By the Firmin family

Our mum was one of 19, born to Te Ngene Weraroa Takarangi and Wiki Kataraina (nee Blackburn).

This was a time of large Catholic families and Mum's was certainly one of them. Her faith was very important to her and remained so throughout her life. She was a regular attendee at mass and the Hui Aranga, which is celebrated each Easter.

She grew up and was initially educated at Ranana on the Whanganui River. She says she had a wonderful upbringing and her parents were very loving and hard working. Ranana was a very close knit community and the kids could roam free and were welcomed into all of the houses as if they were their own.

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After being taught by the nuns at the convent in Ranana, she was sent to St Joseph's Maori Girls' College in Napier. She attended St Joes in 1948/49 and followed her older siblings and many other Whanganui girls to be educated there.

Her time there was cut short when she contracted tuberculosis and was admitted to Napier Hospital for six months. Her father later brought her home to Whanganui Hospital before she was transferred to the sanatorium in Gonville.

Because of that TB outbreak her father stopped her younger sisters going to school there. All the children received secondary school educations. Her father insisted on them all getting a good education. Laudable indeed, when you consider the majority went to boarding schools and the sacrifices her parents must have made.

To that end, her brothers attended either St Patrick's Silverstream in Wellington or Hato Paora College in Feilding. Her sisters either St Joes or Sacred Heart in Whanganui.

Mum had a high regard for the nuns' teaching ability and says she really enjoyed school. Apart from the obligatory 3Rs on the curriculum, she was also taught to knit, darn, crochet, sew and even to dance.

Her childhood was not all about school. She had family tasks as well and some of those are unusual and of a time past.

Digging blue clay (aumoana) to resurface the open fire place, going into the bush and to gather tīrori – the fruit of the kiekie. They were warned about consuming too much of the fruit because it was intoxicating.

Helping her mother tahu meat – meat cooked and preserved in its own rendered fat. A more than worthy substitute for refrigeration at that time and far better tasting. Her older brothers Hāpa and John were the main providers of the wild pork for the mīti tahu.

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Her mum also cured some of it and made their own bacon. Her mum was a great gardener and preferred being outdoors.

Her dad did the cooking and, by all accounts, was very good at it. He was also a scholar and later in life became a translator in the Māori land courts and on radio.

She and her sister Tang (Tanginoa) also had the job of threading piharau – lamprey eels. These were shared by their upriver relations and her uncle, Captain Andy Anderson, was one of the main providers. He would send them down by the sackful.

She and her mum would also prepare the kānga wai - fermented corn or maize.

Sadly, some of these old ways are disappearing.

While she was growing up fun and play was all about the river. Her favourite place was Moutoa Island. Swinging on willow branches out into the awa, swimming and, in winter, when the river was flooded, hitching a ride on a floating log downstream to what they called the wharf below Ruaka Marae, where the river boats used to tie up.

Mum was very proud of her reo and mita Whanganui. She was raised with it.

Unfortunately, she and her generation were disciplined for speaking it at school, but would still speak at play and lunch time, out of hearing of their teachers.

Her very earliest influences were her mother and father, and her grandparents, who spoke very little English. She had many other mentors growing up, who were real exponents.

A young Josephine Takarangi (sitting, left) was a member of the Te Wai Nui ā Rua cultural group. Photo / supplied
A young Josephine Takarangi (sitting, left) was a member of the Te Wai Nui ā Rua cultural group. Photo / supplied

They include her cousin Meri Pita Haami, her aunty Rangi Williams, her sister in law Maggie Takarangi, Jury Te Huna, Ruka Mareikura, her aunty Jane Mareikura, Te Whata, Pua Manahira, Tamakehu, aunty Aggie Nahona, her uncle Paamu Tinirau, Tamahina and uncle Taita and aunty Sybil. There were many others as well throughout her life. Her own siblings were also very proficient.

Our Mum had a very full life. She married Philip Wera Firmin and bore eight children. She had a full working life.

Firstly, as a housewife and cook for shearing gangs and scrub cutters in the early days.

She was a wonderful cook and we wanted for nothing, growing up. In fact our meals were huge and varied and we always had a pudding, every night without fail.

If wealth was measured by what you carried in your wallet, then we didn't have much. But our dad was a very good hunter, fisherman and provider.

Mum was a tough task master and stood for no humbug. But we were well cared for, clothed and taught respect and manners.

When I look back, I see lots of similarities in our upbringing. So, we too, are fortunate to have had parents like ours.

Mum spent the majority of her working life in the health sector. Initially as a cook at Lake Alice when we lived in Marton, then into more and more roles involving counselling in Māori mental health. She was one of the very first cultural workers in mental health, attached to the health board, as far back as the early 1980s. She was very much involved in Māori health initiatives locally, regionally and nationally.

She was still actively involved in some form or other up until a month or so prior to her passing.

Josephine Takarangi-Firmin is pictured at a Christmas meal. Photo / Rihi Karena
Josephine Takarangi-Firmin is pictured at a Christmas meal. Photo / Rihi Karena

She remained actively involved in Iwi issues throughout her entire life and, in her retirement, she continued to contribute to, and participate in Māori issues and events at Iwi, council and at various local government and non-government services and organisations.

Alicia Laird and Josephine Takarangi-Firmin opened the doors and let people into a refurbished Whanganui Regional Museum in March 2019. Photo / Bevan Conley
Alicia Laird and Josephine Takarangi-Firmin opened the doors and let people into a refurbished Whanganui Regional Museum in March 2019. Photo / Bevan Conley

As long as she had the energy - and at times it was a concern to us her being out in all weathers and at ungodly hours supporting her kaikōrero - she would be there.

Her work took her to the United States and Australia, but the Whanganui River, her Iwi, hapū and mokopuna, were her passion.

She was an active member of Te Taikura o te Awa kapa haka group and was the last surviving, original member of Te Wai Nui ā Rua cultural group.

She was an active member of the Kaunihera, Ruaka Marae and Putiki Marae and worked very closely with John Maihi as a kaikaranga.

Mum is survived by all eight of her children. Many mokopuna and great mokopuna and her sister Tang and brothers Wera and Robin.

Nō reira, e te pou, e te māpihi maurea, kei te tangi tonu te pūtātara whakapū i tou wehenga.

Ka kinikini ai te mamae i āhau.

Auē, e te whaea, e te kui, moe mai ra, moe mai i raro i te korowai o te atua.

Takoto, takoto, takoto mai ra.

There are so very many people to acknowledge and thank for bearing the burden of Mum's passing and the manner in which she was farewelled.

The doctors and nurses at Whanganui Hospital, who were at all times courteous, caring and professional. The hospice nurses and staff who really do not receive the accolades for which they are so deserving.

Cleveland Funeral Home, for their sensitive handling of ngā mea mate me te pōuritanga hoki.

Our own Iwi and hapū i tākai ana i te korowai aroha kei aiā. None more so than Ngāti Ruaka and Ngāti Tupoho. Our kaikōrero who carried the mana of our paepae and mother. Che, John, Tamahau, Rauru, Dave and our indefatigable cousin, Rawiri. A special mention must be made of our kaikarakia, the twins.

What fine young men they are.

Our kaikaranga and manu tioriori. Our cousins Tracey and Jusdine and their crew in the kitchen. Mum would have been so proud of the kai throughout her tangihanga and table setting for the hākari.

Our cousins Hone, Toots and Lye who were always there and Mum's closest confidants. Our aunty Doreen, who was forever vigilant and was a constant source of support.

Our cousin Neddy boy and his ope tū tauā who led mum off in style.

Our cousin Tete me ōna ringa raupā i mahia te mahi.

Te Wainui ā rua and Te Taikura o Te Awa who sang so beautifully throughout.

The karakia service, the night before Mum's passing, is a very special memory.

When the hospice staff and other patients ask that the doors be left open for them to listen, it is a testament to how special that evening was.

It is impossible to name everyone who was a part of our Mum's life and also at the time of her passing, but, please know, how forever grateful we will always be.

Nō reira, tenei te mihi tino whakawhetai ana kia koutou katoa.

Pūtikitia te aroha,

Whītikia te mana.