Maori activist portrait heads home

Gillian Shadbolt sits with daughter Tui holding the picture of Rua Kenana she has had for 40 years.
Gillian Shadbolt sits with daughter Tui holding the picture of Rua Kenana she has had for 40 years.

After more than 40 years under the watchful eye of a Palmerston North woman, a portrait of the Maori land activist Rua Kenana has made its way home.

Gillian Shadbolt gifted the framed photograph to the Ngai Tuhoe tribe in a private ceremony in Kelvin Grove yesterday.

The 83-year-old was given the image by a friend in the early 1970s when she was living in Kaiwharawhara in Wellington.

Since then "Rua", as she fondly calls the photo, sat proudly above her study desk overlooking her day-to-day workings.

"I was given it by a dear friend who said I would know what to do with it and I've loved living with him all these years."

When Shadbolt moved into the Olive Tree Retirement Village in Highbury five years ago, she thought it was time to return Rua home.

"Now I'm turning it over to Tuhoe to do what's best for Rua and find out how he can serve the nation still, because I still think he's got a job to do."

Tuhoe tribe member and Massey University Maori Studies professor Taiarahia Black received the portrait on behalf of the iwi and said he was touched by Ms Shadbolt's gesture.

"I want to acknowledge the very gracious gift of bringing Rua Kenana back to his people - it would not have happened if it wasn't for you, Gill.

"You've made history come alive for us," Prof Black said.

Rua was then placed at the top of a symbolic marae, next to a painting of his eleventh wife Ngapera Black, Prof Black's grandmother, and surrounded by photographs of other Tuhoe ancestors, a kiwi-feathered cloak, various carved patus, or Maori clubs, a bed of kawakawa leaves and three doctorate theses written by Tuhoe tribe members about the iwi's history and Rua Kenana's work.

"There are eight generations of whakapapa, or genealogical connections, to Rua Kenana here at this moment," Prof Black said.

"He is a huge part of Tuhoe's history and we are proud to be here."

More than 20 people attended the ceremony, including students from Turakina Maori Girls' College, iwi members, kuia and mokopuna, or grandchildren, of Rua Kenana, as well as friends and neighbours of the Black family.

Rua Kenana, known as a Maori prophet, faith healer and land rights activist, lived from 1869 to 1937.

Manawatu Standard