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No. 52 (September 1965)
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DR M. N. PAEWAI

A Leader with High Ideals And Astonishing Energy

There are people in New Zealand whose records of service to the community at large and to the Maori race in particular equal that of Dr Manahi Nitama Paewai. There have been people in the past whose service exceeds that which he has up until now given. But of the first, there can be no more than a dozen or so. And of the second, even less—and they are looked at in the light of the accomplishments of lifetimes.

For Dr Paewai is just 45, and who can know what he will build in the years to come on the foundations of experience and ideals now so firmly laid?

Let's not attempt to analyse until we've examined the record. And what a record ! Would that there were more such !

He is known to many simply as “the Doc”, to others as Nahi—a contraction of his first Christian name—while some members of his family choose to call him Nitama. But whatever name is used, it is with affection and respect.

Born at Dannevirke

Nahi Paewai was born at Dannevirke on June 8, 1920, son of Nireaha Paewai, leading member of that very well known and widely respected Maori family. He was educated at Dannevirke High School and at Otago University from which he graduated M.B., Ch.B.

While he was at Otago he became widely known as a Rugby player of exceptional talent, tough, courageous, intelligent. Many claim him as being in the first half-dozen half-backs New Zealand has ever produced, a few say he was the best of them all. The record of his representative Rugby career shows also his movements round the country. He represented Otago, New Zealand Universities, the South Island, Auckland, the North Island, Wellington, New Zealand Army and New Zealand Maoris.

Later he moved into Rugby administration, serving on the Maori Advisory Board from

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Nahi Paewai and his wife Hineapa. ‘Northlander’ photo

1945–1956 and on the Northland Rugby Union from 1953 to 1956. He was co-selector for the New Zealand Maori team in 1955 and 1956. Since 1958 he has been a member of the Bay of Islands Rugby Union's judicial committee.

Service With Many Organizations

That's sport. Let's turn to community service in the sense of the wider community, the people with whom he lives and works, regardless of race.

Interest in health is an obvious one for a man of his profession. Thus we find that he was divisional surgeon of the St John Ambulance Brigade at Kaikohe from 1947 to 1961. The case of the intellectually handicapped child has always been close to his heart, and he is vice-president of the Northland Branch of the Intellectually Handicapped Children Parents' Association and vice-president too of the Kaikohe branch. From 1960 to 1962 he was a member of a Northland special school committee for intellectually handicapped children.

Community service more often than not calls for work through statutory organizations, and Dr Paewai has accepted his full share of this. He has been a member of the Kaikohe Borough Council since 1962. His interest in education has led to membership of another local institution, the board of governors of Northland College. He is deeply interested in education at all levels, not only at secondary school. Thus it is not surprising to see that he is a strong supporter of the Kaikohe Free Kindergarten, being its vice-president from 1952 to 1955.

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This same interest overlaps into the realm of the church of which he is so active a member, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. He serves on the New Zealand Advisory Board of Church College, the splendid educational institution established near Hamilton.

Dr Paewai stands high in the councils of his church, serving on many of its constitutent bodies and carrying its precepts into his daily life. He was the moving spirit in the erection of the church's fine new building at Kaikohe.

Kaikohe knows him as a leading member of the town's Rotary Club, of which in turn he has been a director, vice-president and president.

Let's move into the field of Maori affairs, particularly welfare. With Dr Paewai this is not a mere interest, this is a crusade.

Advice and Guidance Society

An obvious avenue of service is through his profession. One expression of this is his membership of the New Zealand Maori Health Committee. But his concern for the well-being of his people stretches far beyond his doctor's work. Perhaps his most significant contribution to Maori advancement has been the Kaikohe Advice and Guidance Society which he founded in 1960.

This remarkable organisation does exactly what its name implies, it advises and guides. In particular its attention is directed to establishing sound economic principles in the home. Indeed it has meant for many the actual establishment of the home itself.

Those who belong to the society are shown how to budget, how to keep the pay packet ahead of the bills. For many it has meant the gradual lifting, after years in some cases, of crippling burdens of debt.

In this Dr Paewai has been assisted by public-spirited friends who have acted as sponsors for families which have come to the society to find a way out of their financial troubles. Characteristically, he acts as sponsor himself for quite a number of people.

Official recognition of the worth of the scheme was shown when its principles and much of its detailed operation were adopted as part of the welfare policy of the Maori Affairs Department. Thus the idea that was tested at Kaikohe spread to Maori communities all over the country.

In his own words: ‘It is a form of practical adult education. We are trying to curtail the expenses of the Maori people, trying to teach them the value of money and the need to stay out of debt.’

Recently Dr Paewai has given much thought to an extension of these principles so that a wider section of the community. Pakeha as well as Maori, can receive some form of economic advice. He has also expressed his ideas on the obligations of trade and professional organizations of assisting those who over-reach themselves financially.

This is by no means a ‘hand-out’ policy. Rather it is enlightened self-help, helping a man to face up to his responsibilities, showing him how to be an economic asset to his community.

Opposition to ‘Hand-outs’

‘Hand-outs’ are anathema to Dr Paewai. Advancement through work and thrift is what he advocates. Paradoxically, because he once sought nomination as a Labour Parliamentary candidate, he is the personification of rugged individualism and is on record with some stinging criticisms of the welfare state.

It was his opposition to what he conceived to be a ‘hand-out’ which led him to become an outspoken critic of the Maori Education Foundation. He saw the foundation as something which cut across his concept of reward and success based on effort and determination.

‘The Maori must be taught as the Pakeha has already learnt, that he has to work for what he gets,’ he told me when I asked him why he was rocking the Education Foundation boat.

It is a measure of the man's essential fairness and honesty that later, after a closer look at the foundation's aims and methods, he modified some of his views and said so very handsomely.

Looking at the controversy after three years, it seems clear to me that his bluntness did much good, if no more than to make the architects of the foundation examine their structure with critical eyes.

‘What I am trying to do is to provoke people who may have misgivings to speak up so that those who are going to administer the foundation will jolly well look carefully at it,’ he said.

And that is exactly what happened.

More recently Dr Paewai has taken a more active part in purely Maori organizations, for instance, he was chairman of the Kaikohe Maori Welfare Committee and secretary of the Taitokerau District Maori Council.

So in the practical field of help to the Maori

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people Dr Paewai could if he chose—and he would probably not choose, being too busy with present needs to worry about past achievements—point to families out of debt, to homes built, to children educated, to bodies healed, to sports administered, to a community served with energy and selflessness in a hundred ways.

Energy and Drive

Dedication to ideals lies at the heart of all he does. Astonishing, punishing, even frightening energy and drive is the secret of how he gets it done. An active, inquiring mind always open to suggestion, particularly when it stems from the United States which he knows well and admires, helps him to decide what to do.

A morning I spent with him, caring for the sick, admonishing the wayward, encouraging the faint-hearted, arguing with the unconvinced, left me worn out. At one house it was pills and advice, at another it was a tin of paint and a direct order to put it on the laundry, at a third it was medicine and gentle, even tender, words of comfort, at the next a pane of glass and finger shaken at a broken window. At another place there was a discussion on educational policy in which his views were put forward with quite devastating bluntness.

Then we climbed over a building project where men were working on a co-operative basis, ‘you help me build my place and I’ll help you with yours'.

He left me to attend two meetings, four patients and a wedding. This is the pattern of all his days.

He is the slave of his own high ideals and he is his own ruthless slave-driver. He charges at problems of economics, housing, education, health and equality with the same bounce and fire that drove him round a scrum in the good old days.

Suspicion of Exclusively Maori Institutions

No analysis of Dr Paewai can omit his ideas on equality and integration. He is the great integrator. It seems to me that he looks with suspicion on every institution which is particularly Maori. Some pass scrutiny but those which do not can expect no mercy from his dissection.

In the past he has expressed his condemnation of separate Maori schools, of separate funds for Maori welfare, even of the word ‘Maori’ in the name of the Maori Education Foundation.

The concept of Maori and European as completely equal partners in all aspects of New Zealand life is very dear indeed to him. If that should mean the loss of some cultural attributes, sacrifices on the altar of complete equality, then I feel that this would trouble him not at all.

Perhaps his ideal state would be a Utopia in which Maori and Pakeha would not only be equal in status but the same in culture.

I have detected in him scarcely a flicker of interest in efforts to make an amalgam of cultures, to incorporate into the New Zealand European pattern aspects springing from the Maori past. Discussions on these lines move him little, if at all.

Just as he is not a good public speaker—words limp along behind the racing thoughts—so he is not a good analyst of the abstract. He is too practical, too convinced of the magnitude of the immediate physical task to be bothered with academic niceties and cultural probabilities.

There are houses to be built, there are jobs to be found or to be created—the estabishment of secondary industry is another of his activities. There are bones to be set and sores to be healed and ills to be cured. There are men to be shaken to a realization of their family responsibilities. There are widows and orphans to be cared for and comforted. There are debts to be paid and children to be educated. There is work enough for a hundred hands, let alone two.

And in all this he is aided and supported by Hineapa his charming wife and their two sons and five daughters. For a household headed by a one-man hurricane it shows no sign whatever of wear and tear.

The Authentic Maori Leader

Many Maori professional men and women cannot be leaders of their people except by example. Their work removes them from close contact with the everyday problems and aspirations of the ordinary man.

Not so Dr Manahi Nitama Paewai. He is the authentic Maori leader.

A man of splendid physique, of bubbling good humour, of strong and compelling features, his work is enobled by the honesty of his motives, the intensity of his convictions and the force of his moral courage.

He is the Happy Warrior and there is no one else quite like him. Our Maori people could do with more cast from the same brave mould.