Renowned Maori poet and 'activist artist' Hone Tuwhare was buried today in Northland, after dying last week aged 85. He's being appropriately remembered in many obituaries for his poetry - after all his collection of poems, No Ordinary Sun became one of the most widely read in New Zealand literary history. But it’s also worth saying a bit about his politics. [Read more below]
At Tuwhare’s memorial service in Dunedin, film maker Gaylene Preston described Tuwhare as an ‘activist artist’. More than just an artist, Tuwhare was, according to fellow-blogger Tim Bowron, ‘someone who remained engaged in the struggle against oppression and injustice throughout his whole life’ – see Tim’s excellent tribute to Tuwhare.
Tim says that Tuwhare shared the political goals of ‘his mentor, friend and fellow poet RAK Mason. Like Mason, Tuwhare was a staunch trade unionist and Communist Party [CPNZ] member who was greatly inspired by the 1949 Chinese Revolution, a cause to which he remained passionately attached even long after his CPNZ days were over.’
According to the history section of Tuwhare’s website, he joined the Communist Party in the 1940s after being a boilermaking apprenticeship with NZ Railways during the 1930s. In 1949 he moved to Wellington where he continued his involvement with the CPNZ and the trade union movement. During the early 1950s he left his job to ‘lead an international peace delegation to Sydney’. Other later activism involves taking ‘part in Mäori land march to Parliament’ and helping to ‘organise 5000-strong march in Dunedin against SIS Amendment Bill’.
However Tuwhare was no unthinking party hack, and so fell out with CPNZ in protest at Soviet invasion of Hungary. Although rejoining during the 1970s ‘in admiration at progress in China’, he was later apparently expelled for acting in an ‘un-Marxist way’.
Tim Bowron also salutes Tuwhare for the concern ‘in his poetry above all with the question of finding an independent “voice”, one that did not simply borrow from European models but was firmly rooted in the people and the landscape of New Zealand’.
Obviously Tuwhare and his artistic activism will be sorely missed. A good way to remember him (or get to know him) is to check out the Tuwhare compilation album of his poems remade by New Zealand artists into songs. One of the best tracks is Speak to me brother, performed by Te Kupu (of Upper Hutt Posse). Also check out TVNZ On Demand’s 14 minute clip of Hone reading some of his poems and discussing influences.
Update: There's also a good 14-minute Tribute discussion of Tuwhare on Radio NZ National's Nine to None with Kathryn Ryan. Discussants involve 'Cilla McQueen, Bluff poet and Jim Geddes, personal friend and curator at the Eastern Southland Art Gallery'.