A Horowhenua man with the ability to see "Superheroes" inside people is travelling the world with his own special gift. Paul Williams meets Tapahia Heke and comes away having met the hero he never knew he had inside.
Tapahia Heke says he has almost accidentally tapped into a world where he was able to introduce people to their inner superhero self. What started off as a party gimmick was evolving into a bona fide career.
It's been an incredible journey for Heke so far, and he says word of his talent is spreading fast. He's in hot demand.
"I feel like I am supposed to be doing it, even when I doubt myself, I do a reading and think 'This is what I am supposed to be doing'," he said.
When his email inbox and Facebook page started to get busy with people wanting to make bookings as word spread, he knew he had to take his talent seriously.
Heke said his ability to connect people with their superhero self was resonating with a global audience. He's currently in Los Angeles, where he has an agent, and is on the cusp of a television series.
To date he said he had found more than 3000 superheroes. At the very least his gift gave people a sense of empowerment, in a non-threatening manner.
Each superhero has a name befitting their own comic book, and has special powers and clothing that Heke can describe in fine detail, as though he has met that superhero himself. He said it was like he was facilitating an introduction between that person and their superhero self.
"I do the whole comic book thing. I see you in the pages," he said.
"I just tell you the superhero you are right now, as I look at you. It's not how you think you are, it's my snapshot of you. What I do is give you a glimpse of what your abilities and powers are, through someone else's eyes."
"It's a personality-type indicator using a superhero as a metaphor. I am only voicing it. It is still your decision and your life."
"Most people know how to use their superhero power, some just choose not to. Maybe they are not ready to."
He said his gift was more than a gimmick. Some of his superhero discoveries had led to coincidences where people would be compelled to call him back, sometimes months or years later, when their inner superhero had emerged.
Heke said that during a group reading one person might say to another "oh my God, that is sooo you" when they recognise a personality trait connected to the superhero he was describing.
He tells people his impressions or opinions are just that, and it is not to be taken literally.
"Please, I can't read anyone's mind. I can't locate your car keys. I can't connect you to someone who had died. Some people assume that's what I can do, but I can't do it," he said.
"I just get an opinion when I am around people. I am not a Jedi. I am not the X-Men.
"I can't do anything more than anyone else can do, I have just found a way that works for me to do it. I don't want anyone to think that I am this other person. I am not. I'm just like anybody else.
"I'm just a boy from Kuku ... I went to Taitoko School and Waiopehu College ... I have just found something that I am comfortable with and that I know I am good at."
Heke said growing up in the small rural settlement of Kuku, south of Levin, he had a childhood surrounded by whānau, and life was centred around their marae.
He was raised with Māori values and "tikanga was instilled in us", as was spirituality.
He said he was never encouraged to follow a certain religion, although he remembered his late mother telling him that it was important that he believed in "something".
"Growing up Māori, spirit and culture were a huge part of my life, spirituality was encouraged and accepted as part of who we were," he said.
"With the passing of my mother, I had somehow developed a way of identifying the natural skills and attributes of people just by looking at them. I started to create superheroes..."
When Te Rangi Apia Heke died in April, 2014, he took time away from his readings, before realising it was what he was supposed to be doing.
Heke's past had given him a unique and broad view of life. He had done a range of previous jobs, from a road-worker, cultural advisor and several roles working in the youth sector.
He had also been a teacher, had taught te reo, and had been a professional wrestler, touring New Zealand as part of a show, later as the ring announcer.
It was during tertiary studies when his Diploma in Adult Education required research that he came up with the "Humanic Superiority Theory".
It took two years for Heke to find his own superhero. His name was Tapestry, a Shakespearean-like character who created stories, with the ability to mimic another person's superhero ability while he was with them.
Asked if he ever found a villain or a bad guy, he said villains didn't come to him in the first place.
"Believe it or not, I don't do super villains because super villains don't want you to know they are super villains. If you know you are not a good person you are not going to want to come to me anyway," he said.
"Superheroes come to me. Villains dodge me. Don't get me wrong. I have walked around some people and thought "Ooh...I know what you've been up to..."
Heke said he was gaining rave reviews wherever he went. While in Los Angeles there was talk that his abilities should be showcased in a television series. Heke was happy to go along for the ride.
"I'm talking to producers and directors, amazing people and amazing writers, so you never know," he said.
Meanwhile, Heke found a superhero inside Horowhenua Chronicle reporter Paul Williams. He's called Harvard, and has lilac-coloured skin.
Harvard wears the robe of someone who has just graduated from university, rather than a Superman-like cape.
Heke said Harvard was sometimes confusing to other superheroes, as under his robe was a super-human masculinity with the strength to "smash things".
He said Harvard would be better served by using a more patient and cerebral approach to his problems.
This could cause confusion, as onlookers and other superheroes were expecting to witness brute force, but hindsight would often show that Harvard was right in using his more considered and sedate ways.
"This is how you use your superpower to overcome the next big issue," he said.
"It's on the table. You can take it or leave it. It's up to you. If you want to pick it up and drop it in the bin, then I am okay with that."
Heke gave a free talk at Te Takeretanga-o-kura-hau-pō in Levin recently before flying to Los Angeles the next day. He explained his journey and what he did, and gave some people in the crowd a superhero reading.
He also had copies of his book Wahine Toa on display. Wahine Toa is a compilation of 14 superhero readings he gave of women at the recent Maoriland Festival in Ōtaki, illustrated by Te Hana Goodyer, his nephew.