Te Rangi Hiroa / Peter Buck

Sir Peter Buck 1935

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull
Library, National Library of
New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga
o Aotearoa, must be obtained
before any re-use of this image.

Te Rangi Hiroa / Peter Buck

Aotearoa Anthropologist

Te Rangi Hiroa/Sir Peter Buck’s achievements are astonishing for their diversity, reading more like a list of possible careers than a biography – a pioneering and internationally renowned anthropologist, the first Maori medical doctor, a politician, administrator, soldier, sportsperson and leader of the Maori people. Through exploring the Maori/Pakeha cross-cultural advantages of his birth, and exercising a scientific rigour that was largely self-taught, Peter Buck extended the edges of knowledge.His honorary doctorate from the University of Hawaii recognised his “Contribution to the knowledge of mankind” and likewise his honorary doctorate from Yale University lauded him as:

“First among those who know the peoples and cultures of the Polynesian world, medical doctor, warrior, ethnologist, author and poet, you have brought many races of people to greater understanding and peace.”

Bi-cultural Biology

A strong sense of security and driven diligence under-pinned the exceptional achievement that defined the life of Sir Peter Buck. Te Rangi Hiroa (his Maori name) has attributed his success, in part, to the application of assimilation in his own life. The policy of assimilation is now controversial, arousing consternation and drawing immediate attack from a modern Maori perspective. Today, assimilation as a policy and way of life has been scorned as ethnocentric intervention, insidiously undermining indigenous peoples.

Peter Buck received the KCMG for his services to anthropology (1946). Permission: Auckland War Memorial Museum

Yet Buck never failed to emphasise that his strength lay directly in his half-caste biology. Buck’s last visit to New Zealand in 1949 saw him proclaim, “It is by mixture and intermixture that we can hope to understand each other more clearly, and bring about that co-operation and unity that should be the ideal of all New Zealanders”. But the reality – living the “intermixture” as a child – was far from comfortable. “I once heard him say”, recalls his friend and biographer J.B Condliffe “that in his boyhood half-castes were not popular with either race: therefore he determined to assert himself by becoming head of his class.”

The social matrix and prevailing sensibility during the turn of the century is further summarised by the recollection of a school contemporary, who described Peter Buck’s father, William, as, “a tall well-built bearded Irishman who gave the impression of a certain refinement which was lacking in the majority of Europeans then in Urenui. My father always declared that he could not understand a man like Bill Buck marrying a Maori. It appeared to us as if he had known better days.” Certainly as an only child Peter received the necessary reinforcement from both his parents to overcome such overt prejudice.

Peter with his father, William Buck.    Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Moreover, his actual conception and birth, estimated to have taken place around 1877, may have posed as another stumbling block to a child’s confidence. In fact Buck’s story sounds more like the Old Testament portrayal of a barren Sarah yielding her maid Hagar into her marriage bed in order to gain a child by Abraham. But this was no Ishmael. William Buck’s intellectual gene pool had proved itself in a range of formidable university forbears (the Buck family sent generations to Trinity College Dublin). In 1870-71 William took as his common law wife a crippled teenage Maori girl whose companion/cousin was eventually offered up as a fertile and healthy womb. The resulting baby boy was raised solely by his relational parents, William and Ngarongo, as the biological mother Rina died shortly after a difficult birth. Such practices, though entirely normal when set against the mores of Maori culture, would have offended the morality adhered to (at least publicly) by the Pakeha settler community. As a child and youth Peter understood Ngarongo to be his natural mother, his parents obviously protecting him from cruel inquiry.

Even today, in our apparently progressive society, free from the puritanical conservatism of Victorian England, this scenario might still cause a scandal. In adulthood the offspring may seek counsel as they dealt with identity issues and the trauma of stigma. To the contrary, Buck never questioned his genesis; all his attention flowed into seizing opportunities and receiving the love and acceptance of his parents. Te Rangi Hiroa’s maternal grandmother, Kapuakore, provided further nurture and he cherished regular moments with her. Much of our modern neuroses stem from self rejection and fear of man. Buck suffered from neither; he stared at his own reflection in order to catalyse progress, never concerning himself with unanswerable questions.

A Sentiental Education

Peter Buck was the only half-caste child in his primary school. His teachers, recognising his tenacity and incisive intellect, described Buck as “a perfect pupil, [who] practically taught himself”. Never losing sight of positive affirmation, Buck, while working on a sheep station with his father, recalled a teacher’s casual comment that, “he had a few brains”. Optimistic to the core, Buck always recognised encouragement as a tangible step forward. He used that simple phrase as the inspiration which fuelled his application to Te Aute College, posted in 1895 from a sheep station in the Wairarapa. Buck’s command of the English language can be attributed to his father as literature, especially poetry, was a shared pleasure between the pair. It was this interest that convinced the presiding head of Te Aute, a man named Thornton, to accept Buck’s application to the college. Immediately the door of opportunity swung open on the hinge of a single word – ‘integer’.

Kapuakore, Ngarongo’s mother and therefore Great Aunt by blood, became Buck’s grandmother. Neither her son or daughter produced mokopuna so she readily received her daughter’s foster child as her own grandchild.

Kapuakore provided his initial schooling in Maori values and mores. She was proud of her tribe, Ngati Mutunga, of her ancestry and importantly was able to impart an entire oral history into her grandson. Upon her death he received Kapuakore’s paddle. In 1927 he took it with him to Honolulu: “it hangs on the wall of my study as my most precious family heirloom. I have studied under learned professors in stately halls of learning, but as I look at that paddle I know that the teacher who laid the foundation of my understanding of my own people, and the Polynesian stock to which we belong, was a dear old lady with tattooed face in a humbled hut walled in with tree-fern slabs.”

The focus of their relationship was on whanau/ family. As a child he would run to her after “a telling off” to seek comfort from momentarily angry parents. “Grandparents” he would later say, “are the early teachers of children, and mine was my instructor in Maori lore.” Writers straining to whitewash his half-caste ancestry have claimed that he was raised exclusively by his Maori grandmother and mother, forgetting or rather censoring his Pakeha side. Buck rejected such romanticism. An empirical fact-asserting scientist, he detested inaccurate assumption and scorned loaded agendas.

“I cherish the deepest regard for Te Aute”

Buck spent three years at Te Aute, between 1896 and 1898. His education there built upon the foundation stones of his mother’s love, language and fastidious management, (crippled Ngarongo’s home was impeccable), his father’s English, intellect and confidence, and his grandmother’s passion and meticulous memory, to produce, after Ngata (Buck’s hero), one of the world’s leading ethnologists. Prior to this elevation Buck secured success across a number of distinguished careers within New Zealand as well as triumphing in local sport. Stimulated and harnessed by the balanced environment set up by John Thornton, Te Aute’s headmaster. Buck was one of many highly primed stars. Thornton determined to develop a generation of young men who could work, play and study hard, men who would become role models in their own right. Buck, three months before he died, paid tribute to this period in his life: “I cherish the deepest regard for Te Aute, for my three years in college laid the foundation for my academic career. It was the teaching at Te Aute, the formation of the Te Aute Old Boys Association, that ingrained into myself and others our responsibility to the Maori people.” Buck attributes not only his ascendancy but also the eminence of others in a recollection that is clearly deeper than mere schooldays nostalgia.

While writing this tribute to RG Webb, Te Aute’s then headmaster, Buck outlined his policy ideas for a healthy Maori leadership and he stressed the role of the college. “We no longer have the fear of a dying race”, he wrote, “but the great increase in the Maori race raises new problems that have to be met by sane leadership…In Te Aute there prevails the spirit of stimulation and progress that augurs well for the future of the Maori people….Te Aute must lead and the college motto should inspire them as it did us….I do not think that there was anything extraordinary about Api Ngata, Maui Pomare and others of our generation, but we studied hard at Te Aute and we made the most of the opportunities that came our way.” Such candour is indicative of his inner confidence.

First Maori Doctor

Some writers have claimed Buck planned to enter medical school in order to wage a health and sanitation campaign against the high mortality rate of Maori. Whilst it is correct that the young Buck, upon visiting relatives in Te Whiti’s base at Parihaka, wrote a paper dismantling that icon’s kudos with forthright observations of appalling sanitation and perceived immorality (Te Aute after all was run by a lay preacher)Buck had decided to pursue a BA at college.

It was a teacher who suggested he apply for medicine because of a government-backed scholarship in the subject. In 10 months Buck acquired proficiency in Greek, a language with which he had no previous experience, He also satisfied several other prerequisites to win a scholarship and pass the entrance exam to study at Otago University College. His medical training came to mean innumerable Maori lives were saved by the changes his teaching implemented.

In 1904 Buck spent a year as a junior house surgeon in the Dunedin Hospital. In 1905 he found part-time employment with Sunnyside Mental Hospital and as a locum tenens in Greymouth. It was at Greymouth that Buck met and married 24 year old Irish born Margaret Wilson. At the time Buck was engaged to a well connected Maori woman with status and mana, yet he had experienced the ignominy of being rejected by this woman for another suitor, before being re-selected. Ignoring the betrothal, Buck married Margaret, a woman who, unlike himself, was not educated or trained in any tertiary capacity. The couple never produced any children. Their marriage survived several obstacles the severest of which was the shocking abnormality of a Pakeha woman with a Maori man (the opposite scenario was more acceptable). The educational difference, which was more common in Buck’s day than it would be now, was balanced by Margaret’s committed interest in her husband’s career and professional activities. The distinct and foreign cultural practices of the Maori/Polynesian lifestyle of which Buck was required to embrace personally and professionally became Margaret’s interest – up to a point there existed a major personality flash point of rivalry and striving competitiveness between two people with exhibit strong ambition for social and professional success.

The idiosyncrasies and competing desires of Peter and Margaret become more acute without the responsibility and respite children bring into a relationship. Buck being the passive party was rewarded through what was after all his career whilst the vicarious nature of Margaret’s role left her dissatisfied. Ambitious for her husband, it was Margaret who suffered near traumatic disappointment when Peter failed to make the honours list under a Liberal government, in spite of Ngata and Eric Ramsden’s recommendation.

Sir Apirana Ngata

A cause needs a vision and a vision requires committed advocates. Peter’s final year at Te Aute, 1888, saw him become dux and captain of the rugby and athletic teams. He concluded his academic year with a scrub cutting summer job in Ngati Porou/East Coast territory. Significantly Buck met his hero Sir Apirana Ngata, a man he described as being his ideal (even before they met). Here began a friendship that was to mutually guide, sustain and encourage the men for the rest of their lives. An entire book, Na To Hoa Aroha From Your Dear Friend is devoted to the correspondence between the two men.

Sir Apirana Ngata and Peter Buck alongside a tukutuku panel at Ngata’s home at Waiomatatini. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

The book displays an absolute trust in one another’s advice, certainly Peter as an only child interacted with Apirana as the brother he never had whilst Apirana’s respect for Peter’s intellect and judgement meant the political issues at home were constantly enhanced by Peter’s counsel. It was Ngata who recommended that Buck replace the Northern Maori MP Hone Heke when he died in 1909. During the tangi a metaphor of marriage was used to enhance the search for candidates. Finding another husband for the widowed seat attracted, to Buck’s complete surprise, Sir James Carroll’s interested gaze. The Minister of Native Affairs having consulted Ngata, announced that he had found, “a fitting husband for the widow, a young man that has the learning of both races – Te Rangi Hiroa!”

Politics and Maori health reform

Te Rangi Hiroa had already sharpened his political incisors within the Young Maori Party, the political arm of the Te Aute Old Boys’ Association. Although not a registered political party, the YMP was a policy seedbed and an essential training ground for future Maori MPs. The party’s overall aim was the regeneration of the Maori people by adapting to and utilising modern technology into their lifestyle, without sacrificing Maori cultural identity. Individually, Buck had made significant inroads in the area of Maori health as a Native Health Officer, a post he took up in October 1905. He saw first hand the catastrophic results of new methodology such as the baby bottle, without the necessary training in hygiene. As a result infant mortality had soared, almost wiping out the next generation. Buck was convinced that introduced European diseases (which had already slashed the Maori population by three quarters) could be brought under control simply by more hygienic methods of living and eating. Though sanitation was an emergency issue, to address it required adjusting the very fabric of Maori social behaviour. To implement the necessary changes required more than undiluted medical knowledge; it demanded the finesse of a diplomat – being articulate in Maori protocol, etiquette and wisdom. Maori hierarchy worked through a carefully defined system of mana by birth rather than education or financial success. Buck navigated these waters with acute skill, overcoming tribal tradition (such as, “our tipuna/ancestors did not require toilets with plumbing so why should we?”) with creativity and flair based on a firm knowledge of Maori history. Such a backdrop meant his transition into parliament in 1909 was an easy one.

Carroll, Ngata and Buck’s basic policy as members of the Liberal government was to delay the sale of Maori land to Pakeha until Maori had caught up in education and economic development. Though the three men differed in their personalities, Carroll being epicurean, Ngata an ascetic and Buck gregarious – which meant they were each judged differently by their Pakeha peers – they worked well together. As leaders they were able to bring about a mass mobilisation among Maori that virtually saw the people save themselves. They facilitated the building of plumbing systems, irrigated and cleared their land without governmental assistance, and implemented the hands-on medical instruction of Buck. In 1913 during an epidemic of smallpox among his constituents, Buck actually left Parliament, accompanied by his wife Margaret, to spend six weeks among the infected administering to the people as their doctor and nurse.

ANZAC: the Maori Contingent

When war was declared in 1914 Ngata and Buck responded aggressively to the policy that, “no native race should be used in hostilities between European races.” Asserting the right of Maori to defend the Empire, they demanded that a Maori contingent should be recruited and sent as part of a New Zealand force. The men convinced the Imperial Government by presenting their demands to visiting military authorities, who in turn passed on their argument to the British Cabinet. Buck then left Parliament for Gallipoli and war. His war diaries later became a resource used by James Cowan in his book on the Maori Contingent. The following diary extract provides vivid footage of Buck’s experience and observations:

“Gallipoli was a dirty campaign. We had none of the comforts that were afterwards provided for us in Europe. Our lines of communication were short. In France we would never have run out of stretchers. The fact that the evacuation pier was within range of machine-guns and shell fire disorganised the routine for dealing with the wounded in the big attack. The ration of water prevented not only washing our faces and bodies but also the washing of clothes. As a result, everyone was infested with vermin. In France the men had a weekly bath and a change of underwear and socks. Owing to the lack of cooking facilities, there were no regular hot meals for the men. There were no canteens or picture shows to distract the men from ever-present death. There were no back areas behind shellfire where the men could rest in safety and be pepped up with football and other athletic exercises.

The Australians and New Zealanders, at a fearful cost, had established a name for themselves as fighters. The initials – ANZAC – are a term of honour applied to the survivors of that heroic band. The Maori contingent landed on Gallipoli 500 strong, and we assembled in Egypt after the evacuation 120 weak. But though the death wail went up from every Maori village in New Zealand, the parents and relatives took comfort in the fact that the younger generation had bred true to the fighting instincts of their ancestors. Just as the British troops had learned both to respect and admire their Maori opponents in the Maori war of 1862, so the British troops learnt both to respect and admire their Maori comrades in the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. The Maoris had proved that for strength and endurance, dash and courage, they were the equals of the best troops in the British Empire.”

Sir Peter with Sir Thomas MacKenzie, while serving with the Maori Battalion during WWI. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image

Buck’s war effort was recognised with a Distinguished Service Order in 1918. Upon his return to New Zealand he left politics to be appointed as the Director of Maori Hygiene at a time when Maori had suffered tremendous losses due to an influenza epidemic. He described what he saw as being “the severest setback the race has received since the fighting days of Honi Hika. Influenza in three months caused more casualties to the Maoris than the campaigns in Gallipoli, France and Belgium.” It took him 7 years, directing teams of nurses, inspectors, medical officers and Councils to arrest epidemics and decrease the Maori death rate. A comprehensive educational programme produced converts at the highest levels in Maori society, these were people who could execute sanitation and hygiene procedures during tangi and hui-events which had previously caused the greatest spread of infectious disease and food poisoning. Buck having satisfied his personal goal to revolutionise Maori health turned his attention to academic interests.

From Medicine to Anthropology

Driven by diligence and intellectual curiosity, Peter Buck pursued yet another career – ethnology. He had received an MD in 1910 for his thesis – Medicine Amongst the Maoris in Ancient and Modern Times – which detailed the effect of emotions on a person’s health, specifically addressing the ambiguous area of Tohongism. Drawing on his experience as a medical officer, Buck explained certain Maori deaths as being catalysed by acute fear – fear provoked by a makutu or curse, much like the spells in European or African culture. Further, Buck tackled the general despondency and malaise which plagued the Maori psyche during the turn of the century and analysed it as being a major factor in destroying the human body’s immunity to illness. Essentially, Buck was beginning his probe into the anthropological study of Polynesians, which was the research field he would spend the rest of his life in. It was here, in the anthropological and ethnological disciplines that Buck would earn worldwide recognition. Explaining his change of focus from medicine to anthropology during the twenties he said:

“I have worked up to the stage that I am dissatisfied with myself and want to do the best work of which I am capable. This lies in the field of anthropology.”

In 1923 Buck attended the Pacific Science Congress in Melbourne where he presented a paper on Maori migrations. Professor Herbert Gregory, the Director of the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, was instantly impressed and invited Buck to join the staff. The internal and deeply private struggle of patriotic loyalty began. E.H McCormick in his book The Expatriate: A Study of Francis Hodgkins and New Zealand pointed out that during the “early decades of the present century New Zealand fostered exceptional talent in scholarship and the arts. But – here was the source of the expatriate dilemma – it could not provide conditions in which that talent could mature.”

Buck exemplified this colonial condition. New Zealand’s heartbeat was still very English, we did not even provide a forum to study our own New Zealand history and our academic institutions were so politically and customarily narrow minded that even financial assistance offered by the United States was rejected on the basis of an irrational mistrust of American education. J B Condliffe explains the prejudice as being the result of the Reform Government’s of starving the universities which left only pockets of virtually self-funded enthusiasts to keep intellectual activities alive. News and literature were wholly British and there was little knowledge of the United States, only disparagement. Such an environment would have stifled and frustrated the brilliance of Buck’s talent. Nevertheless upon accepting the Bishop Museum’s appointment he asked his Government department for leave without pay so that “at the end of 5 years the New Zealand Government would have first claim on [his] services in whatever field they might think fit.” The Department of Health rejected his offer.

The Bishop Museum and Yale

Te Rangi Hiroa accepted the position at the Bishop Museum and commenced invaluable ethnological fieldwork around Polynesia, notably in the Cook Islands and Samoa. He enjoyed an advantage over all the previous academics that had carried out research in Polynesia because he was received as a brother.

Te Rangi Hiroa practices a wero. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

His New Zealand perspective on Polynesia was that though New Zealand provided the largest part of the puzzle, by virtue of “the detailed ethnological work that had already been carried out there, it was nevertheless still only one factor, though a very important one, in the great Polynesian problem.” So without prejudice Te Rangi Hiroa zealously and meticulously collected his data. Maui Pomare, a fellow medical doctor and MP described Buck as a ” painstaking researcher who was never content with superficial observation and hasty comparisons. He wanted to know how something worked, no quick fire generalisations for him without evidence.”

“Moa Hunters” – the moa was from Otago Museum. Peter is on the left. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

It was this tenacity and integrity that developed an empirical awareness few could match in his field of research. Never intimidated by prestige or tradition he often spotted others’ mistakes then incisively corrected them. During his appointment at Yale as the Bishop Museum visiting professor (Bishop and Yale are closely linked) Te Rangi Hiroa toured many established museums in North America, Canada and Europe and it was there that his perspicacity shone. He corrected the labelling of Tongan garments as Maori, Samoan weapons as Cook Island and a theory of assumed Polynesian promiscuity as misguided nonsense. Thus the Bishop Museum provided the catalyst necessary to launch Buck’s international reputation.

Polynesian Investigator

During his years at the Bishop Museum, Buck was a prolific writer. His report Samoan Material Culture published in 1928, secured his international reputation and an invitation to lecture at Yale. The Evolution of Maori Clothing, Te Rangi Hiroa’s first book, was a “study of the technical processes used in the manufacture of garments and an inquiry into their evolution”. The Journal of the Polynesian Society provided a further avenue for the dissemination of his material. Keen to reach a wider audience Buck produced a popular easy to read book, Vikings of the Sunrise, as well as the more erudite, The Coming of the Maori, which has graced the spectrum between university and coffee table. He extensively illustrated his written work with line drawings, determined that every item from intricate weaving to the construction of tools and boats should be accurately seen and understood.

Buck using a traditional Maori adze. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

This process was immensely time consuming yet fundamental to his style and approach – practical, empirical, pragmatic rather than abstract and theoretical. As Condliffe points out Buck “was never satisfied until he could make and use a tool in the ancient fashion.” This was observed by visiting anthropologist Dr E.P Ellison at a reef in Rarotonga. “Peter” he said, “was not satisfied until he had completely mastered the technique himself under Tiniraus’s, a local expert, instruction”. Buck adamantly concluded that, “one thing [was] certain – a worker cannot analyse what is due to diffusion, and what to local adaptation and invention, without getting those details.” Because Buck scorned generalised theory that ignored exact observation of working detail his own work has withstood time as well as competing academics.

Buck’s communication with Ngata indicated a continual concern and deep passion for home. He took every opportunity to favourably compare New Zealand’s geography against the tourist sites he witnessed as the following extract reveals:

“We left for the East on the Canadian Pacific Railway, leaving in the morning so as to see the celebrated Rocky Mountains. The scenery is really magnificent, yet it all reminded me of something I had seen before…the Rocky Mountains with snow capped peaks gave me no thrill, the peaks were merely elevations on the general range and did not stand up so prominently, to my mind, as the Tongariro trio and Mt Egmont…New Zealand is indeed a land of infinite variety in its scenery and physical characteristics, any one of its assets would be featured by the countries nearer the tourist routes. Any country may have one or more of these features on a larger scale but seemingly no other country possesses so many.”

Ironically, it was North America rather than New Zealand who returned Buck’s worth financially though they refused his application for American citizenship on the grounds that he, like all Polynesians, was “too Asian”. Academically however, his presence was acclaimed with Buck attaining international distinction. He received honorary degrees from Yale, an MA in 1936 and a Doctorate of Science in 1951, combined with the Terry Prize in 1939. The University of Hawaii awarded him a doctorate in letters in 1948. New Zealand granted Buck two honorary doctorates in science in 1939, and he won the Hector Medal of the New Zealand Institute. Posthumously he was awarded the S.Percy Smith Medal of Otago in 1951. The University of Rochester in 1939 also awarded him an honorary doctorate. Buck received British (through the New Zealand Government) and Swedish Knighthoods, the KCMG and the Royal Order of the North Star in 1946. He received the Rivers Memorial Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute and in 1952 he was posthumously awarded the Huxley Memorial Medal, the highest honour the Institute can bestow. Other recipients include such luminaries in the field as Clifford Geertz, Claude Levi-Strauss, Marcel Mauss and Pierre Bourdieu. Buck’s work was seminal in fostering understanding of Polynesian and Maori cultures and ways of thinking.

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

As an indication of Buck’s unpretentious character he kept his title “Doctor” even when it was surpassed by more distinguished accolades. Upon returning to work at Yale, he wrote to the secretary, “[t]he title, Sir, supersedes Doctor in British countries, but I am not bothering about it locally. I prefer to be addressed as Doctor rather than Sir in a democratic country.”

Final Homecoming

While Director of the Bishop Museum (he had replaced Gregory in 1936) Buck underwent an operation which revealed an aggressive abdominal cancer. It was predicted that he had three months to live, it was October 1948. Always powerfully positive in outlook, Buck extended that forecast into three prolific years, completing four books and visiting New Zealand in January 1949 for a rigorous tour and final farewell. With his physical decline he and his wife were cared for by a loyal and committed friend Bernice Ross who supported them right through to his death in 1951. It was not until 1953 that his ashes were brought home and a large tangi procession escorted his ashes from Wellington to Okoki Pa in Taranaki, his desired final resting place.

The vault where Buck’s ashes are buried, underneath a symbolic Polynesian canoe prow

“What New Net Goes Afishing?”

Buck’s life, defined by an assurance of identity, fidelity to his roots and knowledge of the past, was intermixed with a pragmatic modernity and ready optimism. A template of citizenship for Aoteraroa-New Zealand.

“The old world created by our Polynesian ancestors has passed away, and a new world is in the process of being fashioned. The stone temples have been destroyed and the temple drums and shell trumpets have long been silent. Tane, Tu, Rongo, Tangoroa and other members of the divine family of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother have left us. The great voyaging canoes have crumbled to dust, and the sea captains and the expert craftsmen have passed away to the Spirit-land. The regalia and symbols of the spiritual and temporal power have been scattered among the museums of other peoples. The glory of the Stone Age has departed out of Polynesia.

“The old net is full of holes, its meshes have rotted, and it has been laid aside.

What new net goes afishing?”

From the epilogue to Vikings of the Sunrise


Kevin Boon, Peter Buck (as part of Famous New Zealanders series, ed. Allan R Kirk), Kotuku Publishing, Wellington, 1996.

J B Condliffe, Te Rangi Hiroa: The Life of Sir Peter Buck, Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, Christchurch, 1971.

Eugene Grayland, Famous New Zealanders, Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, Christchurch, 1967, pp. 11-20.

Gordon McLauchlan (editor-in-chief), Illustrated History of New Zealand, Bateman, Auckland, 1999, pp. 164-165.

M.P.K. Sorenson (ed.), Na to Hoa Aroha, From Your Dear Friend, the correspondence of Sir Apirana Ngata And Sir Peter Buck, Auckland University Printing Services, Auckland, 1986.

Ranganui Walker, He Tipua, the Life and Times of Apiranga Ngata, Viking Penguin books, Auckland, 2001.

Te Rangi Hiroa/Sir Peter Buck wrote numerous books and articles including, The Coming of the Maori and Vikings of the Sunrise. These are out of print, but may be found in most New Zealand public libraries, or at limited availability by searching at amazon.com.

Web References:

‘Te Rangi Hiroa’, taken from, from 40 Great New Zealanders, Reed, 1994 , referenced in “The Worker’s Encyclopedia”.

The Te Rangi Hiroa Medal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

History and recipients of the Rivers Memorial Medal and the Huxley Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, London.

Short biographical entry at www.biography.com

“Courage is not merely rushing and hacking at the enemy, the need for courage comes in life everyday”.
– Te Rangi Hiroa/Sir Peter Buck

STORY BY MAY-ANA TIRIKATENE-SULLIVAN who by various turns has been a scholar, international fashion model, preacher and champion high-jumper. May-Ana has graduated LLB and BA (Hons) First Class in English literature from Victoria University, Wellington, receiving the Turnbull Scholarship for post-graduate studies in New Zealand Literature and the New Zealand Literature Prize, she has part-way completed studies towards a PHD in New Zealand Literature. May-Ana is of Waitaha, Ngai Tahu, Ngati Kahungunu, and Australian descent.


Tags: Anthropologist  Doctor  Maori  Peter Buck  Te Rangi Hiroa  

  • Phillip kahurangi hiroa/piripi kahurangi hiroa - 10:49 pm on January 5th, 2023
    Not knowing to much about te rangi hiroa,i searched for sir peter buck.i am fascinated journey and all that set out to and to accomplish.he would have left a lasting impression an inspiration to many.i enjoyed reading kind words said about te rangi hiroa.this has promt me to know more.
  • Margret - 7:55 pm on November 25th, 2017
    Well written. A tremendous story about Te Rangihiroa. Within my secondary school's house system, I was in Te Rangihiroa House, suffice to say, we were encouraged to call it Green House. I very much enjoyed reading this article; there was great sensitivity contained within.
  • Karen - 9:01 pm on August 3rd, 2016
    Wonderful article of a truly amazing man. I only had scant details prior to reading this and have been inspired to read more about my distant relative (Peter was my late grandfather's cousin on his mother's side). Thankyou for all the wonderful details. I will use this as a stepping stone to discovering more about my family's heritage.
  • Tiini Paraone Thomas - 9:56 pm on December 29th, 2015
    Thank you so much what said of tupuna sir Peter Buck by my mother is written for me to read what she had korero about sir Peter Buck Thanks so much NZ Edge
  • Dee Parker - 10:35 am on October 20th, 2015
    Thank you to the NZEDGE website managers for offering this biography in full to read online. It has been informative and motivational to a 22yr resident of NZ who finally has time in semi-retirement to seek out and learn about NZ's history and heroes.
  • Travel Consultant - 11:19 am on December 28th, 2003
    A simply beautiful website. Especially touching is the section on NZ heroes. I was pleasantly suprised to see Sir Peter Buck mentioned. Ever since I was a child I have looked up to this great rangatira. I was in tears reading the write up on him. Living overseas, I am that much prouder of my culture and my country. thank you NZEDGE for making this kiwi girls' day. TE TOTO O TE TANGATA, HE KAI TE ORANGA O TE TANGATA HE WHENUA THE BLOOD OF A MAN COMES FROM HIS FOOD BUT HIS SUSTENANCE COMES FROM HIS LAND Travel Consultant Sydney, Australia
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