned. Evans Funeral Services needed more time, over Tuesday night, to prepare the body. So it was decided that Parekura’s body would be borne home on the Wednesday. Meanwhile, the weather forecast did not bode well, and Wednesday dawned overcast with drizzly rain turning to strong showers from time to time. According to Desmond: ‘When we came out of Evans’ on the Wednesday and saw the huge crowds waiting and the police cars ready to go, it dawned on me: the scale of what we were about to face’.

A cavalcade had been gathering from the early hours of the morning. Throughout the previous night, whānau, tribal members and other groups had been travelling towards Gisborne to help escort Parekura’s body back to Tolaga Bay. Superintendent Wally Haumaha⁴⁶ from Police National Headquarters and Sergeant Wayne Pānapa,⁴⁷ both friends of Parekura, had undertaken to provide whatever security was required using Police Māori liaison officers as well as local Gisborne Police to manage the cavalcade. The New Zealand Māori Wardens Association also deployed wardens to help. And so began Parekura’s final journey along a road that he had travelled so many times. It was a solemn and sad occasion.

As the cavalcade proceeded slowly north, the rain continued to fall intermittently, and the horizon was dark with storm clouds. As the cavalcade neared Hauiti marae, Tumanako Wereta,⁴⁸ who was travelling with the convoy, recalled the time he had worked for Parekura. Tumanako had visited Tolaga Bay, and Parekura had insisted on taking him to the summit of Titirangi, the ancestral mountain of the Hauiti people. From the summit, Parekura, with immense pride, pointed out the boundaries of Hauiti and extolled the virtues of his homeland.⁴⁹

Haare Williams,⁵⁰ the distinguished Māori scholar, wrote, ‘Tangihanga is the most enduring cultural practice and has survived the avalanche of European culture’. He joined the funeral cortège in Gisborne and travelled with Parekura’s body back to Hauiti marae. He commented:

Parekura Horomia was sent off from a rain-soaked Gisborne, where we were joined by hundreds on ‘The Chief’s’ last journey home. Along forty, long kilometres of winding East Coast road to Hauiti marae, to a welcome befitting royalty.

The rain pelted down. Haare continues his description:

In live action, this is one of the most intimate of all Māori institutions, the tangihanga. It is here that you know it is okay to open your heart and cry openly. It is to be Māori in its truest setting. Except perhaps during the undertaker’s preparations, the body is never left alone, it is attended constantly by kuia and closest kin. Parekura was laid outside under the mahau (veranda) of the ancestral Ruakapanga. In some districts, the body lies inside. Those around the casket glean comfort from the expressions of aroha through an embrace or hongi, and from the tributes made by a succession of orators. As with a Pākehā funeral, the tangi is sad, it is also a joyous time and equally a time for the living. It is a time to patch up rifts and reconcile whānau differences. For that reason, and for many others, the tangi continues to be an enduring feature of Māori custom.

Hauiti had erected a large marquee to shelter the visitors as they waited to go on to the marae. During the hours of waiting for Parekura’s body to arrive, hundreds of visitors, mostly locals gathered at the entrance to the marae. The change of timings from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning did not provide the locals with sufficient time on their own to mourn Parekura. Desmond⁵¹ recalled his thoughts as they arrived at Hauiti marae: ‘When we arrived at the marae, it was stunning. The rain was falling, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people waiting, and behind us, there was a huge column of cars that had come with us from Gisborne. It was an awesome sight as we brought Dad onto the marae.’

The hearse arrived and backed up to the entrance, and Parekura’s coffin was slowly carried onto the marae, followed by hundreds of mourners. Hekia Parata and I and our daughters Rakaitemania and Mihimaraea,⁵² had travelled up from Gisborne, ahead of the hearse to be in place on the marae when Parekura’s body arrived. As we slowly inched our way towards the meeting house where the body would lie, Hauiti and Ngāti Porou voices filled the air with shrill cries, waiata and haka as his fellow tribesmen and women welcomed Parekura home. It was an awe-inspiring cacophony of sounds with bodies pressed together in a relatively small space. Throughout the solemn and slow procession onto the marae, the rain seemed to fall harder and cast a shadow of gloom across the proceedings. When Parekura’s coffin was settled in the right-hand side of the porch of the meeting house, the stage was set for the speeches, the tears and the laughter that would flow across the marae over the next four days.

Parekura’s stalwart lieutenants, Wayne Ngata, Māui Tangohau and Victor Walker continued to tightly manage the unfolding drama as they had in the days before Parekura’s death. His confidence in them was well placed as they had the knowledge, the mana and the astuteness to manage degrees of chiefly nuance, a pre-requisite for managing large numbers of important people, each with their own mana and their own peculiarities. Wayne Ngata and Victor Walker supported by Derek Lardelli⁵³ and Selwyn Parata⁵⁴ were the main speakers welcoming the visitors. By and large, they spoke briefly to give the manuhiri (visitors) more time and opportunity to farewell Parekura.

Throughout the tangi, while they did not detract from its overall smooth running, elements of recent tensions between Te Rūnanganui o Ngāti Porou and Hauiti surfaced occasionally. For outsiders, this would not have been obvious. But, for the locals, the signs of the occasional, potential flashpoints were not missed. The fractious relationship between the leadership of Te Rūnanganui o Ngāti Porou and Hauiti resulted in Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti marae boycotting the Ngāti Porou Pā Wars in recent years (an annual event where hapū teams compete against each other in a range of games and activities). Parekura would have been an interested bystander at this byplay because, had he been alive, he would have been right in the middle of any dispute. I’ve no doubt he would have looked down and smiled as his kinsmen on both sides of the issues handled the situation carefully to preclude them from making too obvious a fuss in front of the nation’s media and leaders.

In the background, roving at large was Māui Tangohau, keeping an eye on the logistical details of such a large and complex event and making decisions where they needed to be made. Mere Pōhatu,⁵⁵ Te Puni Kōkiri’s Regional Director for the Te Tai Rāwhiti region and a long-time friend, supporter and official for Parekura when he was Minister of Māori Affairs, was also ever present, smoothing situations before they got out of hand and supporting Parekura’s lieutenants when necessary. Ngāti Porou’s ‘photographer’, Honoria (Nori) Parata,⁵⁶ principal at the Tolaga Bay Area School, took hundreds of photos to record this momentous event.

While the opportunity for Ngāti Porou and Hauiti to have their own time to farewell Parekura had been constrained by the delay in getting him back to the marae, at least part of that process had been satisfied at Hinemaurea marae on the previous day before his body was taken to the undertakers’ in Gisborne. The people who came with Parekura’s body onto the marae were largely Ngāti Porou and Hauiti and a handful of outsiders, and so it was possible to deal with completing that part of the tikanga. In the meantime, Tainui were assembling at the gate, getting ready to come on with David Shearer and the Labour Party after the bearer party. Once Parekura’s coffin had been laid in the mahau (veranda) of the whare, the speeches began for the first large group that had accompanied him onto the marae. Wayne Ngata got up for the hosts, and after a short speech, offered the opportunity for the visitors to speak. Selwyn Parata spoke first for the visitors, and then a number of speakers followed him. Some of these speakers managed to get onto the marae ahead of their own tribal contingents, which gave them the opportunity to stand and farewell Parekura. Had they come onto the marae with their own iwi, they would have been out-ranked by more senior speakers.

A speaker from Waikaremoana stood and recounted a visit that Parekura had made to the area to meet with the local leaders to discuss Treaty matters. Parekura had arrived in a chauffeured ministerial car. When he got out at the meeting place, he instructed the driver to go to the local school to pick up the kids and drive them around so that they could have the thrill of travelling in a ministerial limousine. Listeners at the tangi burst into laughter, and it was clear that

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  • (5/5)
    Great read very insightful into this man's life. Thumbs up!