Maori Women's Welfare League Conference
The 14th Annual Dominion Conference of the Maori Women's Welfare League held in Wellington Town Hall from 26 to 29 July 1966 was opened by the Governor-General, Sir Bernard Fergusson.
Before the official opening, delegates and observers were welcomed by the Mayor of Wellington, Sir Francis Kitts, and by Mr Ralph Love. The Minister of Education, Mr A. E. Kinsella, spoke of the increase in the number of Maori pupils at school and the greater educational opportunities now available. Mr D. J. Riddiford, M.P. for Wellington Central, and Mr N. P. Kirk, Leader of the Opposition, also spoke briefly.
After being challenged at the door and proceeding into the hall, the Governor-General was welcomed on behalf of the League by Sir Turi Carroll and the League's president, Mrs R. Sage. His Excellency replied in both Maori and English, speaking of the League's past achievements and future work, and leaving with members the same advice his grandfather had given: ‘Be thirsty for education.’
Gifts were presented to Sir Bernard and Lady Fergusson, and Her Excellency accepted the League's Life Membership badge. The Ngati Poneke Young Maori Club then entertained the guests, and many members of the audience rose spontaneously to join in the songs of welcome, after which afternoon tea was served.
Greetings from other women's organisations and a full and interesting report from the President occupied the evening session.
The second day's programme included discussion of remits, a talk by Miss J. Howland, Supervisor of the Arohata Girls' Borstal, travel talks given by Miss N. Te Uira and Mrs P. Grice, a ‘City Lights’ tour, and supper served by members of the Wellington Anglican Maori Club.
More remits were discussed on the third day and short explanatory talks were given by the Secretary for Maori Affairs, Mr J. McEwen, and the Commissioner of Police, Mr C. L. Spencer. The decision was made to hold the 1968 conference in Whangarei and the 1969 conference in Gisborne. A highlight of the afternoon was the announcement of Rotorua District Council as winners of the Te Puea Trophy after a helpful talk by the judge, Miss M. Riley, principal of Wellington East Girls'
On the busy morning of the fourth day, two new vice-presidents, Mrs T. Potaka and Mrs M. Penfold were elected, the Area Representatives were declared and the Evaluation Committee members made their comments on the running of the Conference.
A pleasant surprise was the presentation by Mr J. McEwen of a new trohy, a feather box he had carved in a Nga Puhi design, using a piece of wood brought back from Niue Island. It was won by Tai Tokerau, who showed the greatest membership increase, with 101 new members. This box, the Whaka Huia trophy, will be competed for annually.
Following the conference, 40 League members toured Victoria University of Wellington, where they saw classes in session, were televised in the Geology section, and were entertained by the University Maori Club.
Dominion Executive members were entertained by Sir Bernard and Lady Fergusson at an informal afternoon tea at Government House, where they saw Raukawa's cloak and many of Sir Bernard's greenstone artefacts. They felt honoured to represent the League, and the visit brought to a climax a successful conference.
There were some who thought his ear-ornaments an affectation but they were not. He once told me that one belonged to the late Major Rapata Wahawaha, N.Z.C., M.L.C., the famous war-leader of Ngati Porou in the Hau-Hau and the Te Kooti campaigns, and the other to Te Pairi, a tohunga of Ngai Turanga of Waimana and Tuhoe, and one of those elders at whose feet Kani acquired so much of his Maori wisdom. Kani told me that he wore them at the request of elders of both tribes and that he had discussed the propriety of his doing so with his father-in-law, the late Sir Apirana Ngata, who encouraged him to do so.
Te Kani attended the wharewananga at Ruatoki where he studied nightly, from sunset to sunrise, under the tutelage of three adepts. It was this thorough grounding, to which was added the knowledge imparted by kaumatua of many tribes and Kani's own lifetime studies, that made him unanswerable on any marae, and made him, too, an accepted spokesman for many tribes with whom his affiliations were but slight.
He acted in many capacities but it was widely said of him by those who knew best that he was never so respected as when he acted as peacemaker between those who took vehemently opposite sides in some take or dispute.
His knowledge of whakapapa (genealogy) was infinite. He could relate individual to individual and tribe to tribe with a sparkling wealth of historic anecdote and circumstance, reciting from the rich storehouse of his memoried mind—and in the manner of the expert—without reference to notes or other aid.
In matters of marae procedure and etiquette he was unrivalled. Even Waikato, possibly the most conservative in tribal tradition, conceded to Te Kani the right to speak on their behalf even in so delicate a matter as the naming of their Queen. When the kawe mate visited Turangawaewae recently, Waikato were the first to acknowledge his services to them and to the Maori people.
Te Kani spoke with force of phrase and gesture but with a subtle, and at times a trenchant humour. His mind worked with the speed of lightning and he never missed an opportunity of scoring with biting repartee if he thought the occasion called for it. On all occasions, he looked, spoke and acted as a rangatira. Like the Maori of a bygone generation, Kani was extremely sensitive to the law of tapu and when he was personally involved, he would not brook the slightest deviation from its strictest observance.
He was equally a scholar in the world of Pakeha culture. He attended Nelson College and was a graduate of the Nelson Conservatorium of Music. As a pianist he could have made a name for himself had he cared to specialise, but he preferred to identify himself with his Maoritanga. He read widely and his command of English was wide and precise. He had friends throughout the world with whom he kept up a regular corespondence. His letters were always entertaining and informative. It was nothing for him to write a dozen closely written pages in his neat, small hand-writing. His correspondents, like his friends, were chosen from all walks of life. For many years he kept up a spirited exchange of letters with the then King Carol of Rumania, and many other overseas notabilities; but he would write at equal length and with equal interest to a young person who had newly sought his advice.
Kani made few concessions. He held his own values and deviated from them for neither high nor low. He was an individual and you accepted him or rejected him as such, but in spite of this there was something intrinsically likeable about him which attracted affection and respect.
Kani had his faults, but, like his virtues, they were those of a man of unusual stature. As he could be undeviatingly loyal, so he could be inexorably unforgiving to one whom he regarded as being mercenary or unduly self-seeking. While he would eargerly share his knowledge with those he thought seekers after true knowledge, he could be witheringly blunt to any he thought were seeking to commercialise things he held to be tapu to his people.
At his tangi in Gisborne, and later at the ‘shedding of his tears’ at Turangawaewae, it was made abundantly clear that his death had really consolidated the contribution his life had made to the cause of the Maori people by bringing his people closer to one another—his family, his tribal affiliations and on the wider field, Maori with Maori and Maori with Pakeha.
As a friend he was affectionate, outspoken and ever loyal; as a kaumatua and adviser he spoke with authority and wisdom; as a member of the Maori race he became in his lifetime a figurehead. In his death he will continue a legend and an inspiration.Haere e te rangatira
Haere ki o tipuna i te po.