Crowds gather to farewell artist

By Peter de Graaf, Yvonne Tahana

When Ralph Hotere first arrived in Mitimiti 81 years ago as one of 13 children, it was in a simple home without power or running water on Northland's wild west coast.

When the acclaimed artist returned for the last time yesterday afternoon it was on board the Air Force's newest NH90 helicopter ahead of the biggest tangi Mitimiti is ever likely to see.

Mr Hotere's body arrived just before 2pm, the helicopter he was on circled around the tiny beachside settlement and disappeared for a second behind the mountain Tarekeha.

Family including his wife, Mary McFarlane; daughter, Andrea Hotere; and two mokopuna and one sister, Maraea Chung, were greeted with hugs by waiting whanau.

Mr Hotere's body was transferred to a waiting Hummer to travel the last 100 or so metres of his long journey from his Dunedin home.

School children and local police performed the haka-powhiri as he was carried on to the marae and into Tumoana, the house where he will lie until he is buried.

Dignitaries including MP Shane Jones, Haami Piripi and master waka builder Hec Busby followed the body on to the site.

One of Mr Hotere's brothers, Winitana, said all were welcome to come and pay their respects.

"We are hoping all of his friends turn up. We know a lot of them would have gone to the service in Dunedin but we would love anyone here."

Mr Hotere, who was of Te Aupouri and Te Rarawa descent, died of pneumonia in Dunedin last Sunday. He suffered a serious stroke in 2001 but in a 50-year career made his name as one of New Zealand's most important artists. Mr Hotere spoke little about his art, preferring to let the paintings do the talking on political and environmental themes close to his heart. He worked closely with the poet Hone Tuwhare, another great Northlander who made his home in Otago.

In the 2012 New Year's Honours he was made a member of the Order of New Zealand, the nation's highest honour.

Following a Requiem Mass at Dunedin's St Joseph's Cathedral on Thursday, his body was flown to Auckland on an Air New Zealand flight. From there the Air Force flew him to remote Mitimiti, on the west coast north of the Hokianga Harbour.

He is lying at Matihetihe Marae where intensive preparations are underway for his tangi. Kaumatua and family members were due to meet last night to decide the date of his tangi. With an unveiling due to take place today, it is likely to be Monday or Tuesday.

He will then be buried at picturesque Maunga Hione Urupa, alongside his parents and some of his siblings.

The Mitimiti area has a population of little more than 100 but whanau from far and wide, and even the New Zealand Army, are arriving at the settlement to help feed and accommodate the crowds.

- Northern Advocate

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