Tiaki Hira at Turangawaewae Pa, Ngaruawahia, 1952. This photograph was taken at the opening of the Pare Hauraki sleeping house, a few days before Princess Te Puea's death.
The three generations of the well-known Hira family of Tuakau, grandfather, son and grand-daughter, show just how well Maori people can adapt themselves to changing times and circumstances.
The grandfather, Hone Hira—eminent Maori orator and authority on Maori lore; the son, Johnny Hira—successful farmer,—and the grand-daughter, Sophie—prominent sportswoman, outstanding in competition with both Maoris and pakehas.
Hone Hira is a rangatira of the old school. Born at Te Kohanga, near the Waikato river on September 26, 1877, he is a chief of Ngati Tipaa and is related to the Waikato Maori royal family. Though he went to St. Stephen's College he did not pursue his pakeha education to any length. Leaving St. Stephen's he went back to Te Kohanga and took up bushwhacking.
But it is for his association with the Maori king movement that Hone Hira is best known.
When Mahuta was king, Hone Hira was captain of one of the king's bands, Te Tautoka. He was also solo cornetist. For a period he carried on in these posts under King Te Rata but it was during Te Rata's reign that he changed his role. He gave up the band commissions and became the official orator at king movement functions. In this capacity he carried on for King Koroki and Princess Te Puea.
Hone Hira became very interested in the lore and customs of his people as a youth. He wanted to learn the Maori ways. He went to the old people and imbibed their knowledge—the knowledge that has stood him in good stead on maraes all over the country.
In particular he has specialised in and mastered the intricate whai korero forms for the opening of new buildings.
‘Wherever Koroki opens a meeting house I do the speaking,’ says the old man. ‘Because I know the right way.’
When the writer of this article once asked, at the opening of a new meeting house in the Waikato, who would perform the ancient speech-making rites demanded by custom the answer was unanimous. ‘There is only one amongst us who can do it,’ they said. ‘Hira.’
The old man has taken part in the openings of meeting houses in the East Coast, Rotorua, Taranaki and North Auckland areas as well as in his own beloved Waikato. He was the orator at the opening of both Mahinarangi and Turongo, at Ngaruawahia.
Also he was the speaker at the opening of Ngati Raukawa at Otaki. He took a stand there in advising King Koroki of the correct thing to do when a dispute—which became famous throughout Maoridom—arose as to whether part of the planned ceremony was in accord with Waikato custom.
Just a few days before Princess Te Puea's death last year Hone Hira spoke at the opening of Pare Hauraki meeting house at Ngaruawahia. King Koroki opened the house. The erection of this house was one of Te Puea's last works.
Mrs Hira also comes from a high-ranking Waikato family. Her maiden name was Pane Kuhukuhu Rangiamohia. She is a granddaughter of Hori Kukutai, chief of Ngati Tipaa.
These two old people now live at a dairy farm belonging to the family but they often go in to Tuakau and stay either with their son or at the pa.
Their son, Potaua Hone Hira, known as Johnny Hira, has had quite different aspirations to those of his father. With him the accent has been not on Maoritanga but on farming. And with his wife, who has combined and worked with him constantly, he has ‘made a go of it.’
They worked their way up, step by step, and now are farming in a substantial way. ‘We never stayed for long spells at tangis or huis,’ says Johnny Hira. ‘We never wasted money. We knew that we had to work, persevere and stay at home.’
Johnny Hira was born at Onewhero, Waikato, on November 30, 1899. After schooling and doing some labouring he went milking for his uncle and decided he would like to milk for himself.
Eventually he was able to do this by going to his mother's 108 acre property in the Onewhero district. This place was only three miles from the one he had been working on for his uncle. It was pretty rough and had not been regularly farmed.
He worked on it and put money that he had saved while shearing into it. With both he and his wife working very hard they got established. Adequate housing and farm buildings were added in time. With the addition of a benzine milking machine they were able to step the herd up from the 27, which had been hand milked, to 37. The herd now stands at 42.
The next big step in advancing their farming interests came when they decided to clear a 116 acre property which Mr Hira sen, owned in the district. It was all in bush. This they put in grass and built it up to carry 300 ewes, its present carrying capacity. When the second farm came into operation it meant that the Hiras were kept busy working them both.
The dairy farm is now completely modernised and all electric. There is even a tennis court. The Hiras left their farms in 1946 and went in to Tuakau to live. They had already bought and cropped land there. They built a modern three-bedroomed home in Tuakau but still worked both farms. Though now there is a relative on the dairy farm, Mr Hira is still a hard working farmer.
Life however has not been all work and no play for him. In his younger days he was an enthusiastic Rugby footballer. From 1922 to 1934 he was a Franklin representative and from 1923 to 1932 a South Auckland representative.
Mrs Hira jun, who has been a constant helpmate to her husband was a Miss Rewha. Her mother was closely related to the Maori royal family and to Princess Te Puea. Mrs Hira worked diligently for the latter. She has the rare distinction for a Maori woman of being a J.P. Both Mr and Mrs Hira are on the Tuakau Tribal Committee, Mr Hira being chairman. Mrs Hira is also chairwoman of the local Maori Women's Welfare League Branch. The Hiras have only the one daughter, Sophie, but they have brought up several other children.
It was for Sophie that the Hiras built an elaborate, ultra-modern home at Tuakau, of which some details have been reproduced in our last issue (pp.26–7).
Sophie Hira, as a girl, has had an outstanding career in basketball, tennis and pony riding events.
She developed a love of horses when she used to ride to Onewhero school. When she was at Pukekohe High School she went all round the South Auckland District competing in riding events. She won many first and other prizes. In 1947 she won the amateur over hurdles class at the Auckland Show and also the professional over hurdles. At the same show she won the Dominion Pony Hunter, the main hunt event for ponies. Altogether she got five firsts at the 1947 Auckland show.
In her first year at Pukekohe High School, Sophie was runner-up in the open tennis championship. The next year she won it.
In 1951 she won the Franklin junior tennis championship, and in the same year the singles title at the country tourney in Auckland. Meanwhile basketball was not forgotten and in 1949 and 1950 she repped for South Auckland.
In 1951 she married George Muru from Ngaruawahia, forging another link with the royal family, her husband being a close relative of that family.