Piri John Ngarangikaunuhia Sciascia ONZM

November 6, 1946 — January 18, 2020)

Hundreds of mourners, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy and other national and community leaders, have passed through Porangahau's Rongomaraeroa Marae this week for the tangihanga of Māori leader Piri Sciascia, who died on Saturday, aged 73.

Born in Porangahau, the academic and Māori arts revival visionary had since 2016 been Kaumatua to the government under prime ministers John Key, Bill English and Ardern, and to the Governor-General.

Advertisement

Both the Prime Minister and Dame Patsy expressed their condolences soon after hearing of the passing.

"He was a true gentleman who guided me in my role as Prime Minister," said Ardern "I was honoured to have him as an adviser and am grateful for all he has taught me."

She said that Sciascia was "steeped in mana" and that over days of the tangi, ending on Wednesday, many would talk about his achievements in education, performing arts as a composer and performer, his public service and the pivotal roles he played in many Treaty settlements.

"Piri said 'he toi whakairo, he mana tangata': Where there is artistic excellence, there is human dignity," she said. "There is no better quote to describe him and his contribution to Aotearoa."

Piri Sciascia (second from left) at a welcome for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018. Photo / File
Piri Sciascia (second from left) at a welcome for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018. Photo / File

"Piri once said he believed if you ever get frustrated you can either write a haka, or be able to breathe in deeply and go to the next place. We'll all breathe in deeply, Piri, as you venture to the next place.

Dame Patsy said: "Piri was much beloved and respected by us all, and his wise counsel and friendship will be sorely missed."

"We are deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him and appreciate all that he did for us, particularly through his support during our engagements around New Zealand, and his sensitive stewardship of tikanga at Government House events," she said.

It included leading the welcomes for such visits as those of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, former US president Barack Obama and China Premier Li Kequiang.

Advertisement

Sciascia was one of the most prominent former pupils of iconic Central Hawke's Bay school Te Aute College, being in 2009 named in the schools Leaders First XV, stemming from his six years at the school from 1960 to 1965.

He then he completed a BSc in 1968 and BA in 1971 at Otago University, a BA (Hons) from Victoria University in 1977, and a Diploma of Teaching at Palmerston North Teachers' College in 1981.

In 2000 he joined the staff of Victoria University, and held roles of Deputy, Assistant and Pro Vice Chancellor - Māori.

Having toured with the Māori Theatre Trust in the 1970s, he founded Ngāti Kahungunu kapa haka group Tamatea Ariki Nui in 1977, and was prominent in establishing international exhibition Te Māori to tour the US and New Zealand from 1984 to 1987.

In the 1970s he founded Tamatea Arikinui, now Ngati Kahungunu's longest-surviving kapa group, and in the same fields of performing arts would later become Tohunga Huarewa of national festival Te Matatini, and in 2008 at the Waiata Māori Music Awards would be recognised with a Keeper of Traditions Award. Similar acclaim followed at the Māori Language Awards in 2013.

He was the government-appointed chairman of Māori Broadcast Funding Agency Te Māngai Pāho from 2010 to 2016, during which, having already received the New Zealand 1990 Commemorative Medal, he was in the 2013 Queen's Birthday Honours made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to Māori arts.

With links to Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Ngāti Raukawa and Rangitāne, was of Māori and Italian descent, the son of Frank la Basse and Maymorn Sciascia, he and wife Gaylene (nee Wilson) married in 1973 and had five children.