"Graceful, yet formidable" - Toi Māori chair Waana Davis laid to rest

By Piripi Taylor

A stalwart of the Māori education and art sectors, Waana Morrell Davis was today laid to rest in her hometown of Whakatāne in the Bay of Plenty. The 81-year-old of Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa descent and current chair of Toi Māori Aotearoa, died last week after a three-year battle with heart complications.

Dr. Derek Lardelli of Toi Māori Aotearoa says she was graceful, yet formidable.

"She was like an eagle who soared the heavens and as boisterous as the kākā," he says.  

Davis was brought home yesterday from Te Herenga Waka Marae in Wellington.

During a long career in education, Davis served on the board of Toi Māori Aotearoa for over 23 years and was part of developing the New Zealand Art Council's very first Māori arts strategy that was launched at Te Matatini this year.

Chair of Creative New Zealand's Māori Committee, Dean Whiting of Te Whānau a Apanui was at the tangi.

He says, "She was a leader with that vision and tenacity in terms of ensuring the kaupapa gets driven through, and Whaea Waana was staunch about all of those things."

Davis served as a member of the Conservation Authority for ten years between 2007 and 2017 and also served on the Palmerston North City Council. In 2002 she received a Queen's Service Order honour for services to Māori and the community. Her determination, flair and style are an enduring legacy to all whom she inspired, encouraged and supported.

Her grand-daughter Ngarangi Williams says what she learned from her kuia is immeasurable.

"Her sage advice, her unwavering passion to help Māori and her bravery to challenge things are some of her most endearing traits I will treasure most."

Davis' final resting place is at the seaside cemetery that looks out towards the towering Whale Island and onward to the spiritual departure point of her people.