Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

“We’ve lost a giant”, Pacific advocates pay tribute to Titewhai Harawira

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Gladys Hartson | Senior Journalist

Pacific community advocates have paid tribute to Northland Maori Kuia, matriarch and activist Titewhai Harawira who died earlier this week in Auckland, aged 90.

“We’ve lost a giant,” says Tigilau Ness, a founding member of the Polynesian Panthers.

Tigilau says he will remember Titewhai as a comrade and a staunch advocate who stood up for not only justice but for equality in Aotearoa for Maori, including Pacific peoples.

“I remember she helped us during the Dawn Raids because Maori people too were being arrested and asked for their passports. She helped us and stood up for us during this period.” 

Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono says Titewhai’s passing is a huge loss for Te Ao Maori and for Aotearoa.

“It is important to acknowledge her advocacy for Pacific peoples,” Teanau says.  

“I think back to our relatives from French-occupied French Polynesia, Te ao Ma’ohi, and how their voice, the movement for their own sovereignty and for their own self determination and Titewhai’s support of them for that.” 

Tigilau Ness and Teanau Tuiono have paid tribute to Northland kuia and Māori activist, Titewhai Harawira.

Tigilau remembers the impact Titewhai had on the Pacific community during his formative years as an activist. He says youth were inspired by people like her who fought against all the vitriol, racism and injustice aimed at Maori and indigenous peoples. 

He remembers that, during the 1981 Springbok rugby tour, Titewhai played a key role in advocating for activists who had been arrested during protests.

“She was the one who got Bishop Desmond Tutu to come to New Zealand and explain apartheid and what was happening in South Africa… and because she organised that, the Judge dismissed the charges against those 30 people who had been arrested,” he says. 

Tigilau also shared what Titewhai had done to support his homeland of Niue during the devastation of Cyclone Heta in 2003. 

“She came to me one day and offered money, koha (gift) from Ngati Porou to help Niue when Cyclone Heta hit… The Niue community had helped Ngati Porou when a cyclone hit the East Coast. And years later when Niue was hit, it was Titewhai Harawira who came to me and asked me how do I get hold of Niue people to give this money for helping back then?

“I said why do you come to me and she said, ‘because you’re the only Niuean I know’…and that was one of the ways Titewhai helped the Pacific people; they raised more than 50 thousand dollars,” adds Tigilau. 

He says it is important that we know our history, especially the younger generations, of what activists like Titewhai did to fight for the rights of people. 

Titewhai Harawira together with former PM Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins. Photo: Ricky Wilson

Teanau agrees and says Titewhai’s legacy is huge.

“You’re talking, multiple decades of activism and advocacy, staunch and pono (true,genuine) to the kaupapa but I also think about the legacy of Mana Wahine and wahine toa leadership and what that means for Maori and for Pasifika; standing up and to be staunch in what you believe in and she was a perfect example of that.”

Titewhai Te Hoia Hinewhare was born in 1932 in Whakapara, Northland, where she was raised by her maternal grandparents. After training as a nurse, she married John Harawira in 1952, settling in Avondale, Auckland. They had eight children and adopted another three. One of her sons is outspoken former Maori Party MP, Hone Harawira. 

The couple were active in local schools and were founding members of Hoani Waititi urban marae in West Auckland. 

She became a member of the protest group Ngā Tamatoa in the early 1970s and campaigned hard, often against bitter criticism, for the Māori language. She was one of the leaders of the 1975 land hikoi that marched from the Far North to Parliament.

In 1990, she travelled to the Netherlands to ask the government to take back the name “New Zealand” so that the original Māori name “Aotearoa” could be used instead.

Teanau says Titehwhai was an example of a leader who walked the talk.

“Staunch to the Kaupapa, but also understanding the ways of Tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake and how important that is for self determination and health and wellbeing of our peoples not only in Aotearoa but all around the Pacific and indigenous people all around the world.”  

After lying in state at Hoani Waititi Marae, Titewhai Harawira is expected to be laid to rest in Northland.

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