Harawira reflects on life and love

Last updated 12:15 15/12/2008
JUSTIN LATIF/Western Leader
MATRIARCH: Titewhai Harawira at her home in Avondale.

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Pink house, teal fence, purple hair, and two very obedient dogs.

The colour and clout of battle-hardened Maori activist Titewhai Harawira are evident the moment you step on to her Avondale property.

This no-nonsense 76-year-old civil rights campaigner once made Helen Clark cry.

But her tough exterior softens as she discusses the deep love she has for family and particularly her late husband John Puriri Harawira.

She says his support during her younger years helped her become the well known figure she is today.

"He was the best husband and father in the world," she says. "He was gentle and very supportive of everything I did and he was always there for our eight children.

"While I was out there marching my husband stayed home and looked after the kids."

Mrs Harawira’s only regret is that she didn’t have more time with her man.

"My husband passed when the youngest child was eight," she says.

"He left too early and it was very hard. I was forced into being a solo parent.

"Whenever I go to his grave I say to him, ‘why did you have to bugger off so soon’."

This year would have been the couple’s 56th anniversary.

But she says John’s inner strength lives on in all her sons, including Maori Party Te Tai Tokerau electorate MP Hone Harawira.

"All my boys are good fathers and husbands," she says.

"But of all of them, Hone looks most like his dad."

Mrs Harawira helped Hone with his campaign during the lead-up to the latest election.

She says seeing the Maori Party gain a couple of portfolios from the new government is an exciting opportunity for her people to determine their own future.

And it’s something she has longed for over many years.

"I’m pleased I’m alive to see these things," she says. "And I’m glad this country has gone blue.

"We have been lulled into a false sense of security for the last nine years.

"If ever there was racism in this country it was blatant under Labour.

"They had an attitude of we know what’s right for you.

"But this government is going to tell us here’s the resources, now get on and do it."

Mrs Harawira first got a taste for civil disobedience as a petulant teenager at her inner-city boarding school.

"My grandfather was very firm about women getting an education. So I went to Queen Victoria finishing school for girls," she says.

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"And my grandfather was also keen on the equality of men and women. One of the first things I noticed was that we had a male come to our school to teach us Maori."

Mrs Harawira, who was fluent in the dialect of her Nga Puhi tribe, refused to be taught Maori by a man at an all-girls school where the rest of the staff were female.

She was punished for her defiance.

"The school made me polish corridors, the chapel, and the cross on the altar," she says.

"They tried to make me subservient to this male and they were going to expel me.

"But finally they accepted my position.

"That was the first time I made a stand."

Mrs Harawira says many Maori are looking towards a leader like Barack Obama as an inspirational black person to follow.

But she says it’s time people here looked to themselves for motivation.

"Our people are fools," she says.

"They are giving their mana to someone else.

"It’s time we realise the power we have and wake up."

- Western Leader

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