More than 200 people have gathered to remember Otaki-born and Rotorua-based Mauriora Kingi, who died suddenly last year.

The small dining hall at Te Pou o Tainui Marae in Otaki was full to capacity when a mostly Te Arawa contingent from Rotorua travelled south last weekend to attend a kawe mate (memorial service) for Mr Kingi.

A kawe mate is usually held at the request of people in places where the deceased was well known and loved but where they did not lie in state and were not buried.

It is a gesture of love and respect for the deceased by the people of those places.

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Mr Kingi was brought up in Otaki but was better known as being from Te Arawa. He died in June last year aged 53, just days after he was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday honours for services to Maori.

Mr Kingi was a staunch advocate for te reo Maori and worked to create more understanding between Pakeha and tangata whenua.

He worked as a cultural advisor for the Rotorua Lakes Council and became an influential figure in advising local and central government on Maori tikanga and customs.

He became one of Te Arawa's leading speakers and in that capacity welcomed prime ministers, presidents, royalty and people from all over the world.

On Saturday more then 200 people attended the ceremony on the Ngati Kapumanawawhiti marae, including tribal leaders from Te Arawa and Tainui, as well as visitors from Tuhoe and Ngati Maniapoto.

During formal speeches both the visitors and local speakers argued, mostly in jest, Mr Kingi belonged to them.

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Leading Te Arawa speaker Pihopa Kingi (no relation) was more forthright in his claims but said that only reflected the mana of Mr Kingi. During the speeches and waiata much was made of the close connections through whakapapa and battles fought.

Mr Kingi, who was known as Chris while living in Otaki, attended the local secondary school and while there won the prestigious national Manu Korero speech competition.

Te Arawa leader Te Hiko Hohepa tutored him and encouraged him to move to Rotorua and be with his Te Arawa relations.