On 13 March 2013, in a ceremony in Waiouru, veterans of the 28th Māori Battalion entrusted the mere pounamu Mai I Te Ki Te Ao Marama to the National Army Museum. The significance of this taonga on display at the Museum is brought to our attention once again in response to the recent passing of WWII veteran Nolan Raihania, one of the last remaining survivors of the 28th Battalion.
Nolan (Noel) Tariho Rimitiriu Raihania of Ngāti Porou was born on 16 November 1926 and talked of being only 16 when enlisting, stating candidly “we were all under age”. In 2011 he was appointed an Officer to the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to Māori and was still an active member of the Gisborne RSA and the RSA adjunct before his unexpected passing on 21 October 2016.
Mr Raihania was the last President of the 28th Māori Battalion Association before it formally closed with a commemorative event held on 1 December 2012. Former New Zealand Governer-General Sir Jerry Mateparae remarked then, that the 28th Battalion made a significant contribution to Māoridom and New Zealand. Its members were regarded as some of the most courageous of soldiers and the unit received 99 honours and awards – the highest number among the 11 New Zealand infantry battalions of WWII.
“Too many paid the ultimate sacrifice but their defence of the freedoms and values that we as New Zealanders continue to enjoy are taonga to us all. The battalion’s living legacy was a new generation of Māori leaders in the years that followed the war who laid the groundwork for the renaissance of Māori culture, tīkanga and te reo that was to follow.”
Mr Raihania was remembered by hundreds who paid their respects at his tangi on Pakirikiri Marae, Tokomaru Bay on Tuesday 25 October 2016. Mr Raihania (C Company) was one of the members of the 28th Māori Battalion who gifted this mere pounamu to the National Army Museum in 2013.
The mere pounamu Mai I Te Ki Te Ao Marama was carved by Fred McKenzie, a Vietnam veteran of Ngāi Tahu and the waka huia (treasure box) was carved by George Stevens also of Ngāi Tahu. The mere was named Mai I Te Ki Te Ao Marama because when divided from the large ‘parent’ rock it was translucent in colour within, and darker in tone on the outer. This was seen to symbolise a journey ‘from the world of darkness to the world of light.’
The mere was originally gifted to the 28th Māori Battalion Association by Tahu Potiki Hopkinson (a veteran of D Company) in 2000, to act as a badge of honour for incoming Presidents of the Association. The President at the time was B Company veteran, Sonny Sewell of Rotorua and the mere was presented to him during the Annual General Meeting at the National Reunion. Other Presidents who have received the mere are John Waititi, Alfred Preece, Tamati Paraone, Paora Kruger, Jim Takarangi Nolan Raihania, and Bill Pitman.
The mere travelled with the surviving 28th Battalion veterans on Hikoi Maumahara in 2001 and 2004 as they honoured those who did not return home and lie in Commonwealth War Cemeteries throughout Italy, North Africa, Greece, Crete (WWII) and Turkey, France, Malta and Belgium (WWI).
Ka maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou.
We will remember them.