Te Arawa kapa haka icon dies in Rarotonga

By Contributor

By Kereama Wright, Aukaha News

Tūhourangi-Ngāti Wāhiao members are in a state of shock, following the sudden death of Sally-Ann (Hereana) Roberts in Rarotonga where the group was performing at the Maevanui festival.

John Turi-Tiakitai, one of the kaiako of Tūhourangi-Ngāti Wāhiao says the rōpū is in a state of disbelief.

"Kei te noho rangirua, me te pātai he aha i pēnei ai. He aha tēnei hangakino nei."
(We are all out of sorts, trying to understand how this tragedy could happen."

Roberts, who celebrated her 50th birthday earlier this week in Rarotonga, collapsed on Thursday shortly before Tūhourangi-Ngāti Wāhiao farewelled the Maevanui festival.

"Kāore he mea i tua atu i tēnei. Tērā te kōrero mā tēnei o ngā āhuatanga ka rongo anō i te mamae, i te aroha pērā anō o te kapa.
(There is nothing like this. This sorrow is going to be felt by us all)

"Ko ētahi o ngā kaupapa o tēnei haerenga he whakakōtahi anō i te kapa. Nō reira ka tino pōuri. Ka haere mai mātou me te kawe anō i te mate o tērā, a ka hoki atu me te mate anō hoki."
(One of the purposes of us coming this week to Rarotonga was to bring us all together again. It is devastating. We came to return the memory of one of our own (Piri Masters), and now we return with another mate.)

Roberts' death has left a shattered feeling within the group she dedicated more than 30 years of her life to on and off the performance stage.

"Ko māua, ko māua ko Hereana. Nāku ngā kupu i tito. Nāna anō ngā rangi, ngā waiata i tito. Nō reira, ko ngāro tētahi hāwhe o tēnei. Tētahi pou o te kapa. Mai rā anō koia tētahi, tuatahi hei kaihaka, tuarua hei kaiwhakaako o te kapa, he rangatira anō o te kapa. Ko māua, māua.
(We were a team, Hereana and I. I would compose the lyrics and she would come up with the tunes for our songs. I feel like half of me has gone. She has been a staunch member of our team, first as a performer, then as a tutor and also as a leader. We are very close.)

"E toru, e whā pea ngā reanga mai i te wā i tū ai māua tahi ko ngā tamariki, ko ngā mokopuna e whai mai nei, koinā te āhuatanga o te kapa a iwi."
(There are maybe three or four new generations of performers since we both started out, with the children and now mokopuna of those coming through. That's what it means to represent our iwi.)

The intense grief is being felt at home in Rotorua as her whānau awaits her return home.

"Kua pōhara a Tūhourangi-Ngāti Wāhiao. Kua pōhara a Te Arawa i tēnei matenga nui," Tiaho Fairhall says.
(Tūhourangi-Ngāti Wāhiao has been left the poorer, as has Te Arawa by this tragic loss)

Aneta Morgan is still coming to terms with the shock of Roberts' death.

"Kāore ia he kuia. He wahine whakapakari tinana ia."
(She wasn't very old. And she was very much into fitness."

She recently transformed her life, shedding more than 50kg and becoming a health instructor at the Rotorua Aquatic Centre. 

Roberts leaves behind both her parents, Tom and Miriama Roberts, her five children, Shyan, Jahzell, Dekoda, Hoani and Egypt and her two mokopuna, Anita-Rose (Fatty) and Iyla-Mae who she loved very much. 

Turi-Tiakitai says the important thing for the group in Rarotonga is to bring Roberts back to Aotearoa. Some of the members will arrive home tonight, while it is expected Roberts' tūpapaku will be returned next week to be mourned by her hapū and iwi once Rarotongan authorities release her body to her whānau.