Topic: Royal Visit

Piri and the Prince

By Wena Harawira
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty

When Piri Sciascia (72) retired two years ago, he was persuaded to keep on working instead as Government House Kaumātua.

The position is part of the executive team of Te Puni Kōkiri and could be tailor-made for Piri, taking into account what he describes as his 'passion for all things Māori on his Kahungunu side, and the dignified calm of his Ngāi Tahu heritage'.

Along with kuia Te Ripowai Higgins of Tūhoe, Piri is at the side of royals, heads of state and other dignitaries visiting NZ, acting as their guide, translator and ceremonial host during formal pōwhiri.

During the first official tour of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the couple made a big impression on Piri with Harry’s ability in Te Reo Māori and both learning the waiata, ‘Te Aroha’.

“It was so noted and appreciated,” said Piri. “There was a lot of respect for our tikanga, that’s what I found most of all.”

And like many people he was impressed with Meghan Markle.

"Meghan to me was just so gracious, beautiful, connecting and engaging.  It's like she'd done it forever," said Piri.

He encourages the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy to use at least three phrases as a standard Māori greeting and hopes other dignitaries will also take the time to speak Māori.

“Because that’s engagement, that’s beyond the ‘Kia ora tātau, I’m very pleased to be here’. When people are making a real effort and they do well, ka mīharo atu.”

Of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāi Tahu descent Piri has also been a stalwart of kapa haka and was involved with the Te Māori exhibition of 1984.