Manurewa Marae mourns community hero

By Raniera Harrison

Highly-respected South Auckland community leader, Damon Heke (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Rangiwewehi) was formally received by the multitudes at Auckland's Manurewa Marae this morning.

Family spokesman, Tianara Wihongi says it is about "completing the journey and ultimately making his final wishes a reality."

The South Auckland marae was this morning brimming with activity as its many descendants prepared to welcome Heke, who passed away on Friday night after a 4-year battle with nasopharyngeal carcinoma - cancer in the ears, nose and throat.

Head tutor of five-time Te Matatini champion side, Te Waka Huia, and longtime friend of Heke, Tapeta Wehi says that he was a very talented man with regard to his skill set- wielding the traditional weapons of his ancestors.  

"Tewhatewha, patu, rākau, he learned from the many scholars of the art form-  Irirangi Tiakiawa, Wetini Mītai-Ngātai, and the like.  He was unrivaled in many aspects of the art form."

According to the spokesperson for the Heke-Henare family, Tianara Wihongi, Heke had made the majority of his own funeral arrangements to lessen the burden on his family. 

A true reflection of the man.

"It's funny to think that he organised it all from his phone - the exact details of what would be happening. Fundraising, organising things so that his family would not be burdened financially" says Wihongi, a close relative of Heke.

Heke passed on the same day that the headstone of his longtime mentor, and founder of Te Waka Huia, Dr. Ngāpō Wehi was unveiled at Waihīrere.

Today, Te Waka Huia was well represented to begin their final farewells to one of their own.

"Without a doubt, Koro [Dr. Ngāpō Wehi] will be there waiting for him.  He has returned to people of that calibre," says the son of Dr. Wehi.

Heke will lie in state at Manurewa Mare for three days before his body is taken to Waiteti Marae to be mourned by his many relatives of the Te Arawa confederate. 

On Thursday morning he will be taken to Tarimano Marae for the final service, before the burial at Puhirua Cemetery.