Te ao Māori is mourning the sudden death of Awanuiārangi Black, a tribal ambassador for Tauranga iwi who "lived and breathed our people".
Mr Black, 48, was a te reo Māori exponent, an expert in mau rākau (Māori weaponry) and a Bay of Plenty regional councillor.
He passed away at Tauranga Hospital yesterday afternoon.
The tūpāpaku (body) of Mr Black was escorted onto his marae by a warrior troop near Tauranga this morning.
Wailing sounded out from the verandah of the meeting house as women and kuia expressed their sadness at the loss of one of Ngāti Pūkenga's current and future leaders.
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley, who was also a close friend of Mr Black, said the people were in shock.
"He was a legend, he was our next tier. Everybody was looking to him to carry that mantle forward. I worked with him in every facet of that since the mid-1980s and we started off in kapahaka. What a man, what a man."
Earlier this year, Mr Black joined RNZ for an Anzac Day special programme where he commented on New Zealand's own wars. Mr Black shared his knowledge on the history of the battle of Gate Pā, or Pukehinahina, alongside other tribal historians Te Kahautu Maxwell, Peeni Henare and Paraone Gloyne.
As an iwi leader, Mr Black assisted the settlement negotiations for Ngāti Pūkenga. He was also a descendant of Ngāi Te Rangi, Waitaha, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Raukawa ki Ōtaki.
Iwi member Reweti Te Mete said he would remember Mr Black as a leader.
"He lived and breathed our people, day and night he was at the forefront of Tauranga Moana leadership. His departure has left us poorer, as an iwi, as a people"
Mr Black was known as a quiet educator. He was also an author and contributed to the first Māori language dictionary. He held many governance positions and was a commissioner on the Māori Language Commission.
He had political aspirations and stood in the Tauranga seat for the Māori Party twice.
Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said Mr Black was "driven by an internal fire, burning within, which compelled him to make a difference in every sphere of his life".
Mr Black is survived by a daughter and four sons.