Hillary Clinton’s first hongi (Hawkes Bay Today)

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LAWRENCE GULLERY | 7th November 2010

Thoughts of her iwi in Porangahau were in the forefront of Rose Tahuparae’s mind as she moved to hongi one of the most powerful women in American politics this week.

Mrs Tahuparae was responsible for organising the official powhiri for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she arrived in Wellington on Thursday and she said it was an occasion she would never forget.

“I greeted her (Mrs Clinton) shook her hand and said, madam I need to welcome you formally in our traditional way, and that is to touch noses.

“Madam giggled and said she understood what we were going to do, she just took it in her stride, she was wonderful.

“I introduced her to Gerard Albert, who was leading our group on to Parliament, and she rubbed noses with him as well.

“She asked Gerard a lot of questions, about what I was saying in my karanga, about the taiaha, the wero (challenge) and what we were saying in our songs. It was a privilege to explain it to her,” she said.

Mrs Tahuparae is the official kaumatua of Parliament, a role she took over from her late husband Rangitihi (John) Tahuparae about two years ago.

In recent weeks, she’s been busy preparing a brief for Mrs Clinton’s staff about the powhiri, what happens and why it happens.

“That includes the hongi, it gets all written down and taken back to Mrs Clinton by her people, she would have read it before she arrived,” she said.

Mrs Tahuparae has a busy life as she lives in Wanganui but her title as kaumatua for Parliament means she is in Wellington at least once a month attending formal events and she also keeps in contact with her family in Hawke’s Bay.

And the enormity of Mrs Clinton’s visit meant calling upon the whanau network for support to produce a powhiri worthy of a special international guest.

“I am from Porangahau so I used my own family to provide me with a solid core of support, I used Kahurangi (Maori Dance Theatre), they have been supporting me and my husband for the past five or six years at similar occasions,” Mrs Tahuparae said.

“They are professional, they are disciplined, they come in and do the job, they bow out gracefully and disappear, they are fantastic.”

The late Mr Tahuparae was Parliament’s first official kaumatua.

He was a well-known orator and provided extensive advice on tikanga for Parliament for about 20 years.

He also trained in martial arts overseas and contributed to the revival of traditional Maori martial arts in New Zealand. His work in this area is well-known in Hawke’s Bay.

After he died, there was a need to appoint a new kaumatua for Parliament.

“The local Te Atiawa iwi stepped in and spoke with Parliament and made it clear that I had been there all this time and that I had the backing of the iwi to fulfil the role,” Mrs Tahuparae said.

“My husband and I had set up a school to run taiaha, kapa haka and I still had all of that support still around me.”

Although it is not “a job”, being the kaumatua for Parliament “feels like it is almost a full-time job”, especially after the latest international visitor. “Madam Clinton was lovely, it was an honour for me but I just hope I have done enough to make my tribe back in Porangahau proud of me and that, in some way, I have helped lift life in that little town.”

Click here to view Scoop’s Photo Essay of the event

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