Page 1: Biography
Delamere, Mōnita Eru
Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Ngāi Tahu; rugby player, dry-cleaner, Ringatu leader, community leader
This biography, written by Paul Delamere, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Mōnita (Mō) Eru Delamere was born on 17 June 1921 at Ōmāio, Bay of Plenty, the fifth of at least eight children. His parents were Hannah Te Au and her husband, Pāora (Paul) Kīngi Delamere, a farmer and leader of the Ringatū faith founded by Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki. His roots from his father were Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Paeakau, Te Whānau-a-Tūwāhiawa and Ngāti Patumoana (Ngāti Patu) of Te Whakatōhea; his mother, from Murihiku, was of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Māmoe.
At birth Mōnita was given to his grand aunt and grand uncle Kararaina and Hāmiora Toopī to raise. Kararaina named him after her father, Eru Mōnita Mohi, and they lived at Maraenui. It was here that Te Kooti had been in 1887, after an invitation from Mōnita’s grandfather, Te Kohi Edward (Neri) Delamere, who was also a Ringatū leader. Te Kooti had sung the waiata ‘E pā tō reo e Te Tai Rāwhiti e’ in response to the invitation. Mōnita memorised the Ringatū prayers and hymns, and at religious gatherings on marae throughout the North Island he learned from the elders their protocol, waiata and history. The Presbyterian missionaries Jock and Jean Peterson and Norman and Phyllis Perry also influenced him.
Mōnita started school at Maraenui and at the age of about 13 returned to his natural parents. At Ōmāio Native School he gained his proficiency certificate. His father wanted him to attend Te Aute College, but he went instead to the Ōpōtiki area to work as a farm hand. In May 1942 he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Hauraki Regiment. At Papakura, on 12 July 1943, eight days before leaving for war, Mōnita Delamere married Mary Thornton, a clerk from Ōpōtiki. She was of Ngāti Rua (Ngāti Ruatakenga) of Te Whakatōhea, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Hine of Ngāpuhi and English descent. They were to have six children. Mōnita served in Egypt with the 28th New Zealand (Māori) Battalion.
After Mōnita’s return in October 1944 the couple farmed at Ōpōtiki. A skilled rugby player, he represented Bay of Plenty between 1945 and 1951 (with the exception of 1948) and was captain in 1946–47. From 1946 to 1949 he was a Māori All Black, touring Fiji in 1948 and Australia in 1949. He played at five-eighth, centre and wing, and was a ‘fast, beautiful, straight runner’.
In 1956 the family moved to Kawerau, where Mōnita entered into partnership in a dry-cleaning business. Kawerau was a new timber-milling town, multi-national, bicultural and pan-iwi, and Mōnita and Mary helped to pioneer rugby, tennis and netball clubs and social, health, and welfare services. Mōnita was supportive of all newcomers to Kawerau, and assisted the Māori ones to build a community centre. They called it Rautahi (100 tribes in one). The Ringatū church held its services on the marae and Mōnita was an elder in the faith, teaching and conducting church services, burials, marriages and blessings. In 1974 he organised and initiated the building of the carved meeting house Te Aotahi, which was opened in 1985. In 1961 he was appointed a justice of the peace and from 1971 to 1980 he served on the Kawerau Borough Council.
Delamere established the town’s first credit union, later forming several in the Bay of Plenty. He saw them as embracing the philosophy of pooling resources and sharing with others. The union offered low-interest loans and taught budgeting, assisting low-income earners and the ordinary worker. Delamere was opposed by local trading banks and businesses and the Department of Māori Affairs, but his tenacity benefited the less well off. It eventually became an accepted banking facility in Kawerau with strong membership. The town was to honour him by naming a street for him.
After Mōnita was offered the position of secretary for the Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board in 1979, he and Mary moved back to Ōpōtiki. Mōnita continued his ministry, revitalising the church and teaching Māori traditions. Ōpōtiki was experiencing the effects of unemployment, with youth turning to gangs for comradeship and becoming involved in crime and public disturbances. Together with Claude Edwards, Norman Perry and elders in the Whakatōhea region, he implemented work and training schemes and community-based projects, tempering many problems associated with gangs. This was a renaissance period for Māori language and culture. He used his knowledge and expertise generously to help emerging young Māori leaders to deal with the devolution of the Department of Māori Affairs, Treaty of Waitangi claims, and the presentation and extension of the Māori language.
In 1986 Mōnita Delamere accepted appointment to the Waitangi Tribunal with great humility, pointing out that his only formal education had been at native schools. He was a member during hearings of the Muriwhenua (fishing and land), Te Roroa, Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Rangiteaorere claims. Before accepting his appointment as a KBE in 1990, he said that his reward was with his maker and he only did what a good Christian should do. Chief Judge Edward Taihakurei Durie was later to comment that Delamere’s ‘depth of knowledge of things Māori’ and ‘deep sense of justice and love of all people’ enabled him to make an important contribution to cross-cultural understanding.
At the time of his death, on 28 April 1993 at Ōpōtiki, lightning flashed across the Bay of Plenty. That night the ruru (morepork) came to sit on the porch roof of Tutāwake, at Whitianga marae, to watch Mōnita Delamere’s kin preparing for his last homecoming. He was buried at Tokatā cemetery, Whitianga, with full military honours and a Ringatū service. His wife, Mary, and four sons survived him.