Rahera Windsor

London Maori leader

Rahera Windsor was the Kuia of the New Zealand Maori community in the UK - their spiritual leader. She was one of the founder members of Ngati Ranana ("London Tribe") - the London Maori Club, based at the New Zealand High Commission, and led their concert and dance performances at venues all over the country and in Europe.

Rahera Honi Heta, tribal elder: born Pupuke, New Zealand 13 March 1925; QSM 1997; married 1951 John Windsor (died 1994; one son, two daughters); died London 3 May 2004.

Rahera Windsor was the Kuia of the New Zealand Maori community in the UK - their spiritual leader. She was one of the founder members of Ngati Ranana ("London Tribe") - the London Maori Club, based at the New Zealand High Commission, and led their concert and dance performances at venues all over the country and in Europe.

She was born Rahera (or Rachel) Honi Heta in 1925, in the far north of New Zealand. Her father saw action at the Somme in the First World War. Rahera remembered riding on horseback in front of him in the wild landscape, he wearing jodhpurs, she a small girl all dressed in her best. He was very short of breath, having been gassed, and died young as a consequence.

When I was young all the Maori on the marae would call out when Churchill was on the radio during the [Second World War], and everyone would hurry down and gather in the Meeting House to listen to him. Our boys were all at the front.

She spoke very intensely about the many New Zealanders who remain buried in Europe after the two world wars and was from time to time called upon to lead Maori elders, statesmen and members of the Maori Battalion to the War Graves on official visits.

Rahera left Northland as a young girl and went to live in a home for young Maori women in Auckland. There, a chance meeting with the stationmaster's wife from Barcledean, one of the big sheep and cattle stations north of the Waiau River, led to her moving to the magnificent South Island high country to work as a land girl. As one of a large team of people who ran the farm, and cared for the livestock, the life suited her and she spoke with great affection for the people who ran it and the way things were done.

She married an Englishman, John Windsor, whom she met in New Zealand when he was on leave from the Navy just after the Second World War, and came to live in London. Maori have an intense attachment to their land and people, their tangata whenua. She felt isolated and homesick and, on the encouragement of her father-in-law, she joined Te Kauri Maori Women's Welfare League (serving for a time as President), the War Graves Commission and the Victoria League. She was an active member of the Royal British Legion and was invited to lay wreaths each Remembrance Sunday at Cannock Chase, in Staffordshire. Other wreath-laying ceremonies followed.

Rahera Windsor was the first Maori to be given honorary membership of the New Zealand Society, established in London in 1927. With a fellow member of Ngati Ranana, Tony Curtis, she raised money for a commemorative headstone to be placed on the grave of the first Maori to study at Oxford, Maggie Papakura (1912), and for a plaque to the memory of Maori killed in the First World War to be installed in the church at Oddington, in Oxfordshire.

Her daughter describes a home where there were many visitors, among them Swedish professors who came to visit and interview Rahera on the subject of Maori linguistics. In the 1980s she was invited to Paris to meet Jacques Cousteau to explain the significance of marine life in Maori culture. In the 1980s she appeared in a BBC play about Gauguin.

She gave a strong sense of her affection for British life whilst absolutely retaining her Maori identity and roots. She valued the culture she found and engaged with it, especially as a volunteer. She cooked dinners for rugby teams, and volunteered at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. In her role at "club", as Ngati Ranana is known, she set an example to Maori who arrived in London both perplexed by the world they had come to and knowing very little of their own cultural heritage. No young performer would ever be discouraged and a number of children of pakeha (European) and West Indian descent learned to do the haka and sing waiata.

Her contacts were wide-ranging. She met a Scottish laird who was imprisoned in Colditz during the Second World War with Maori who taught him the haka. Each year until he died he invited the club members to his castle for a weekend of song and celebration. She knew the great opera singers Inia Te Waiata and Kiri Te Kanawa. Three years ago she sang with club at the All Black Zinzan Brooke's wedding, and last year was flown with a small group of Ngati Ranana members to Toulouse to bless a fleet of brand new Air New Zealand planes as they rolled out of the Airbus factory.

She always received letters from New Zealanders in the UK and took enormous trouble to honour their requests. She would visit people in hospital and sing waiata at their bedsides. A passing consultant once asked her just exactly what she was doing. The trenchant reply came, "Singing him songs from our country!" The consultant was impressed and replied, "Well, it does seem to be doing him some good."

From her home in Lisson Grove Rahera Windsor went forth each day with a tremendous sense of duty and purpose and optimism, even in frail age. A week before she died, she sang with Ngati Ranana - as they had, unaccompanied, for the last eight years - the hymn " Whakaaria Mai" ("How Great Thou Art"), on Anzac Day in Westminster Abbey.

Susan Wilson

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