Below is an email sent to the ASAA/NZ e-list by Steven Webster, one of many remembering and mourning the loss of Dr Ranginui Walker on 29 February 2016. Reproduced with permission.
He aitua, he aitua: Takoto mai raa e koro, takoto, takoto no to mahi nui roa. (aa, e hoa, murua taku reo kuuware).
Ranginui Walker, professor and former Chair of Maori Studies at The University of Auckland, has died today, and Graeme MacRae has relayed the sad news. I knew Rangi well enough as a colleague in Anthropology and Māori Studies to add a commentary to Graeme's announcement and send it out to others of the ASAANZ. My commentary here is intended to be more a personal and even gossipy eulogy than a competent review of his academic career and life as a Māori leader; this must be undertaken by someone who is better informed. (Given Rangi's larger-than-life impact, there is lots of room for lots of commentaries and eulogies.)
I also knew his personal manner well enough to suspect he didn't die on the leap-day of a leap year without having some say in the matter.
Rangi's PhD was gained at Auckland in social anthropology, supervised, I believe, by the anthropology department's founding Professor Ralph Piddington. His dissertation was completed in about 1972 (when I and my family arrived in NZ) and entitled "Maori in the Metropolis." It was soon impounded to protect his informants. In any case, I obtained access, read it, and chided him for impounding it because it would limit its influence; although his later work became increasingly 'radical', I found his dissertation to be a rich analysis in the tradition of Metge's PhD classic 'The New Maori Migration', but not radical in any way I recognised. Then again, I was pretty conservative myself in those days. In the preface to his book Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou he claims his middle-class conservatism was 'awakened' only later in his work with the Māori Council.
I myself learned from his dissertation some the implications of the fact that so many Māori die in the cities, but most continue to be buried in what they consider to be their home marae elsewhere. I understand that his own tangi will begin on Wednesday at Orākei Marae; however, I assume that his tuupaapaku, as that of an important leader, will be fought over, taken to other marae (certainly including Waipapa at the University of Auckland where he taught for decades), but end up at a Whakatohea marae in Bay of Plenty - unless his family or he himself decides elsewhere, perhaps where one of his whaanau already lies having predeceased him.
Rangi's decades of teaching at University of Auckland were in Continuing Education before he became Professor of Māori Studies, which I think was finally when Hugh Kawharu retired from that position. I always admired the teaching tradition of Continuing Education, and suspect his manner of teaching had a big impact there as well as later in Māori Studies. At the same time he was also writing a regular column for the popular N.Z. Listener that in those days was nationally the best source of current news about politics, ethnic relations, and the Māori, and always provocatively pitched. The first ones I read were about Nga Tamatoa in the early 1970s. (I hope that all these have been brought together by a good editor.)
Early on I heard that because Professor Bruce Biggs (Head of Anthropology after Prof Piddington died) considered Rangi's sort of social anthropology (or his influence in the Māori Council) too radical, he was not accepted into the Anthropology Department despite his widening academic influence and popularity. (I know that Bruce hired me because I intended to do research among the Māori but was neither Māori nor - at that time - radical; I also later learned that although Bruce was conservative in some respects, he was fair-minded and progressive in others.) Although I do not know for sure, I suspect that Bruce was behind the inordinate delay before Rangi came fully into his own academically as the Professor and Chair of Māori Studies. However, when Hugh Kawharu took over from Bruce Biggs in 1984, he brought Rangi aboard as an associate professor, and when Hugh retired in 1993 Rangi was appointed to Chair of the department, by then independent of the Anthropology department. From my own point of view, Rangi's academic influence as a social anthopologist added important new theoretical directions to Māori Studies at Auckland, especially through his interest in Friere, Gramsci, and Foucault. Later in the 90s he became a pro-vice-chancellor for Māori affairs in the University and Ngapare Hopa replaced him as Chair of Māori Studies.
I am proud to say that Rangi was one of the key intellectual mentors in my own scholarly radicalisation, although in a dialectical way. This happened because about the same time that I began to get involved in the Māori renaissance, ethnic politics, and both of these movements breaking into the University, he started playing the easy race card that Franz Fanon had pointed out: colonised ethnic groups start beating their colonisers over their head with the same cudgel that was used on them. Rangi even sometimes stooped rhetorically to say social anthropologists exploited Māori for their own ends, sitting in their teepees with the Injuns like they had in the USA. I chided him frankly (but respectfully: he was 5-6 years older than me) for this, pointing out that he himself was a social anthropologist and should know our discipline and the facts better than that. I think his response was also a frank sheepishness, although it was not really an apology. Thanks to my lessons from Rangi, Anne Salmond, Ngahia Te Awekotuku, Titiwhai Harawira and many others, my radicalisation has tried to be careful to not play that easy but phony race-difference/victim-oppressor card and reduce the contradictions of a real material history to an idealist guilt-trip that changes nothing except how you feel about it.
As I detailed in my 1998 essay on the development of Māori Studies at Auckland and other N.Z. universities, in 1988 Rangi circulated his draft submission to the Anthropology Review (which was already an occasion for some intramural inquisitions!). Ironically, considering his earlier criticisms, his submission advocated criticised social anthropology for neglect of research and teaching on N.Z. and especially Māori issues. His criticism was later moderated and even reversed, due largely to Eleanor Rimoldi's response with a long list of graduate theses that had in fact undertaken such research over decades. I myself reminded Rangi that several long-established social anthropology papers - his own as well as mine! - and the shadow supervision that some of us routinely gave to graduates in Māori Studies. Rangi graciously revised his recommendation and Walker as well as Kawharu and Paki Harrison of that department proposed strengthening the established mutual support of Anthropology and Māori Studies. However, probably due to the influence of someone yet more influential than they, the upshot of the 1988 Anthropology Review was nevertheless to widen the academic distance between Māori Studies and Anthropology. Anne Salmond, a social anthropologist with a joint appointment in both departments, proposed that Anthropology "sensibly consider its responsibilities under the Treaty" and, as part of a University-wide Wananga of Waipapa programme run by Māori Studies, institute staff, graduate, and curricula changes under their control. This didn't sound like the collegial mutual support advocated by the others.
Rangi was an academic with an appealing radical flair but a warm scholarly heart. He wrote insightfully and comprehensively about the real material history and contemporary ethnic politics of New Zealand. His widely-recommended and read textbook Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou - Struggle with End joins significant turning points in colonial history with a compendium of his insights into contemporary ethnic confrontations with unpretentious clarity and flair. His scholarly foresight and devoted mentorship is demonstrated by his passing of permission to revise and republish this classic work to one of the most independent and intellectually incisive younger Māori scholars I have encountered: Rawiri Taonui, whom I had the honour of recommending to Rangi's supervision for his PhD and whose revision I fervently hope will be completed and published soon.
Takoto mai raa e koro, taku rangatira mo te ngaakau raua ko te hinengaro; hei to mahi roa kia whakapai tenei ao mamaeanga (aa, e hoa, murua taku reo kuuware).
Heoi anoo na
Honorary Research Fellow in Social Anthropology
The University of Auckland