Maori chief Hone Heke's bones moved

TAONGA: David Rankin with one of his ancestor Hone Heke's hatchets.
TAONGA: David Rankin with one of his ancestor Hone Heke's hatchets.

Maori elders are furious at the removal of the bones of ancient Maori chief and warrior Hone Heke.

David Rankin, leader of Ngapuhi's Matarahurahu hapu, removed the bones from the cave where they lay because of threats posed by land development in the area.

Prominent Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua said Rankin had no authority to remove the bones as he was only loosely tied to Heke through a marriage of a European great-grandmother.

"I'm taken back by this act - I was so annoyed mainly because he did not contact any of the hapu," he said.

"What David Rankin is trying to do is lift his prestige and mana in the newspapers."

Kaikohe kaumatua Ron Wihongi said Rankin was a young upstart who was seeking to raise his profile.

However in a statement, Ngapuhi chair Raniera Tau said Rankin had every right to remove the bones as one of Hone Heke's descendents.

He called for a hui to determine a final resting place for Heke's bones.

"This is not the first time Heke's bones have been removed, but I want to ensure it's the last time they have to be moved," said Tau.

"Ngapuhi has borne the brunt of some distasteful experiences through the removal of remains in Waimamaku, the Hokianga and Mataraua whereby our ancestors have ended up as trophies on someone's mantelpiece overseas, or worse still, in the dungeon of the Auckland museum."

Tau said he expected many Ngapuhi would welcome a hui on Heke's remains and he would work with kaumatua and kuia of relevant hapu to bring that meeting to fruition.

Iwi leader and Ngati Hineira chief Hone Mihaka said he felt it was a matter for hapu and whanau, not iwi to discuss.

''As a direct descendent of Hone Heke, David Rankin is whanau and hapu. By virtue of the fact that he knows where the bones were placed is enough for me.

"The Rankins have some artefacts linked to Hone Heke - they are the kaitiaki (guardians) of these and his bones and who am I, and others, to override their wishes?''

At dawn Rankin uplifted the bones of Heke from a cave on the outskirts of Pakaraka, in the Far North, about 20 minutes from Paihia.

Rankin said he expected there would be some backlash about the bones' removal from kaumatua throughout the country, but he said he was just following what his ancestors would have done.

''Lots of people would like to have had a protest about the land development but we wanted to remove the bones and therefore remove the problems."

It is not the first time in the 160 years since Heke's death that the bones have been moved.

Rankin said the bones were moved this time because they were next to two areas where ''land development potentially threatens them''.

"Hone Heke is one of our most prominent ancestors and is a major personality in New Zealand history. We have an obligation to ensure his remains are protected."

The bones were wrapped in a traditional flax shroud, and accompanied by Heke's taonga, including the godstick used by his personal tohunga, or priest, Te Atua Wera, which has been present on every occasion in that his bones have been moved.

The bones were taken to the church at Pakaraka, which was built by Heke's friend, the missionary Henry Williams.

Anglican Bishop of Te Tai Tokerau, the Right Reverend Te Kitohi Pikaahu, blessed the remains.

Rankin said he deposited the bones in a temporary location near Kaikohe in preparation for their reburial on Kaikohe Hill at a later date.