A young Hawea Vercoe liked animals and wide open spaces.

But a dislike of blisters and getting his hands dirty always meant the boy was unlikely to grow up to be a farmer.

The 36-year-old school principal, who died of a brain injury after he was felled by a single punch outside a Whakatane bar on Sunday, was farewelled yesterday at a tangi at Tuteao Marae in Te Teko.

Hundreds of people broke into haka while others sobbed as his body was taken to his nearby Puketapu Cemetery to be buried next to his older brother, Tamaoho, who died in 1994.

Mr Vercoe's close friend, Dr Lance O'Sullivan, told the gathering of about 2500 people how teaching was not his first choice of vocation - although he would later become a school principal while still very young.

"He actually considered being a farmer instead ... but Hawea's aversion to getting soiled and blistered hands meant it was far better that he ended up shifting children than livestock."

Dr O'Sullivan said he was still trying "to make sense of a senseless situation" in which 21-year-old Isaiah Tai of Opotiki has been charged with his murder.

"Here we have a young leader cut down in his prime, a young man who did enough for two lifetimes," said Dr O'Sullivan.

Also at the gathering were Lady Kuia Morrison, Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell, who beat Mr Vercoe for the Waiariki seat at the 2005 general election, and Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki. Mr Tamaki, who was accompanied by a large group of supporters, said Mr Vercoe became involved in Destiny Church in 1998 but eventually left in 2007.

"He was a very talented young man, he was always very vibrant and had great aspirations."

He said his death was a "tragic wake-up call" for Maoridom.

"There are better ways of dealing with violence, particularly with our Maori men.

"We are doing a good job so I hope someone realises this and helps put the resources in place."

Ngati Awa leader Pouroto Ngaropo said Mr Vercoe had left a legacy for the next generations to aspire to.

"He held fast to our language and the unique identity we have as Maori. It is a legacy we should celebrate."

Mr Ngaropo said a group from the Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi Te Whakatohea, where Mr Vercoe's alleged killer hails from, had attended the tangi to pay their respects.

He said their presence had helped to clear any perceived ill-feelings between the two groups.

"This is not a reflection on Te Whakatohea," said Mr Ngaropo. "Mr Tai is an individual who must now take responsibility for his actions."

Tai is to reappear in Whakatane District Court on December 9.