Olive Kawana died surrounded by her whānau at Whanganui Hospital on July 21.

Her brother Adrian Te Patu, who lives in Auckland came home to Whanganui to be with her during her last days.

"Olive spent her last three weeks under the care of the tremendous staff at Whanganui hospital comforted by whānau, surrounded and visited by many friends and relatives," he said.

Although she had little time to come to terms with her cancer diagnosis just weeks ago, Adrian and his brother Rus Te Patu said she was very clear about her wishes.

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"She didn't want to have chemotherapy or any kind of surgical intervention because it would only have prolonged her life for a short time," said Rus.

"The hospital staff were amazing and they kept her comfortable with pain medication."

Adrian said his sister was also certain about instructions for her tangihanga.

"Her wish was to spend two days at Pūtiki, before being taken to Pākaitore then home to Taiporohenui pā at Hawera to rest with her grandmother.

"It was a beautiful morning when she was paddled by waka surrounded by nine whanaunga [relatives] including a brother, a daughter and a grandson from Pūtiki to Pākaitore where she was received before heading to Taranaki."

The brothers said their big sister was also like a second mother to them.

"She would have been about 8 when her mother Eileen Kawana-Witinitara married our father and she ended up having six younger siblings," said Rus.

"We really admired her and she was always good at things that we wanted to do."

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Adrian remembers her being great at shearing, swinging a chainsaw and riding motorbikes as a teenager and later driving big red buses when she moved to Wellington.

"Olive Kawana lead a colourful life of nearly 80 years.

"Her story represents the complexities of the mid-20th century.

"She was born in Wairarapa during World War 2 and her formative years were spent in Taranaki with her grandmother and her mum and dad at Pūtiki."

Like many young Māori of her generation, she joined the mass migration to Wellington in the 1960s.

"It was a time of embracing the excitement and opportunities the big smoke had to offer, and boy did she do that.

"Olive did things her way and on her terms.

"It was all part of the expectations that happen when you're the eldest child of the eldest child of the eldest child.

"That only added to her determination to challenge convention.

"Word in the whānau is she never wore a frock after her 21st birthday until she was in her 60s when she would wear skirts to perform the karanga."

At her tangi, one of her brothers described her life as being "like a tightly woven whariki (flax mat), her mat also had colourful woollen pieces woven on the outer edges and they often frayed".

Her brothers say that deep down, Olive was quite a traditionalist and wasn't shy to tell people how it was according to the ways old people had taught her.

"It is a characteristic that she inherited from her mother and has passed on to her daughter Raewyn," Adrian said.

"She lived and breathed tino rangatiratanga [independence] and mana motuhake [Māori identity]."

Her brothers say that during the last 20 years Olive grew into and embraced her place as a kuia [female elder].

"She took on the most converted mana wahine act of moko kauae (female tattoo) beautifully represented on her chin."

Olive Kawana embraced her place as a kuia and enjoyed welcoming visitors to Putiki Marae. Photo / Supplied
Olive Kawana embraced her place as a kuia and enjoyed welcoming visitors to Putiki Marae. Photo / Supplied

Rus, who has been Olive's neighbour at Pūtiki since he returned from Australia a decade ago said he will miss her visits.

"She would often pull up at my house and call me to come and get a box of fish heads and scraps from her car boot.

"A fisherman friend gave them to her and she would share them with me and I would share them with others."

Olive was a loved and respected mother of Raewyn and Pikimana, mother-in-law of Teresa Patu and cherished Nan to her mokopuna and great-mokopuna.