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Taku Tai Moana Turoa:

Updated: May 12, 2021

Koro Taku Tai Moana Turoa as a child was brought up on the Whanganui river. He told me that he was raised as a Tohunga and had a total recall from the age of 5 years. Upokotauaki at Patiariroa (Jerusalem) was commonly known as the Whare wānanaga where Tohunga received their formal training in the Whanganui area. I was fortunate enough to have met Koro Tai in 1997 near the end of his life. He was introduced to me through good friends of mine Shelly and Alastair. Shelly was from Hauraki, Ngati Paoa and Ngati Maru and had invited me one time to a wānanga at Matai Whetu Marae in Thames where Koro Tai was to discuss whakapapa over a weekend. To this day I have never met a person who had retained as much knowledge as he had in terms of whakapapa and history as Koro Tai. Koro was very much like His Holiness The Dalai Lama who I was introduced to 10 years earlier. Koro Tai like His Holiness made everyone weather young or old, rich or poor, employed or unemployed feel important and special.

When Koro Tai delivered the Wānanga he made it his mission to make a connection with everyone in the wharenui. When he was speaking one night one of the tauira who had her baby in the wharenui got up and went outside because she was worried that her baby was making too much noise. Koro Tai suddenly blurted out to her don’t take that baby out in the cold like that. If the speaker can’t be heard by everyone then it’s his bloody fault, he needs to speak up. Over the weekend Koro Tai delivered the whakapapa for Hauraki that connected everyone present in the wharenui at least 17 generations back to when he said that the Tainui and Hauraki Wāka were lashed together. He talked of the significance of the primary colours white red and black and there meaning in relationship to the understandings of the ancient Whare wānanga and how knowledge was defined in terms of Te Taha Wairua (the spiritual dimension) and Te taha kikokiko (the physical dimension). Koro Tai was inclusive, humble and a person of tremendous capacity. It was hard not to fall in love with such a person.

I came to learn that Koro Tai in his early life had fought in World War II with the Māori Battalion in many of the North Africa campaigns until he was retired of duty after having one of his lungs shot by an enemy bullet. After he returned home to Hauraki he became a land surveyor and had a large whānau. His mother was from Hauraki and his Father was from Whanganui and he became very committed to keeping alive the the Tikanga, whakapapa and matauranga of Hauraki. Koro Tai was especially adored by the Kuia of the various hapu and Iwi of Hauraki. He made the comment once that he had learnt at the feet of women. When Koro Tai became unwell I asked him if he would mind if I brought one of my Tibetan teachers Lama Karma Samten to visit him to perform a medicine Buddha puja in his house. Koro Tai embraced all cultures and religions regardless, however, he was more closely aligned with the Tohunga of old, prior to Christianity. In his grace and humility, he replied yes of course and welcomed the opportunity to meet Lama Samten. I was so excited about these two ancient worlds coming together and then suddenly the day arrived where Lama, Koro Tai and myself were sitting together in Koro Tai’s house in Thames. Of course, Koro Tai offered Lama a kai when we arrived, however, they didn’t really talk a lot although Lama’s English was very good. It’s what I have seen before when Tohunga of their elk get together, it becomes more telepathic where words become superfluous. When Lama began to chant, Koro Tai just laid back in his chair wide awake, with his eyes closed. After Lama had performed the rites of medicine Buddha and got up to go to the bathroom Koro Tai got up from his chair and looked at his Tupuna, Pehi Turoa hanging on the wall and then turned to me and said boy my little maunga pales in comparison to those maunga in Tibet. This was a defining moment for me because in Koro’s short but humble phrase I realised two things. Firstly, that he made this meeting happen not for himself but for me and secondly, that he already understood who, why, and how he was and for him the healing was not of primary significance it was more about the opportunity to make connections and forge relationships. Koro Tai was beyond being conditioned by anything or anybody, however he had the humility to bow to everybody’s mountain regardless how big or small. After Koro Tai had said this and I sat back down on the couch, I couldn’t help but have a wee tangi to myself. It was his humility which was the inspiration for my heart to open.

The next time when I returned to see Koro Tai I interviewed him for my MA thesis I was writing on Māori youth suicide. When I arrived it was the late afternoon and Koro Tai was preparing our dinner. After being invited to stay the night a very peculiar thing happened to me, and that is I can honestly say that when I woke up the next morning I was a different person. Something unexplainable had shifted in me spiritually, and I could not go back to being the old me even if I tried. I can only put this down to being in Koro Tai’s presence. It was like I was now committed to do whatever it took, to eat and breathe with my Tupuna. Once Shelly told me that when Koro Tai’s mother passed away and following her he went to the edge of the ngahere, took off all his clothes, and walked stark naked into the bush and didn’t return home for 6 months. Nobody knew where he went and this was his homage he paid to his mother for her kindness she had given him over the course of his life. Imagine a love like that! Koro Tai said that many people would come to him and ask for their whakapapa. Towards the end of his life he explained to them that it was not possible to give them everything he had learnt. When they asked “Who am I.” His reply was “Have you ever considered who you are not?”

The last time I saw Koro Tai was to be at Thames hospital when he was dying. The lung that had been shot during the war and his good lung that had suffered from years of living in a damp environment such as Thames had unfortunately given up the ghost. I took some flowers into Koro Tai and upon seeing them he was grinning from ear to ear. He was very weak and out of breath, however, in his humility and graciousness, he turned to me and said “how beautiful are those Paul, can you please put them on the window sill so I can see the sunlight on them.” I noticed when the nurses brought him lunch he greeted them smiling with gratitude and said “I wish I could do justice to this beautiful meal.” Koro Tai was too weak to eat however he never forwent the opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate another human being. His ōhāki was to ask me if I could visit one of his best friends, a Brigadier who was in prison. He said to give him message that he loves him and for him to forgive himself. I didn’t ask Koro why he was in prison as it wasn’t my business. Three days later Koro Tai passed away. When I visited his friend in prison and delivered the message he had tears rolling down his face and exclaimed that only someone of koro’s calibre would be making sure everything was where it needed to be right up until his last breath. His friend was thankful and gave me a bone manaia he had carved which I was to later pass on to his Koro Tai’s grandson. Koro Tai had said that because he had spent his life giving to his Hauraki side it was time to return to his Whanganui, fathers side where Ruapehu would be his head stone. The last words he spoke to me were, “I wish I was born later so we had more time together.” I said in reply “I wish I was born earlier Koro"

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