Hundreds of people descended on Parihaka Pa to pay their respects to Te Miringa Hohaia on Saturday, only to find the peace festival director had already been buried.
Mr Hohaia died suddenly last week, aged 58, but those who hoped to say their goodbyes in person at the weekend were disappointed.
Before dawn on Saturday Mr Hohaia's body, covered in a woven flax cloak, was carried from the pa to a burial site known only to a few of his family members.
Parihaka Management Trust chairman Ruakere Hond acknow-ledged the hurt and anger caused by the decision to carry out a private burial but said it was what his friend and relative had wanted.
"Many felt absolutely strongly that this should not happen," Mr Hond said, "but those who knew Te Miringa know that he liked to do things differently.
"To those who didn't have the chance to farewell Te Miringa in person, we belittle ourselves before you and give you our deepest aroha [love]. We ask that you farewell him in spirit now."
The private burial may have seemed dramatic but the practice was not new, Mr Hond said.
"There are numerous examples of this in the past and Te Miringa was a man who liked to challenge the way people thought," he said.
"People are upset for a number of reasons but we couldn't see another way to do this without starting a process of debate."
There was obvious disagreement among the speakers who followed Mr Hond, with one woman saying the process set a bad example for future generations.
"Why are we hiding from each other, making decisions in secret?" she asked.
"We are running around like headless chooks. Is that a good example for our children?"
But Taranaki iwi representative Peter Moeahu applauded the decision, saying it ensured Mr Hohaia would not be forgotten.
"People will want this for themselves because we will be talking about this for years," he said.
"People want to know where Te Miringa is and I can tell you – he is right here, in all of us."
Mr Hohaia was instrumental in the Motunui claim to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1978 and had also been involved in working on Taranaki's current treaty settlements.
He was an advocate for the arts, curating the exhibition Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance, and in 2005 he helped establish the Parihaka Peace Festival.
- Taranaki Daily News
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