Sir Hekenukumai Busby tangi preparations: hundreds gather in mourning

10:55 am on 13 May 2019

More than 500 people turned out to pay respects on the first day since the death of Sir Hekenukumai Busby ahead of his tangi on Wednesday.

Carver and celestial navigator 'Uncle Hek' has been knighted at Waitangi.

Sir Hekenukumai Busby has died at the age of 86. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The world-renowned carver and traditional sailing navigator, affectionately known as Sir Hek, died on Saturday, aged 86.

Final karakia for Sir Hekenukumai will be said at 10am on Wednesday 15 May at a tangi at Te Uri o Hina Marae in Pukepoto in Northland.

Te Hiku Media manager Peter-Lucas Jones said more than 500 people had already gathered for the first day of Sir Hekenukumai lying in state, a day reserved for those most closely related to the deceased.

A "huge group" was expected for the tangi, before Sir Hekenukumai is taken to Rangihaukaha urupā, the tribal cemetery of his forbears, Mr Jones said.

"He revived things that had been lost for almost 400 years.

"The relationships that he restored with the people's of Hawaii, Tahiti and throughout the Pacific have been something that has supported the language revival, the cultural revival, and of course the most endangered of all the Polynesian arts, wayfinding and canoe building."

Before Sir Hek's investiture at Waitangi this year, waka taua captain Joe Conrad said Sir Hek had played a significant role in reviving traditional Māori skills.

Sir Hek had showed "determination and doggedness" in gaining back knowledge of celestial sailing and navigation, and building and engineering seafaring vessels or waka hourua, Mr Conrad said.

Sir Hek was from Ngāti Kahu and Te Rārawa and was in his fifties when Hokule'a, a Hawaiian replica of a traditional, double-hulled voyaging waka, travelled to Waitangi, changing his life.

He was inspired to start building waka and criss-crossing the Pacific.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern marked his passing with a tribute remembering his investiture at Waitangi.

"I will never forget the passion and love on display for him. He gave so much to the next generation and in turn, they honoured him," Ms Ardern said.

"May the waters be calm and the stars guide the way to your final resting place."

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