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Devoted to his people, and to truth – Anne Salmond on Ranginui Walker

The acclaimed author and academic Ranginui Walker was farewelled over recent days by hundreds of mourners at Auckland’s Ōrākei Marae. Among those who spoke at the tangi was his former colleague Dame Anne Salmond.

Ko te wai e hora nei, ko Waitematā,

Ko te marae e takoto nei, ko Tumutumuwhenua,

Ko koutou āku rangatira kua pae nei, Danny, Joe, ko koutou mā Ngāti Whātua

Rau rangatira mā, tenā koutou, tenā tātou katoa.

Aue e Ranginui, kua hinga te totara whakaruruhau. Kua rere te manu tioriori, ki ngā rangi tuhāhā.

Ranginui Walker in the 1999 documentary Bastion Point - The Untold Story. Via NZonScreen.com

Ranginui Walker in the 1999 documentary Bastion Point – The Untold Story. Via NZonScreen.com

When the news of Ranginui’s death broke, two leading Māori journalists, Mihingarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee, wrote a moving tribute. They began by quoting a letter that Ranginui wrote when they both left Māori TV: “Native Affairs is the modern day marae where a person should be blown about by the wind and shone on by the sun. Then we will know the truth.”

Ranginui believed this about universities as well – that they should be marae, places where truth emerges from inquiry and the cut and thrust of debate, where people stand to be blown about by the wind and shone on by the sun.

The job of a scholar, like that of a journalist, is to find their way to the heart of the matter – past self-serving interests and misleading appearances. At times, being a scholar takes courage as well as insight. Ranginui had both. He was brave as well as lucid. If something was supported by the evidence, and needed to be said, he would say it, even if he was vilified for it.

As a tribal orator once declared in a debate in about 1870 (written down at the time), He pono anō te pono – the truth is always the truth. Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest scientist of our era, added: “The right to search for truth also implies a duty, that one must not conceal anything of what one has recognised to be true.”

At this tangi, so people from many different backgrounds have paid tribute to Ranginui in just this way. He was honest. He had integrity. He was lucid. He was not self-serving. He was dedicated to his people. He shared truths that need to be shared, so that everyone could hear them.

I first met Ranginui shortly after he had completed his PhD, in 1970, when he was working in Adult Education at the University of Auckland. I had just finished my PhD in the US, and returned home to join the Anthropology Department. Those were stirring times. Patu Hohepa and Ranginui were working closely together – “Patman and Rangi – the Caped Crusaders”, as the students called them. The two of them were a powerhouse, analysing legislation, writing articles and speaking up about racism in New Zealand, and the formidable issues that Māori faced at that time – loss of land, te reo and tikanga Māori, prejudice in employment and everyday life – a whole way of living at risk.

The things that they said were true, but they upset many people. Nevertheless – he pono anō te pono. The students recognised the ring of truth, and were inspired to action. Ngā Tamatoa came together, and campaigned for te reo. Eruera Stirling, my kaumātua, was close to Ngā Tamatoa, and many of its members were my friends. There was the Land March in 1975, led by Whina Cooper, the occupation of Bastion Point in 1977, and He Taua in 1979, when members of Ngā Tamatoa confronted the engineering students, who kept on performing the haka drunk, with obscene slogans written on their bodies, despite pleas to stop. Then there was the fight for the university marae.

Ranginui and Patu sowed the seed for all of this, with their brilliant, rigorous analyses, their leadership and teaching. Their students and other young people, many of whom have paid tribute to Ranginui over the past few days, carried the banner. Anyone who thinks that universities are ivory towers doesn’t know what they’re talking about. At that time, the University of Auckland, and Māori Studies in particular, was one of the most exciting, amazing places you could imagine.

Ranginui was a true scholar. For him, it was not about himself, but always about the kaupapa. He was a brilliant communicator, in his articles and books, and in his speeches and on television. Over a lifetime, he worked tirelessly outside the University, as Chairman of the Auckland District Māori Council and a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, for example. He became a Professor, the Head of Māori Studies, and won the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement. He wrote Ka Whawhai Tonu Mātou: Struggle without End, a book that transformed people’s perceptions of our shared history; his biography of Apirana Ngata, and that of his friend Paki Harrison, are works that will endure over time.

Ranginui was fearless, intensely rational, passionate and incisive. If I look back now to the time when I first met him, and see what he and Patu and others achieved with the power of the pen and the mind, it seems like a miracle. There are the leaders who emerged from the University at that time – Bob Mahuta, Pita Sharples, Syd and Hana Jackson, Shane Jones, Margaret Mutu, Hone Harawira, and hundreds of others who have made their mark on this country. So many of the things that we dreamed about at that time have come true – kohanga reo, kura kaupapa, whare wānanga, Māori Studies departments in universities around the country; the Waitangi Tribunal and the settlement process; the flowering of kapa haka; Māori TV; and so it goes on. They changed the country forever, and enriched us all.

The tangi for Ranginui Walker at Orākei marae

The tangi for Ranginui Walker at Orākei marae. Via RNZ video

We have all heard about Ranginui, the scholar, the teacher, the writer, the public figure. He was also a loving family man, incredibly proud of his children and grandchildren. Deidre has been his strength and comfort, and thank you so much for that. He also loved this country with all of his heart. Ranginui has died, but he hasn’t left us. His words, and his thoughts, and his insights will echo on down our history, giving us reason for hope and pride.

There are still huge challenges for us to tackle, but he has inspired us to see what one person can do for others, with intelligence, courage, warmth, discipline and dedication. No one can live a better life than that.

E Ranginui, haere, haere, haere atu rā. Haere ki a rātou mā, kua wehe atu ki te pō. Ka tu ōu mahi huhua hai whakamaumahara mōu.

Moe mai rā, e te tohunga, e te rangatira, e te hoa.

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