Te Arawa kaumatua Mita Mohi was a man who used his culture and mana to change the troubled lives of others.

The gentle leader who has been described as a "beautiful man" died this afternoon.

He is the third Te Arawa kaumatua to die in the past two weeks with the deaths of cultural performer Napi Waaka and Ministry of Justice stalwart Fred Whata.

Mr Mohi, who was awarded an MBE in 1994, started the Mokoia Taiaha Wananga, the longest-running mau taiaha wananga in the country, which saw more than 20,000 people attend courses.

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He has also served on marae committees, school trust boards, the Parole Board and as kaumatua for the police.

Mr Mohi was also a former New Zealand rugby league player, representing the Kiwis in 1972 touring France.

Second cousin and friend Trevor Maxwell described Mr Mohi as a "beautiful man" who gave so much and saved so many.

"The wairua (spirit) that man had was just incredible.

"The people we are losing in this short space of time is really sad," Mr Maxwell said.

He said Mr Mohi had given so much to so many people and turned the lives around of many who were heading down the wrong path.

"There would have been thousands of kids who went through his programme on Mokoia Island. He helped so many, especially those at risk kids.

"I helped him get on council and served a term under Grahame Hall as mayor. He didn't like the council arena much because it's argumentative. It just wasn't his thing. He would
rather roll his sleeves up and do the mahi (work).

"He performed (kapa haka) at a national and regional level, he tutored, he coached, he played sport at the highest levels, he wrestled, he was a Maori tennis champ. He did it all."

Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party co-leader, MP for Waiariki and a close relative of Mr Mohi, said he was "absolutely devastated to hear of the passing of this amazing man".

"Mita was a true rangatira. He had a calming and gentle way about him but deep down inside he really was a warrior for his people.

"He may not have jumped up and down all the time, but when it came to trying to make a difference, especially for troubled Maori youth and even those in prison, he gave himself so generously.

"He believed that through teaching them mau rakau and tikanga Maori that they could turn their lives around and many of them did.

"It's very hard to find the right words being so far from home right now but I'll be joining our whanau soon at Awahou Marae to put Mita to rest. I know Ngati Rangiwewehi and Te Arawa will be in a lot of pain right now."

Mr Mohi grew up in Awahou, on the western shores of Lake Rotorua. In 2004, he told the Rotorua Daily Post in an interview that he loved to spear trout as a youngster for his kaumatua.

"I believe we respect our elders because of their life experiences," Mr Mohi said at the time.

When he was 13 he moved to Huntly and made the Huntly College 1st XV.

Sports was his passion, and through sport he got to travel and make lifelong friends.

In 1959 he landed in Christchurch. While biking to a rugby match at Lancaster Park, he rode past the league fields.

He told the Rotorua Daily Post: "A fella yelled out. He wanted me to play for their league team because they only had 11 players."

Not knowing all the rules, he jumped on the field and played. The next day in the local newspaper his name appeared in the Canterbury league trial team. He made the team 12 years in a row and later travelled to France and England with the Kiwi league team.

In 1998, at the age of 58, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Maori studies.

He said in 2004: "Every day is a learning day right to the day we die. From education comes knowledge, from knowledge comes understanding, from understanding comes common sense, from common sense comes cultural sensitivity."

Mr Mohi's body will be taken to Awahou Marae at 1pm tomorrow and his funeral will be at 11am on Thursday. He will be buried at the nearby Ngati Rangiwewehi urupa, Puhirua, next to his late wife, Hukarere.