Aue! For all that was said of the passing of Awanui Black, the pain has become sharper this past week.

The tangi in 2016 was enormous.

Black's whakapapa led to a number of iwi but Tauranga was home.

There, Ngati Pukenga welcomed the estimated 9000 mourners who came to express their sorrow.


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Black was 48. His casket was carried by Justice Joe Williams and Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell. His eldest son Kohutapu spoke in a way which all agreed paid credit to his father, a man who had fulfilled in 48 years only a fraction of the promise a full life offered.

Then this past week came claims from his wife Anihera Zhou Black that Black, a teacher and leader, had sexually assaulted children and died of "suicide by alcohol" after a string of affairs.

While Zhou Black has alleged a "paedophile ring", at this stage she says she has the name of only one victim - now an adult - who says he was sexually assaulted aged 8.

Aue! The shock among those who knew him is impossible to measure.

The degree of shock is barely able to be understood without a measure of the man said to have stood so tall.

Te Awanuiārangi Black was born in Auckland to Scottish New Zealander Milton Black and his wife Mary Oke Topa, from the Bay of Plenty.

The late Awanui Black has been accused of sexually assaulting children. Photo / File
The late Awanui Black has been accused of sexually assaulting children. Photo / File

Through his mother, he would whakapapa to Nga Puhi, Ngāti Whatua, Ngā Rauru, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngati Rangi Nui and Ngāti Pūkenga Ngai Te Rangi.


He grew as a child through a time which saw the stranglehold of colonisation loosen its grip through the determination of figures like MP Matiu Rata's work in Parliament and Dame Whina Cooper's 1975 hikoi over land.

By the time he was a teenager, the Waitangi Tribunal had not only been created but its mandate extended to 1840. The Maori Language Commission was created in 1987 when Black was living in Glen Avon, Auckland, attending Avondale College.

Pouroto Ngaropo - head of reo at Maori Television - lived with Black and his father and recalls his best friend's determination to pursue his heritage.

There was a thirst, a hunger for knowledge, which could never be met. Ngaropo, who met Black when he was 12, spoke of their shared desire to learn te ao Maori - the Maori world - and what it meant to be Maori.

It was a hunger of its time. Te Ururoa Flavell said Black was a child of the renaissance, as that period was called. "He was like a sponge soaking up tikanga and korero and history wherever he went."

Flavell was talking about years later but it was equally true of the teenage Black.

Ngaropo recalls how hard it was to connect. "In those days, it was really hard to have total immersion around you all the time."

And so, when they walked through the door at Shoreham St, Black would insist on te reo.

Black led kapa haka for the school, formed close bonds with Hoani Waititi Marae in West Auckland and learned all he could from Sir Pita Sharples.

Ngaropo says it was Black's desire to acquire and pass on knowledge that led him to teachers' training college. He laughs to recall Black's spirituality and dedication to Maoritanga even saw his friend leading karakia in the lounge at home before going out nightclubbing.

Ngaropo introduced Black to Anihera Zhou, his future wife. "Awa was really shy but he really admired Ani."

They met and later they married. Five children would eventually follow.

As training college drew to an end, it was a cultural trip to the Bay of Plenty that set their course. Ngaropo said Black had gone to his marae - Te Whetū-o-Te Rangi - and it was made clear he was wanted there.

"We had decided we were going to go back home and take our knowledge."

Former Waitangi Tribunal director Buddy Mikaere (Ngati Pukenga and Ngati Ranginui) talks of the "incredible knowledge" Black came to acquire.

Not only would he scour records for history, "he actually sought out the older people who had the oral history".

"In acquiring that knowledge, he linked it into the landscape. He had a very sound knowledge of whakapapa."

In studying history, he studied tikanga. In studying tikanga, he interpreted history and transported customs to modern New Zealand in a way that linked that past to the present.

It was a knowledge that filled gaps in understanding and gave depth and richness to a culture fighting back from more than 150 years of marginalisation.

Mikaere recalls questions about how to conduct certain ceremonies. "And Awa would have that knowledge. In the absence of that kind of knowledge, it became the way it was done."

In 2000, the Black whanau moved to Otaki while he worked as a lecturer at Te Wānanga o Raukawa, passing on his knowledge. His reo was such that he was a commissioner at the Māori Language Commission, and helped write the first Maori dictionary.

At this time, he was barely into his 30s and noted as a future leader rising fast.

The term "driving force" was associated with Black by those spoken to in many areas - his revival and excellence in Maori weaponry and tū taua, dedication to kapa haka and organisation which saw huge spectacles.

There were 800 people offering a haka in challenge at Gate Pa in 2014 to the Governor General and Maori King. It was organised by Black.

"In many ways, he represented the traditional warrior kind of lifestyle," says Mikaere. "The ability to translate his knowledge into physical actions."

Black had gathered the taonga of his people - their knowledge, history, language, traditions - and nurtured it.

Black was uncompromising, says Mikaere. He was a powerful speaker on marae and representing his iwi.

"Because his position is so firmly rooted in history and tradition and tikanga, it is unshakeable."

It is knowledge which was lost with Black's passing - not entirely as the tribunal has captured oral histories and traditions in its databases - but there was no traditional passing of knowledge to successor. He died so young.

Flavell recalled Black as a teenager in those Auckland days of kapa haka challenges. Even then, seated alongside Sharples and challenging Rutherford High and Nga Tupawae College's dominance in the field, he was someone intent on making a mark.

"He was like a sponge soaking up tikanga and korero and history wherever he went."

Flavell encountered Black over the years - in Otaki, back in the Bay of Plenty - and had high regard for his hunger for knowledge and how much of it he had gathered.

Black's desire to make change, his powerful oratory, were attributes among those which led him to being selected as a candidate for the Maori Party. Black missed election to Parliament but later found a seat on the regional council.

Flavell said that depth of ability and knowledge saw Black endorsed to speak on behalf of Tauranga marae.

"Whenever he went anywhere, pretty much everyone knew he was speaking for Tauranga Moana."

It was role that was allowed because of the exceptional knowledge he had worked so hard to acquire.

"It's very rare that one person has that sort of knowledge and that they are allowed to step forward and use that knowledge and experience in a public arena. They're a rare breed.

"It's hard to find that rare commitment to our language and our culture - an absolute commitment to his people."

He recalled Black's work on the New Zealand Wars - those conflicts between the colonial government and Maori of which there has been a revival in interest.

He sensed an opportunity for the country to embrace its history and seized it - studying, organising, researching and speaking of the conflict which lay in our early, shared days.

Flavell speaks of Black as someone who would cover hundreds of kilometres overnight to be at hui across the country, attending tangi and turning up at 21st parties.

With him came that knowledge and that oratory - the ballast to a waka that never stopped moving.

Until it did.

Flavell: "He had a life ahead of him of being the face of Tauranga Moana. That was the tragedy of his loss."

Police have yet to have anyone describing themselves as a victim of Black or the alleged paedophile ring his wife said was operating in Tauranga. Her Facebook post has now been watched 400,000 times. A Tauranga iwi has offered $11,000 reward for any information that leads to a conviction.