Damon Heke laid to rest at Puhirua Urupā, Awahou

By Raniera Harrison

Well-respected South Auckland community leader, Damon Heke (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Rangiwewehi) has been laid to rest today at Puhirua Urupā, Awahou after a long-time battle with nasopharyngeal carcinoma - cancer in the ears, nose, and throat.

The wider Uenukukōpako, Ngāti Rangiwewehi, and Te Arawa district were abuzz as the final ceremonial blessings took place for one of their own - Damon Heke, who passed away on last Friday aged 42.

Hohua Mohi of Ngāti Rangiwewehi says that "the hands of Rangiwewehi are always open - much like the house of Tawakeheimoa - regardless of who you are."

There was a sense of surprise at Heke's return to Te Arawa to be interred - in the knowledge, or therefore lack of - that he was descended from numerous lines of the region. Now, the former Te Waka Huia performer, turned head tutor of Auckland-based Te Tai Tonga kapa haka rests among his own at Puhirua Urupā, Awahou - 10 minutes north of Rotorua.

"We were a bit surprised that we too did not know Damon was from here - the honour is truly ours to have him" says Anaha Hiini (Ngāti Tarāwhai, Ngāti Whakaue, Tūhourangi.)

Murray Bidois, also of Ngāti Rangiwewehi descent said that the home people of the region are "very happy," so much so, "the sun is shining on us."

Temperatures in Rotorua soared to 27 degrees today - with over 350 mourners turning out to bid the well-respected community leader farewell.

Mohi says that Mr. Heke's decision to be buried next to his grandfather (also of Rangiwewehi descent) signaled an intent to reconnect and strengthen bonds between his family and the Bay of Plenty tribe.

"When we heard he was Rangiwewehi - there was no dispute whatsoever," he says.

"Damon was a true example - he set the standard for us to realise that we need to be happy" continues Hiini, who co-conducted the ceremonial blessings of the funeral procession.

Heke is survived by his wife, Keleigh and their five children - Tiahomai, Haven, Rehia, Daleigh, and Amohia.

Mr. Hiini continues that in his opinion one of the lasting legacies that he has left is that "despite what may be going on in our lives. Be happy."