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No. 31 (June 1960)
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PERSONALITY STUDY

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ERUERA TIHEMA TIRIKATENE

The Honourable Eruera Tihema Tirikatene, member of the New Zealand House of Representatives, Minister of the Crown, whose whakapapa has been established by the early historians of the Ngaitahu tribe of the South Island, is a person of noble birth; in his own right, he is a Rangatira of the Ngaitahu tribe, and is the great grandson, by senior line of descent, of Tuhuru, the Ariki and conqueror of Westland. Mr Tirikatene's European ancestry derives from his great-great-grandfather Lord Tregarthyn.

Born at Kaiapoi on 5 January, 1895, the eldest son of Captain John Driver Tregerthen (Tirikatene) and his wife, Tini Tuhuru Arapata Horau, Mr Tirikenatene received his early education at Tuahiwi School and the Kaiapoi District High School. He was a foundation member of the first pjatrol of Boy Scouts established in New Zealand. Mr Tirikatene was an all-round athlete: runner, wrestler, boxer, swimmer, footballer, motor-cyclist, speedboat racer, and an expert horseman.

He was a member of Te Hokowit-a-Tu, the Maori Battalion of the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the first World War. On his return to New Zealand, he married Ruti Matekino Horomona, daughter of a chieftainess of the Ngati-Pahauwera and Ngati-Kahungunu tribes of Hawkes Bay.

A man of many parts, Mr Tirikatene as well as being one of New Zealand's most forthright politicians, has had an interesting and varied career. He has been soldier, business man, farmer, stock dealer, timber miller, and master of his own sea-going ferry service and fishing craft, and is a certificated oil, gas, electrical and fluid marine engineer.

In the early nineteen twenties, Mr Tirikatene became deeply involved and closely identified with the Ratana movement, the largest totally Maori national group in New Zealand. In 1927, he was one of the four young men chosen by the founder Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana to be his “koata” (quarter), Ratana's exclusive personal representatives in the spiritual life of the Ratana Church.

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Eruera Tihema Tirikatene. (N.P.S. PHOTOGRAPH).

In the realm of politics, Mr Tirikatene was thus vested with the highest status within the movement, and he retains this authority still.

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Mr Tirikatene was elected a Member of Parliament in 1932 and has continued in office ever since. From 1935 to 1958, he held office as President of the Maori Advisory Council to the New Zealand Labour Party and under his dynamic leadership, the Maori people's claim for compensation for earlier land confiscation and for legislative equality was appeased, appropriate legislation was introduced and effected by the Government between 1935 and 1949, when Mr Tirikatene was the representative of the Maori people on the Legislative Council. During this period, Mr Tirikatene was also associated with the other measures of legislative reform that were introduced and affected all New Zealand citizens.

In 1945, the Minister of Maori Affairs introduced the now well-known Maori Social and Economic Advance Act which was propounded and constructed by a nucleus of advanced thinkers under the leadership of Mr Tirikatene. This Act confers upon the Maori people, through their tribal committees, the statutory right to have a voice in their own affairs, and provides for the appointment of Maori Welfare Officers who act as liaison between the people and the government.

In 1932, Mr Tirikatene was appointed a Justice of the Peace, and in 1937, he was the senior Maori representative in the contingent that represented New Zealand at the Coronation of King George VI. He also attended the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference while in England. In 1950, His Majesty King George VI conferred the life title of Honourable on Mr Tirikatene. At the centennial celebrations of France's occupation of New Caledonia at Noumea in 1953, Mr Tirikatene represented New Zealand.

During World War II, Mr Tirikatene was a prominent member of the New Zealand War Council. From 1939 to 1945, he was the chairman of the Maori War Effort Organisation, securing the fullest co-operaiton from the Maori people in providing essential services in New Zealand, as well as supplying reinforcements overseas to the Maori Battalion, which Mr Tirikatene was largely responsible for establishing.

When the National Government was defeated by the Labour Party in 1957, Mr Tirikatene accepted the portfolios of Forestry, Printing and Stationery, and that of associate to the Minister of Maori Affairs. Mr Tirikatene is everywhere regarded with admiration and respect. He has been dynamic in forestry, spreading its aims and achievements abroad, and he was the leader of the New Zealand delegation to the Fifth Session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, held at New Delhi, India, from 8–18 February. 1960. Mr Tirikatene was thus the first Maori to lead a delegation to the United Nations Organisation.

Among the many bodies on which Mr Tirikatene has served are the Ngaitahu Trust Board, the Maori Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, the Ngarimu Scholarship Board, the Maori Purposes Fund Board and the Maori Veteran Soldiers' Board.

Because of his varied background and experience, Mr Tirikatene commands a notable facility for communication with people of every walk and condition.

His pride in his Polynesian heritage has become legendary; he is noted for his wisdom and eloquence as an orator, as a deeply versed scholar and outstanding exponent of the cultural lore of his people. Today, he is an acknowledged leader of the Maori people.

Mr Tirikatene is justly famous as an orator, and the splendour of Maori imagery, with the sonority of the Biblical language which means so much to him, has led to a great nobility of utterance in his English speeches. The following is a passage from his New Year message, broadcast on 1st January, 1960.

“Experiences in life mould the clay and fashion the spirit which enriches the soul. By each experience we are made different: each experience can be a means of learning, and the more we learn the more it is impressed upon us that what we know is really so little. In the theatre of war the farce of man's so-called power is featured; from the vast studies in the scientific field man discovers new distances which must be traversed and his learning fashions more baffling complexities with which he must grapple; and so it goes on, and every now and then an unexplainable phenomenon arises to which science cannot give an answer.

“Yet in pain and suffering, be it physical, mental or spiritual, one can come closer to God. Indeed, those who suffer setbacks in life have perhaps the best opportunity of becoming wholesome of the soul and more accessible to the Holy Spirit. And, as the calm follows the storm, one's understanding can also become of greater clarity after the mind has suffered—and the new-found tranquility and serenity can be profound.”

As we go to press, it has been announced that Eruera Tihema Tirikatene has received a knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen in the Birthday Honours for 1960. Te Ao Hou warmly congratulates Sir Eruera on his great honour, which, as this article makes so clear, he has richly earned.