Hone Tuwhare has died
With simple words, a unique voice, passion and humility and good humor he offered a message of hope and honor that transcended politics and race, and more than any one person led a reconciliation between black and white that has brought real promise to end more than a century of institutionalized hate and degradation. Hone Tuwhare was Maori, an extraordinary human being, a heroic figure.
He was born in 1922 to a noble lineage fallen on hard times, and came of age at what was the low point for the native peoples of New Zealand. The same old story of colonization and exploitation, of treaties and laws and unfathomable foreign regulations that destroyed the Maori social structure based on land ownership by taking their land and with it their wealth and their cultural identity. Tuhare dropped out of school at an early age and found a job with the railroad, where he educated himself from their library.
Politically active, a community leader and protest organizer, off-and-on member of the Communist party and a prolific poet, Tuhare crisscrossed the country and traveled abroad, gently but insistently pressing for Maori civil rights and, through his performances and lectures, transformed white New Zealander’s impressions of Maoris. While large inequities persist, a restoration of Maori land rights and increasing legislative power have made things much better than they were, achievements that are in great measure the result of Hone Tuhare’s life and work.
Meant to be read aloud, with cadence and attitude, from his meditation on the thoughts of a hollow-bronze warrior’s statue, trapped in canyons of concrete, forever frozen in place:
To a Maori Figure Cast in Bronze
Outside the Chief Post Office, Auckland
I hate being stuck up here, glaciated,
hard all over and with my guts removed:
my old lady is not going to like it
I’ve seen more efficient scarecrows in seedbed nurseries.
I can’t even shoo the pigeons off
Me: all hollow inside with longing for the marae1
On the cliff at Kohimarama,
where you can watch the ships come in
curling their white moustaches
If I could only move from this bloody pedestal
I’d show the long-hairs how
to knock out a tune on the souped-up guitar,
my mere2 quivering,
my taiaha3 held at the high port.
And I’d fix the ripe kotiro4 too
with their mini-piupiu-ed bums twinkling: yeah!
Somebody give me a drink: I can’t stand it
(1) meeting place. (2) war-club. (3) spear. (4) girls