'His tongue was sharp as a sword'

9:25 pm on 2 March 2016

More than 1500 visitors gathered in Auckland to remember the noted Māori academic Ranginui Walker on the first day of his tangihanga.

Dr Walker is now lying in state at Ōrākei Marae.

Friends and family surround the casket of Dr Ranginui Walker.

Photo: RNZ / Mihingarangi Forbes

He was escorted onto the marae by his iwi, family, friends, academic colleagues and students.

More than 1500 people turned up to the marae today to pay their respects including the Māori King, Kingi Tuheitia.

There was not a spare seat in the house as speaker after speaker stood and acknowledged a man who played a key role in bringing Pakeha and Maori to a better understanding.

Many paid their respects to his wife Deidre for her unwaving support throughout his career.

Inside the wharenui they cried, laughed and remembered a chief who had a love of education.

Dr Ranginui Walker

Dr Ranginui Walker Photo: The Listener

Ngāpuhi Leader Hone Sadler shared the love of education.

"His tongue was sharp as a sword and he didn't mind using it because if there was something good or right that would come out of the conversation, he was prepared he wasn't someone that would hold back," said Mr Sadler.

Pita Sharples giving a speech.

Sir Pita Sharples Photo: RNZ / Mihingarangi Forbes

Former Māori Party Leader Sir Pita Sharples was a student and Dr Walker was his tutor when they first met.

"I think his greatest gift was being able to explain what it was like to be colonised and the actual things that colonised us, the events, the laws, the practises and culture of tauiwi," said Sir Pita.

All the speeches gave a picture of a man who transcended many boundaries but always had time for everyone. Activist Hilda Harawira remembers the early days.

"We used to criticise him for being an academic, but I think it was a value to the protest movement that there was someone outside the protest and wasn't involved and he could give a cultural context to why protest was happening," said Mrs Harawira

Nearly 1000 people are attending Dr Ranginui Walker's tangi at Ōrākei Marae.

Nearly 1000 people are attending Dr Ranginui Walker's tangi at Ōrākei Marae. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Haunui-Thompson

A funeral service will be held on Friday and after that his family will hold a private cremation.

Spokesperson Sharon Hawke said the last big tangi held at Ōrākei was for Sir Hugh Kawharu where 10,000 attended, she said they were taking the template of that tangi for Ranginui.

Dr Walker was highly honoured "from our mokopuna right though to our kaumatua".

"We see Matua Ranginui as ours and he's been on loan to us," said Ms Hawke. "While he's lived in Tamaki Makaurau he's always flown the flag for us. It's an esteemed honour that he's asked to lay here."

The Maori KingTuheitia Paki being welcomed onto Ōrākei Marae.

The Maori King Tuheitia Paki being welcomed onto Ōrākei Marae. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Haunui-Thompson

Twenty-five chefs and cooks are in charge of feeding the multitudes and Ms Hawke said they had ordered 300kg of snapper, 600 fishheads and were awaiting crayfish from the South Island.

Students from Auckland and Whakatane's Te Awanuiārangi Universities will provide support in the dining room for the four sittings today and six more tomorrow.

RNZ will report from Ōrākei Marae over the next three days.

E te rangatira, e te reo o ngā tupuna, e te kaiārahi o ngā uri whakatipu haere, haere, haere atu rā.