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No. 57 (December 1966)
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Kua Wahangu te Pukorero

When Chief Hetekia te Kani te Ua, O.B.E., died suddenly and peacefully at his home at Tower House, Puha, near Gisborne, a mighty totara fell in the forests of Tane and the reverberations of its crashing were felt through the worlds of the Maori and the Pakeha.

Throughout Maoridom the news swept, accompanied by a sense of dismay which bordered on unbelief. He had been so familiar a figure on almost every important marae and on every important occasion for so long that he had come to be regarded as the very embodiment of Maori etiquette and ceremonial procedure and as an almost eternal figure impervious to the laws of change and age.

By descent, by training and by years of constant and undeviating service, Te Kani was demonstrably of the upoko ariki—one had only to see him on the marae, his grizzled locks waving in the breeze, his mako ear-rings with their long, pendant, black ribbons, and his famous walking stick of twisted vine with its stag-horn handle flourished vehemently to illustrate some point he wished to drive home. He might—except for his modern clothes—have stepped from the more picturesque past.

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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.