Mokopuna voice heard on Whakaari video triggers fond memories

By Mahina Hurkmans

Watching an Australian 60 Minutes documentary about the eruption tragedy on Whakaari last year, which included video footage from the event, a tourist guide’s grandmother heard the sound of her grandson’s voice for the first time in a year.

“It was Tipene (Maangi)’s voice.” She heard him clearly, Patuwai-Maangi says.

Now though she still weeps for her mokopuna, she’s pleased to hear about WorkSafe NZ’s announcement yesterday of charges being laid against 10 organisations and three individuals over the events leading up to the eruption, which left 22 dead including her mokopuna and 22 seriously injured.

Patuwai-Maangi has broken her family’s silence to say someone had to be responsible for the events of December 9, 2019.

She says she was hurt and “really angry” when she learned Tipene had died.

It could have been avoided – and he wasn’t even rostered on to work that day and just filled in at the last minute, she says.

'He was my heart'

“I was shocked and I was angry and I came in and dropped on the floor there, cried out to God to save him,” she recalls. “I told God to save him. I was telling him to swim, just to swim.”

Patuwai-Maangi raised her grandson, her daughter’s son, from when he was a baby, in Lower Hutt.

“We were very close, he was my heart, my skin, really it was a bond. I bonded with them all but there was something about Tipene.”

They moved to Whangapararoa in 2003. Tipene went to Whakatane High School for two years and to Te Whānau a Apanui School where he became head boy of the kura.

“He was going places,” she recalled, and he was “an up-and-coming leader”.

“Right from a young age you could see that he had potential. He was three years old taking a chair to the line taking the washing off and other whanau members would see that and say ‘look at this’. I didn't have to tell him what to do, he would just do it.”

'Stop the trips'

“He was bright, clever, he was organised, he was clean in his dress. He was a shirt and tie boy, pointy ,” she says

He was a Te Wananga a Raukawa graduate. In 2019 he was meant to have done a year teaching but decided to take a break to earn some money first and became a tourist guide to privately owned White Island.

At Easter the family will hold the hura kōhatu for Tipene and she says she has been invited to the memorial event but is not sure she will go.

But she hopes the trips to the island will not continue. “I think they need to give the island back. Its Ngāti Awa waters so, whoever owns it, just give it back.”