Sir Hekenukumai Busby dies

5:49 pm on 12 May 2019

Northland Te Tai Tokerau leader Sir Hekenukumai Busby, known affectionately as Sir Hek, has died.

Hekenukumai Busby at his investiture ceremony at Waitangi in February.

Hekenukumai Busby at his investiture ceremony at Waitangi in February. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The world-renowned carver and traditional navigator of Te Rarawa and Ngāti Kahu descent was 86 years old.

He was knighted earlier this year at Waitangi in front of a crew of thousands.

Sir Hekenukumai's work brought fresh vitalisation to Māori cultural arts and brought enrichment to many, Te Rarawa leader Haami Piripi said.

"He's probably the most influential leader in the north, in our living memory. Ever since he was a young man he's had a tremendous influence, both on our people and on the nation," Mr Piripi said.

"Nobody else has come anywhere near to the contribution he has made, both to our community and to our waka tradition. Also to the country - he was a great advocate of the Tiriti o Waitangi and the need for us to adhere to it. He has played an extremely prominent role economically, politically and culturally."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has marked his passing, with a tribute remembering his investiture in 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."

Māori Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis said Sir Hekenukumai was a navigator with a curious mind, he had a story for every occasion and would leave behind a legacy that would never be forgotten.

Mr Davis said people would come from all over the world to pay their respects to Sir Hekenukumai.

Entertainer Moana Maniapoto also posted a tribute.

"He had a great life and his legacy lives on with a new generation of navigators and voyagers."

A message from the Labour Māori Caucus said they were "stunned and saddened to hear of the passing of Sir Hek Busby, a man of incomparable mana, matauranga and love of all that is te ao Māori."

Sir Hekenukumai lived all his life in Kaitaia. He was brought up with direction towards leadership but took that role further and gave back a huge body of knowledge to his people, Mr Piripi said.

Sir Hekenukumai previously said he started his life in a poor but happy family.

He began his working life career in engineering construction, building bridges. He built more than 150 bridges, Mr Piripi said.

He also became known as an exponent of Māori arts, including haka, taiaha and kapa haka, and later grew a daunting knowledge of waka carving, navigating and sailing.

His involvement with waka began in 1973 when he restored Ngātokimatawhaorua, the war canoe he had admired as a schoolboy, ahead of the Waitangi celebrations the following year.

"So I had to carve a new prow and fix the hull up, but now she's there fulfilling the ancestors, the parents and all of us guys' dream. Now she'll stay there for good," Mr Piripi said.

In 1953, Sir Hekenukumai was selected to do the traditional powhiri challenge to the Queen during her state visit, and was later made a life member of Te Matatini, the national organisation for kapa haka.

A long-time friend, Hoturoa Kerr described Sir Hek as a man who had lots of love for all - and for his mokopuna.

Sir Hekenukumai gave Māori the tools to sail across the ocean, and to prove the stories of their ancestors were not myths, but reality, Mr Kerr said.

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