Pukepoto hapū feed thousands in honour of Sir Hekenukumai

By Raniera Harrison

Pukepoto hapū, Te Uri o Hina, Ngāti Te Ao and Te Tahawai are standing in solidarity to feed the expected 2,000 mourners who will attend tomorrow's burial of Sir Hekenukumai Puhipi KNZM, DSM who passed away on Saturday, aged 86.

Nephew, Trinity Puhipi (Te Uri o Hina, Ngāti Te Ao, Te Tahawai) says, "We're probably going through one beef, six mutton, and a couple of pork each day!"

It's all hands on deck behind the scenes at Te Uri o Hina Marae to feed the multitudes.

They're expecting 2,000 people to attend the final feast to honour Sir Hekenukumai Puhipi at the conclusion of the traditional burial, which is scheduled to take place at Rangihoukaha Cemetery, Pukepoto at 11am.

"We're only used to doing it for 200 people, so this is a big task for ourselves.  This is an experience for us," says Ben Gregory (Te Uri o Hina, Ngāti Te Ao, Te Tahawai), also a nephew of former Labour MP for Northern Māori, Dr. Bruce Gregory.

All relations of Sir Hekenukumai have come together to serve in the wharekai, Ngāmotu.

Whether it's peeling kūmara, or cutting meat - the three hapū of the small Far North settlement have converged on their marae to serve their leader the best way they know.

"It's never been like this before, this is the biggest thing for a long time- I've never been to something as big as what uncle's bought to 'Puks'," says Meinata Puhipi, another nephew who, along with his own grandchildren, was in charge of peeling an estimated 3,500 kūmara to supplement the offerings to the thousands at Te Uri o Hina.

They're estimating they've already fed up to 2,500 people over the last four days, but there's still work to do.

"Since we've got the call every morning, we've been all hands on deck since 5 o'clock in the morning, do parakuihi for breakfast and then we're just preparing for lunch, and at the same time we're preparing for dinner, and at the same time we're preparing for the hākari āpōpō," says Trinity Puhipi.

Those behind the scenes say their leader is still bringing his people together, even in death.

"Sad, but in a way it's good too because they're together and they're meeting one another aye, whānau they haven't seen for years or don't even know, their own cousins," says Michael O'Connor (Te Uri o Hina, Ngāti Te Ao, Te Tahawai), the son of Joe O'Connor, one of the current Te Uri o Hina tribal leaders officiating the ceremonial welcome to the event.

It's been an opportunity for Sir Hekenukumai's people to embody one of his greatest lessons to them - to always look after people.

"He's really put us on the map.  Now that he's passed away it's even more special," says Meinata Puhipi.

Te Uri o Hina, Ngāti Te Ao and Te Tahawai will be remembered as a caring people who looked after those who came to grieve their great leader, Sir Hekenukumai Busby.