Tuwhare, Hone: New Zealand Maori poet passes at 86

Wellington, New Zealand, (AP) 1-08

Hone Tuwhare, the first Maori poet to be published in English and one of New Zealand’s most celebrated verse writers, has died. He was 86.

Tuwhare passed away Jan. 16 in a home for the elderly in the southern city of Dunedin. He had been in poor health for several years. The cause of death was not immediately released.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said Tuwhare had made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature.

“His poetry contained powerful imagery of our land, sea and legends, and often expressed strong views on contemporary issues,” Clark said in a statement.

Tuwhare’s work, spanning more than 40 years, was popular among poetry connoisseurs and general readers alike.

He was named New Zealand’s Te Mata Poet Laureate in 1999, won two Montana New Zealand Book Awards for poetry and was awarded honorary doctorates of literature by Auckland and Otago Universities.

Born in 1922 to the Ngapuhi tribe in the northern New Zealand town of Kaikohe, Tuwhare first began to write in 1939.

His initial collection, “No Ordinary Sun” in 1964, was a passionate cry against nuclear weapons, penned in response to the destruction of Hiroshima in 1945 – the first book of poetry by a Maori writer in English.

Now in its 10th reprint, it remains one of the most widely read individual collections of poetry in New Zealand. He also published at least 10 other volumes of poems as well as several plays.

Tuwhare was passionate about Maori issues and from the 1970s became increasingly involved in Maori cultural and political initiatives.

The Oxford Companion to English Literature said Tuwhare’s poems were marked by their “assumption of easy vernacular familiarity with New Zealand readers.”

Much of their originality came from their Maori perspective, which was evident not only in their subject matter but also in “their direct lyrical response to landscape and seascape, their vivid evocation of Maori myths and images ... and their capacity for angry protest at the dispossession of Maori land and culture,” it noted.

Tuwhare is survived by three sons. His funeral service was held in Kaikohe on North Island.