A haka stalwart has been remembered onstage at the biggest Polynesian festival in the world. Damon Heke passed away last year after a long battle with cancer, and his son Rehia Henare-Heke continued his legacy on the Māori stage with a performance that moved the crowds.
Rehia Henare-Heke says, “It was really emotional. It was really tough singing there, made the whole crowd cry so I tried not to cry.”
The exit of James Cook High School was dedicated to the late Damon Heke for his services to Māori and the South Auckland community.
“That whole waiata was about him where he's from and it was about us reconnecting and how we lost our passion from the place where he's from.”
That place is Awahou where he was laid to rest. A small settlement outside of Rotorua.
“I knew it was coming. They told me what they were going to do about dad, so I had to do it for the family.”
Other schools in the ASB Polyfest dedicated their songs to his father like Westlake Boys and Girls High School.
His mother Keleigh Henare says, “Very humbling, all the tributes that were coming through for Damon and I want to acknowledge all those whanau. I sat there and listened to Westlake and you know, tangi ana.”
Rehia hopes to one day represent his late father in their iwi group, Ngāti Rangiwewehi.