The Butler

By Native Affairs

A boy from Kakahi just south of Taumarunui was the first Māori to be appointed to work on staff at Government House.

Arana Taumata, fondly known as Uncle Alan by his village, tells Native Affairs, "I knew nothing about the etiquette or the protocol.  It was very, very formal".

Mr. Taumata served during the time of Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, 1968 – 1972.  

When asked whether he was treated like a slave or a servant, he said, "I remember Keith Holyoake saying to me, 'Hello I‘ve never seen you around here before' and 'How are you getting on here? Are they looking after you? Are they treating you well?' I said, 'Yes they are Mr Holyoake'."

Sir Arthur Porritt was the first NZ-born governor-general appointed by the queen on the advice of the prime minister.  So rather than bring out people from London, staff for the first time were appointed from NZ.

Arana Taumata started as a valet, a man's personal male attendant, responsible for his clothes and appearance. 

He then became a footman and a butler, "The rule of thumb for set-up of formal dinner, the set up is done from the inner to the outer- the last course is dessert so that’s what we set down first".

He learnt by watching. 

"The under-butler, Paul, said 'oh, you just follow me and just do what I do' and so that’s how it started".

It seemed weird he says but everything was meticulously, properly measured.

Even the glassware had its place, "The water tumbler is the first to be placed on the table, next one is the wine glass, the next glass set up is the claret or red wine, and again they don’t follow the rule of red wine to red meat– it’s all a matter of taste.  The last glass I’m going to set is the sherry glass, with the soup course".

He will admit no mistakes, "I made no boo-boo and that sounds very arrogant but I didn’t - there was no excuse to".

A great lesson in etiquette. 

When asked how a proper toast is done, "The governor-general stands and everybody else stands and he raises his glass and says 'the queen'.  Everyone says 'God bless her' and they drink, no clinking of glasses - it’s just done quietly and dignified and it’s over with".

Arana Taumata stayed at Government House- it was a requirement, "That was at a very lonely time, a lonely place because you could have friends there, you could have visitors but who wants to come and visit government house to sign in at the police gate, then get escorted from the main gate which was quite a distance, up to the house".

One of the biggest honours was serving Inia Te Wiata, "He said to me 'I would like to do something for you' and then I said 'oh, he waiata mai mō ahau'. He said 'oh, he aha tō hiahia?' I said 'Old Man River'."

"I was the luckiest person alive".

What is class he says? "It is oneself; class is courtesy, politeness and kindness."