Leaders of the Kingitanga – perhaps the most significant Maori movement New Zealand has known in the last 160 years – descended en masse on Kauaetangohia Marae yesterday to pay their respects to the late Archbishop Brown Turei.
Royalty itself came calling – Te Ariki Tamararo, Kingi Tuheitia’s son, and heir apparent; the king’s sister, Henni Katipa, and Anaru Tamihana – who, as the reigning chief of Ngati Haua, is Te Tumuaki a te Kingitanga, the kingmaker who crowns the new monarch whenever that becomes necessary.
And then there were the heavy hitters behind the throne: Rahui Papa, who is the king’s spokesman, and chairman of Te Arataura, the Tainui executive committee, and Tuku Morgan, who is the President of the Maori Party, a Tainui leader and a key player in the Kingitanga’s modern development.
Rahui Papa was their final speaker, and he launched out onto the marae atea swinging a kite, stuffed with koha.
“The kite overflows”, he said. “It overflows with the love of the motu (tribes) for the Archbishop.”
That love, Tuku Morgan had explained, was fruit that had grown from Archbishop Brown’s gentle service to the Kingitanga over decades, and generations.
And so when Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu died in 2006 they’d asked themselves which clergyman might bury their queen with the dignity she deserved. They asked too, which minister should anoint the monarch chosen to succeed her.
The Kingitanga didn’t dwell on that question, said Tuku – because one name stood out far above the others: Archbishop Brown Turei.
He led Te Arikinu’s vast funeral service – it seemed as if all of New Zealand was at Turangawaewae for that – and, with Anaru Tamihana, Archbishop Brown held the Bible over Tuheitia’s head to crown him as king.
Their proclaimed affection for the archbishop wasn’t just talk, either. In September last year, a small roopu from Tainui slipped down to Gisborne.
They travelled beneath the radar, and Kingi Tuheitia was among them.
The king struggles with serious health issues – but he was determined to travel that day to honour Archbishop Brown.
And to invite him to the King’s Regatta at Turangawaewae in March, where he intended to bestow on him The Order of the Taniwha, which is one of the Kingitanga’s highest honours.
Those Kingitanga leaders weren’t the only notables to make an appearance – because midway through the powhiri to welcome them, Te Ururoa Flavell, the Minister of Maori Development, marched into the marquee with his wife to pay their respects.
The Minister came dressed for the occasion. He was sporting a black and yellow diagonally striped tie, which he proceeded to fling over either shoulder, like a matador with a tiny cape.
Anyone who knows anything about Archbishop Brown knows that he was a Te Aute old boy – recently named, in fact, in a Te Aute Hall of Fame (which includes, among others, Apirana Ngata and Piri Weepu).
But here was Te Ururoa Flavell wearing the colours not of Te Aute, but of its fierce rival Tipene (as the late lamented St Stephen’s School was known to all its graduates). And he then proceeded to talk up Tipene.
He theatrically stomped up and down the paepae pointing out Tipene old boys – he couldn’t find many – he pointed out that Kingi Tuheitia was a Tipene old boy (true), and even claimed, fingers crossed, that the dearly departed Archbishop himself was an old boy (utterly false).
It was all good theatre sports, of course, of the kind you find only at a tangi, and his jesting drew plenty of laughs… as did the numerous speakers who proclaimed with great conviction that their team would triumph at Matatini, the upcoming battle of the kapa haka titans.
The other ope who came on at the same time as the Kingitanga – combined, they probably numbered 300 people – was Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa. They came in two coach-loads, representing all the other hui amorangi up and down the country beyond Te Tairawhiti’s boundaries.
The Vicar General of Te Pihopatanga, Bishop Kito Pikaahu, spoke on their behalf, as did Rev Ngira Simmonds, who is from Manawa o te Wheke, and who brought the condolences of his bishop, Ngarahu Katene, and his wife Kamana, who are overseas.
Pihopa Muru Walters, and Bishop-elect Richard Wallace – who will be ordained as a bishop at Onuku Marae, Akaroa, next Saturday – were in the Kauaetangohia Marae marquee.
Three days into the tangi, and the Bishop-elect of Te Tairawhiti, Rev Don Tamihere, thinks the penny is beginning to drop.
“It’s dawning on all of us, I think, just what we’ve lost.
“This man has been with us for so long that I think we’ve taken his presence for granted. We’ve never really considered life and ministry without him.
“There’s a bitter-sweetness about that. Because I think he would be proud of the way people are helping each other, and loving each other.
“They’re going out of their way to carry out his wishes, and to support his family. I think they’re holding his example in front of them, and doing their best to emulate his way.”
Friday evening was the final night of the tangi, with a church service attended by many and a poroporoaki that stretched far into the wee hours.
Archbishop Brown’s funeral service will start at 11am today.