And so, after a long day wending up the East Coast’s Highway 35, the funeral cortege bearing Archbishop Brown Turei reached Whangaparaoa, near Cape Runaway, the northernmost point of East Cape, late yesterday afternoon.
He now lies in state at Kauaetangohia Marae. His funeral service will be held there at 11am tomorrow, and he will be taken from there to Aorangi urupa – which is where his biological father, Honehika Waititi, is buried, as well as his 28 Maori Battalion war hero brother, Major John Waititi, and all the other members of his Waititi whanau who went before him.
Yesterday’s journey up the Coast from Whangara to Whangaparaoa took a good deal longer than even the most cautious motorist might expect to take.
Just 30 minutes into our hikoi, for example, the convoy backed up on the outskirts of Tolaga Bay, or to give it its Maori name, Uawa.
Roadworks, perhaps? An accident?
But then, before we could see anything, we heard something:
We heard the bells of Mihaia, the Tikanga Maori Anglican Church on the southern fringe of the town, tolling slowly for the late Archbishop who, when he was a young priest, had served there. All along the chain-link fence beside Mihaia, parishioners stood to pay their last respects to him.
And then, perhaps a further hour’s journey north, we pulled into Tikitiki, and the convoy bounced up the steep gravel driveway to Rongomaianiwaniwa, which is a marae perhaps 100 metres across Highway 35 from St Mary’s Tikitiki, which people in these parts call ‘The Maori cathedral’.
The local people had asked the convoy to stop there. They’d pointed out that Archbishop Brown’s birth mother, Heneriata Goldsmith, was from there.
Her sister, Hariata, and her tane, Dick Turei, were the archbishop’s matua whangai , his adoptive parents, and they’d brought him up at Rangitukia, which is just a few kilometres from Tikikitiki, at the mouth of the Waiapu River.
After the powhiri and lunch at the marae the funeral party crossed to St Mary’s for a short service, whose high point, perhaps, were some heartfelt tributes from a number of clergy, many of whom are elderly, all of whom Archbishop Brown had shepherded through the ordination process.
He’d taken them from that place of persistent prompting, which is sometimes attended by anxiety, through the testing of their calls, through training, through to the day he’d laid his hands on them to consecrate them as priests – and yesterday, their gratitude for his care for him was tangible.
So they were the two stops we made before we reached Kauaetangohia.
But in truth, if we’d pulled into every place in Te Tairawhiti where Archbishop Brown had connections – either through whakapapa, or by marrying the people, baptising their babies, burying their dead, blessing their homes, their schools and their churches – we’d still be travelling seven days from now.
For the Rev Don Tamihere, who has been elected to succeed Archbishop Brown as the next Pihopa o Te Tairawhiti, yesterday flowed pretty much as he’d expected it would:
That is to say, smoothly. Easily. No stress. No hassles. Those were the qualities that he’d seen Bishop Brown live, and even in death Don reckoned those gifts of the spirit were attending him, everywhere he travelled.
As you’d expect, Don has been to 1001 tangi in his time.
“And without diminishing anyone or anything,” he says, “the outpouring of love and affection here is far above and beyond what you would normally experience.
“When a person of this stature and presence dies, you see entire tribes and communities rise up. They present their finest orators.
“You take Derek Lardelli, who has accompanied us throughout this journey.
“In whaikorero, there is none finer: he is the top of the Maori world. When he speaks, he walks with an invisible library all around him. He references names, and stories of ancestors.
“He’s quoting pieces of ancient poetry and prayer, and weaving them together in a way that speaks of Archbishop Brown’s ancestry, his upbringing, his ministry, and what he was to us.
“We are a people of oratory and prose, and a people of song. When someone of Archbishop Brown’s stature dies, there is no greater way in the Maori world to express what we feel than to employ those gifts.”
Some might say that Kauaetangohia, which is at the northernmost point of Highway 35, is about as far off the beaten track as you can get.
But don’t go telling that to the people of Te Whanau Apanui.
They're the ones who have the mana whenua round here – and they were ready and waiting for us.
They’d erected a giant steel-framed marquee in front of the wharenui, which will seat hundreds. And not long after we’d arrived the army pulled in too, with a giant green camouflaged transporter and troop truck bringing serious kitchen gear and soldiers to help with these last two days of the tangi.
Not long after we’d arrived the first small ope of mourners came on, too – and the powhiri paused as Archbishop Philip Richardson and his wife Belinda, and the Bishop of Waiapu, Andrew Hedge, and his wife Raewyn and their children were called into the tent.
When it came to his turn to speak, Archbishop Philip praised Archbishop Brown as “the strongest leader I have ever known.”
He ticked off the qualities of the true leadership that his colleague had modelled: love for others, peaceability, readiness to honour, kindness, truthfulness, a joyful spirit…
He said that the three archbishops – Archbishop Brown, Archbishop Winston Halapua, the Bishop of Polynesia, and himself – were, in theory and in church law, equals, each leaders of their respective tikanga.
“But you,” he said, as he looked at the casket, “you were the first among equals.”