‘A Totara Has Fallen’

October 10, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

A photo of Sir Howard Morrison is held by his daughter Donna Grant during the burial of Sir Howard Morrison at the Kauae cemetery on September 29, 2009 in Rotorua, New Zealand. (Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)
A photo of Sir Howard Morrison is held by his daughter Donna Grant during the burial of Sir Howard Morrison at the Kauae cemetery on September 29, 2009 in Rotorua, New Zealand. (Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)
NEW ZEALAND—Maori customs prevail each time Hine-nui-te-Po, the Goddess of Death, takes into her embrace one of her children, this time New Zealand’s legendary entertainer Sir Howard Morrison of Te Arawa Confederated Tribes.

Sir Howard, 74, died of a heart attack on Sept. 25, 2009, at his home on the shores of renowned Lake Rotorua at Ohinemutu, a thermal village just at the edge of the tourist city he so loved.

His body lay in state five days under the protective eaves of the tribal meeting house Tamatekapua, named after the ancestor from whom the sons and daughters of Te Arawa (Maori) tribes descend.

This day, Ranginui, the Sky Father, rained tears upon his beloved while Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, issued mists of steam gently from hot sulphur springs nearby and through the cracks in the roadway Sir Howard knew so well.

Maori people say that heavy rain is a sign that a “totara tree has fallen,” likened to a felled native tree of superior quality taken from the God of the Forests, Tane Mahuta.

It also signifies that the spirit, the wairua, has returned to its ancestral home—“Hawaiiki-nui,” “Hawaiiki-roa,” “Hawaiiki-pamamao,” a big Hawaiiki, a long Hawaiiki, a Hawaiiki beyond the horizon.

Thousands upon thousands shed tears of aroha, unconditional love, and orators recited word-for-word ancient chants continuously until the third and last night, the pororporoaki, the farewell.

Heavy hearts were lightened by an array of entertainment that lasted through to dawn until the closing of the casket.

After a heartfelt 11am church service, Sir Howard’s body was driven through the streets of the city he gave so much to, before being taken for burial to Kauae Cemetery on Sept. 29.

And true to custom, a hakari, a feast fit for royalty, completed the tangihanga, the funeral ceremonial process, and family and friends toasted the life of an unforgettable character that has entered into the almanacs of New Zealand history.

The Morrison family has more than made their mark in the world of entertainment. They are also cultural ambassadors and founding members of the internationally-acclaimed, award-winning Ngati Rangiwewehi Cultural Group.

Sadly, this family has had to come to terms with a number of losses over the last few years. Sir Howard’s sister, Atareta Maxwell, leader of Rangiwewehi and dubbed the “Queen of Kapahaka,” passed away two years ago.

Sir Howard’s nephew, Temuera Morrison, the renowned actor who portrayed Jake the Muss in Once Were Warriors, also lost his sister Taini in June this year. She was an award-winning performer most famous for her lead role in the Maori Cultural group Te Matarae I Orehu.

Aue, taukuri e! Moe mai ra koutou, haere, haere, haere … ['Rest in peace, your work is done…fare thee well']