Th totara tree is the king of the forest, protecting other trees from the elements. It grows in almost any soil and withstands turbulent situations. It lives long, stands strong and provides for its people.
Early European settlers found its timber valuable for building materials and Maori prized this forest tree more highly than any other because of its remarkable timber qualities. Huge waka capable of carrying a hundred warriors or more across waters were hollowed out from a single Totara log, and often the tree was chosen long before it was felled.
The totara is a picture of leadership, mana and fortitude, much like the following honourable members of our society of which this article is a tribute to.
The late Parekura Horomia, Member of Parliament for the Labour Party and Ikaroa-Rawhiti seat, was a prime example of such quietly noble leadership. I had the privilege of meeting Mr Horomia a couple of months back when he visited Flaxmere College to judge a business competition.
What impressed me was that he drove all the way from his home on the coast to be with our youth when he wasn't otherwise compelled to. He did so to support our youth and to tautoko a relative who lead this initiative.
This respect for and acknowledgement of the importance of relationship and kinship, especially through being present, was what Parekura was known and revered for.
Prime Minister John Key explained that Mr Horomia was a stalwart of the East Coast community for decades and championed its causes and supported those in need.
Like the subtle yet prominent forest canopy, his presence was always noted and felt like a covering.
I also note the recent passing of community matriarch Paki Keefe who is the mother of dear friend and fellow councillor Henare O'Keefe and siblings.
Aunty Paki was a strong community and family woman who was a prominent presence and korowai, or cloak of covering, at Te Aranga Marae.
She raised beautiful children who have become strong leaders and whom continue to raise a plethora of their own young leaders. Her legacy permeates Hawke's Bay, her original home of the East Coast and beyond.
I also wish to acknowledge and pay my deepest respects to my dear cousin Hamish Heke.
You were taken young but to a better and higher place. You were that pillar of strength in our family - the one who loved and connected us all and went out of your way tirelessly to pick up the aunties, chauffeur your nieces and nephews and simply be there when no one else was - you are our totara and will be dearly missed. Memories of you light our smiles and stories.
Totara are impressive structures on their own but together make up a glorious canopy or covering that shelters and fosters the life or community beneath.
They bear the burden of the elements with their size, strength and stature and hold strong until the next shoot shows through to rise.
We each have our own totara who stand tall and strong for us. They lead, guide and are our cloak of warmth when we most need it. This is homage to all our totara. May we embrace them as they provide the canopy of courage and love for us all.
Jacoby Poulain is a Hastings District Council Flaxmere Ward councillor.