Sir Hugh Kawharu was a noted Maori leader and scholar.
Sir Hugh graduated from Victoria University with a BSc and two University Blues. Awarded the Ngata Scholarship, Sir Hugh went first to Cambridge University, graduating in 1957 and then to Oxford where he completed his doctorate in anthropology. On returning to New Zealand, Sir Hugh quietly began fulfilling the expectations of his tribal elders. He worked in the Maori Affairs Department, as a consultant to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, and as a researcher and lecturer at Auckland University. In 1971 he was appointed the foundation Professor of Maori Studies and Head of Department of Anthropology at Massey University. In 1985 he returned to Auckland University to take up the Chair of Maori Studies, overseeing the department’s autonomous development beyond Anthropology. In 1993 Sir Hugh became Emeritus Professor and the foundation Director of the James Henare Maori Research Centre at Auckland University.
Outside his university life, Sir Hugh’s public service was immense. He was a Commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Courts, New Zealand’s delegate to UNESCO; the Ngati Whatua delegate to the National Maori Congress; a member of the Council for Educational Research; the Maori Council; the Arts Foundation; and for 30 years a member of the Auckland Museum Trust Board, guiding matters affecting Maori with unparalleled understanding. He also served as a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, and as Chairman of the Ngati Whatua o Orakei Trust Board. Sir Hugh steered Ngati Whatua’s negotiations for the return of ancestral land at Bastion Point or Takaparawhau. In 1991 the land was officially returned. Sir Hugh continued, with his acknowledged diplomacy, pragmatism and goodwill until in 2006 when an Agreement in Principle between his Ngati Whatua o Orakei people and the government was secured as a vital step to settle all outstanding claims in Auckland for breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Sir Hugh was awarded his knighthood in 1989 and other honours followed. In 1992 he was awarded the Eldson Best Medal by the Polynesian Society. He was made Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, honorary Fellow of Exeter College, and Patron of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University.
In 2002 he became an additional member of the Order of New Zealand, the highest New Zealand honour, and in 2005 received the Auckland City’s Distinguished Citizen Award.
Sir Hugh passed away on 19 September 2006.
Sir Hugh and Lady Freda Kawharu
Terā te tai ka ngunguru mai ki tua o Kaipara
He mihi ki te wairua e rere atu nei
Ki a koe e tā Hugh, e te rangatira
He wānanga o to iwi
He pukenga pukorero
He puna waiora