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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'