Māori Language advocate and leader Rawiri Rangitauira laid to rest

By Maiki Sherman

Rawiri Rangitauira, a leader of the Ngāti Whakaue tribe of Te Arawa, has been laid to rest. He was the lead lawyer who took the claim for the Māori language to the Waitangi Tribunal, a fight led by both he and his wife, Cathy Dewes.

Tunohopu Marae overflowed with mourners paying respects to a man who helped lead the charge on the revitalisation of the Māori language at a time when many described it as near extinction.

“He was our lawyer, he was our advisor. For those of us who were quick to get heated up, he'd say to us there was a time for anger and a time for communication,” says Whaimutu Dewes.

According to Joe Williams, “Rawiri paved the way for our generation in the field of law. He and Whaimutu Dewes were among the first (Māori) lawyers in the 1970s.”

Rawiri Rangitauira and wife Cathy Dewes were among those who led the Te Reo Māori Society in it's fight to have the language recognised under legislation. They presented a 30,000 strong petition to parliament. Rawiri Rangitauira was also the lead lawyer who took the claim for the language to the Waitangi Tribunal.  

“That was a huge undertaking which involved a lot of work, but which produced wide-ranging benefits. Those include Māori Television, Māori radio, Māori schools and tertiary providers, all of those things came from the fight which he led alongside his team. It's fair to say this man was a leader in regards to the law and language,” says Joe Williams.

However, in recent years Rawiri Rangitauira was duped by an internet scam which resulted in his imprisonment.

Whaimutu Dewes says it's a sign of his worth, for despite having been imprisoned, with the love and support of his people and family, he was able to pick himself up and continue his contribution to his people.

Having returned to his people, he then turned his focus to writing a book detailing the meanings behind the traditional chants of his tribe, Ngāti Whakaue, a treasure that is now left to his children to complete. One of his six children also composed a mōteatea for his father following his passing.

“Of the legacies he has left behind, the most precious is he and Cathy's family. They were brought up immersed in the language, and they were taught the customs of our elders,” says Whaimutu Dewes.

Though Rawiri Rangitauira is now forever silent, his strong voice while alive helped ensure the survival of the language up to this point and into the future.