Hotere completes final journey

By Peter de Graaf

Ralph Hotere, who from humble beginnings became one of New Zealand's most important artists, has been laid to rest in the tiny Northland settlement where he was born 81 years ago.

He was buried in "Hotere Lane" of a hilltop cemetery overlooking his home marae at Mitimiti, North Hokianga, and what his brother Moss Hotere described as "a million-dollar view" of dunes and pounding west coast surf.

In contrast to the artist's dramatic arrival on Friday on board an Air Force NH90 helicopter and the crowds that filed through Matihetihe Marae over the weekend to pay their respects, yesterday's final day of his tangi was a relaxed, low-key affair.

About 150 people, including many of his wife Mary McFarlane's family from Otago, squeezed into the marae's whare tupuna for a mass led by Pa Henare Tate. Another hundred followed the service outside via loudspeakers.

Mr Hotere's casket was decorated with cloaks, a 'HOTERE' personalised plate and photos, including one with the acclaimed poet Hone Tuwhare, a close friend and another Northlander who found his inspiration in the far south.

Pa Tate's readings focussed on John the Baptist, after whom Mr Hotere was named Hone Papita by his devout Catholic parents. Like John the Baptist, a "stirrer" who cleared the way for Jesus, Mr Hotere also challenged authority but used paintings instead of words. They also shared the quality of humility, he said.

But Pa Tate also sprinkled the mass with humour, including jokes about the difficulties people had knowing which way up to hang Mr Hotere's paintings.

Following the service his casket was carried into St James' Church next to the marae, stopping at the grave of his mother, Ana Maria, as the church bell tolled.

The pall bearers and mourners then made the long trek on foot to the top of Te Maunga Hione, the hilltop cemetery where Mr Hotere's father and some of his siblings already lie buried overlooking the wild west coast.

Amid the chants and hymns the artist provided a last moment of drama when the soft sand gave way, sending the casket tumbling in too soon and forcing the gravediggers back to work before the final tributes.

On Sunday friends and family members sat up all night in the whare tupuna exchanging stories about Mr Hotere and recalling his humour, generosity and gentleness.

He is survived by his wife Mary, daughter Andrea, and five of his 15 siblings. They are Moss Hotere (Kaitaia), Winiata Hotere (Auckland), Ellen Hobson (Huntly), Maraea Chung (Kaitaia) and Charlotte Courtenay (Kaitaia).

Among those at the funeral were all the art students at NorthTec's Rawene campus; the seventh form of his old school, Hato Petera in Auckland; the children of Mitimiti School and Te Kura Taumata o Panguru, who sang at Mr Hotere's graveside when the formalities were complete; and Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira. Soldiers from Linton Army Camp, near Palmerston North, helped prepare the hakari (feast).

- Northern Advocate

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