New Zealand suffered a great loss with the passing of Dr Ranginui Walker yesterday morning, Whanganui kaumatua John Maihi says.

Dr Walker died just short of his 84th birthday.

Mr Maihi is related to him through Te Whanau a Apanui in the Opotiki area of the Bay of Plenty. He was waiting to hear where the tangi will take place and will probably take a carload from here.

He said Dr Walker was an important and well-respected figure. "He is a very intelligent man, and a very articulate man in both English and Maori. Over the last two years he has played a major part in the work of the Waitangi Tribunal."


Dr Walker was an expert in tikanga (custom), and an authority on Maori history.

Mr Maihi has known him for a long time but hasn't seen him since he came with the Waitangi Tribunal to present its findings in the Whanganui Land Report, He Whiritaunoka, last October. He had heard he wasn't well.

"He was a great man who has left a legacy for us to follow through on, and surely in the present and future those things that we needed will be in place."

Another of the Chronicle's commenters on Maori issues, Potonga Neilson, bought some of Dr Walker's books and found them very informative.

"He was well respected by everyone. That came out at Putiki quite recently," he said.

Ranginui Walker came from a farming family near Opotiki and was educated at St Peter's Maori College in Auckland. He was a primary school teacher for 10 years, then got a degree and became an anthropology lecturer at Auckland University. He was a professor there before retiring in 1998. In the 1970s he was a member of activist group Nga Tama Toa, and was a keen debater with strong and well-researched opinions.

He has written six books, and contributed to many other publications. A historian, scholar and researcher with a gentle manner, he was able to communicate the views of Maori to the New Zealand mainstream.

Media commentator Russell Brown has tweeted he feels shattered by the death, saying Dr Walker formed his view of Te Ao Maori (the Maori world).