Monita (Mo) Eru Delamere was born on 17 June 1921 at Omaio, Bay of Plenty, the fifth of at least eight children. His parents were Hannah Te Au and her husband, Paora (Paul) Kingi Delamere, a farmer and leader of the Ringatu faith founded by Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki. His roots from his father were Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Paeakau, Te Whanau-a-Tuahiawa and Ngati Patumoana (Ngati Patu) of Te Whakatohea; his mother, from Murihiku, was of Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe.
At birth Monita was given to his grand aunt and grand uncle Kararaina and Hamiora Toopi to raise. Kararaina named him after her father, Eru Monita Mohi, and they lived at Maraenui. It was here that Te Kooti had been in 1887, after an invitation from Monita’s grandfather, Te Kohi Edward (Neri) Delamere, who was also a Ringatu leader. Te Kooti had sung the waiata ‘E pa to reo e Te Tai Rawhiti e’ in response to the invitation. Monita memorised the Ringatu 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.
Monita started school at Maraenui and at the age of about 13 returned to his natural parents. At Omaio Native School he gained his proficiency certificate. His father wanted him to attend Te Aute College, but he went instead to the Opotiki 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, Monita Delamere married Mary Thornton, a clerk from Opotiki. She was of Ngati Rua (Ngati Ruatakenga) of Te Whakatohea, Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Hine of Nga Puhi and English descent. They were to have six children. Monita served in Egypt with the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion.
After Monita’s return in October 1944 the couple farmed at Opotiki. 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 Maori 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 Monita entered into partnership in a dry-cleaning business. Kawerau was a new timber-milling town, multi-national, bicultural and pan-iwi, and Monita and Mary helped to pioneer rugby, tennis and netball clubs and social, health, and welfare services. Monita was supportive of all newcomers to Kawerau, and assisted the Maori ones to build a community centre. They called it Rautahi (100 tribes in one). The Ringatu church held its services on the marae and Monita 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 Maori 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 Monita was offered the position of secretary for the Whakatohea Maori Trust Board in 1979, he and Mary moved back to Opotiki. Monita continued his ministry, revitalising the church and teaching Maori traditions. Opotiki 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 Whakatohea region, he implemented work and training schemes and community-based projects, tempering many problems associated with gangs. This was a renaissance period for Maori language and culture. He used his knowledge and expertise generously to help emerging young Maori leaders to deal with the devolution of the Department of Maori Affairs, Treaty of Waitangi claims, and the presentation and extension of the Maori language.
In 1986 Monita 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, Ngai Tahu and Ngati 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 Maori’ 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 Opotiki, lightning flashed across the Bay of Plenty. That night the ruru (morepork) came to sit on the porch roof of Tutawake, at Whitianga marae, to watch Monita Delamere’s kin preparing for his last homecoming. He was buried at Tokata cemetery, Whitianga, with full military honours and a Ringatu service. His wife, Mary, and four sons survived him.