“Whatever has been said about this man, here on this marae over the past couple of days, those words have a special significance - they all happen to be true”. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters displayed his trademark wit in his final farewell to Dr Apirana Mahuika at Rahui Marae in Tikitiki.
The man credited for the return of Hikurangi Maunga 24 years ago (while a National Party minister) was one of many MPs from across the political spectrum to make the journey to the Waiapu valley. “This is an end of an era”, he said.
Speaking on behalf of the government’s delegation Deputy Prime Minister Bill English had a different recollection of history. “Hikurangi was passed back by Sir Douglas Graham and Nick Smith, not Winston Peters,” he told the crowd of about one thousand to much laughter. “Hikurangi will last longer than a Gold Card!”
The political pagentry seemed apt for the man who has influenced generations of parliamentarians over his 27 year reign as Chairman of Te Runanga[nui] o Ngati Porou. That political agitation began in the 60s with the likes of Sir Tipene O’Regan who shared ‘powerful memories’ of Dr Mahuika leading a group of Maori Victoria University graduate students, who changed an education ordinance which made te reo illegal in schools. “Before we went back to our iwi, this is the man that brought us together”.
But the most poignant and insightful memories were shared by Dr Mahuika’s eldest son Matanuku Mahuika in an often emotional speech. “There’s a reason he was the person he was… it’s because he was the potiki, the potiki always gets his way. When he talked to Ministers and the like, he wasn’t asking, he was telling you what he wanted you to do”.
Matanuku also reflected on the bitter sweet reality of being the son of a man who put iwi before all. “The thing that gave his life passion and meaning was his people… without your support, all of the time, he would never have done the things he did. So thank you”.
But despite his commitment to all things Ngati Porou, his many scholarly accomplishments and offers of knighthoods, his greatest pride was his mokopuna. After being diagnosed with severe lung cancer last year, Dr Mahuika revealed it was his grandchildren he would miss the most.
This week Ngati Porou and Maoridom celebrated a unique life, an important life. In signing off Winston Peters pondered if we will ever see the likes of Apirana Mahuika again. The man is gone, but like his namesake Sir Apirana Ngata, the legend and legacy of Apirana Mahuika lives on.