Sermon on the Mahau
The following sermon, a panegyric for William Knockers Allen, was delivered on 7th November 2022 by Denis O’Reilly from the mahau, the front porch, of the whare Taamaki Makaurau at Ihumatao, Auckland, to members of the community and an estimated 1,000 other gang members, mainly Whanau of the Fist (Black Power), Hells Angels, Headhunters, Killer Bees, Mongrel Mob, and King Cobras.
The sermon was predicated by the Maori tradition of salutations to mother earth, the meeting house, the dead, the living, including the Maori kingship. It commenced with the recitation of the Maori Jesus, a poem by James Kier Baxter. The reader is encouraged to read the poem.
Traffic lights. Just like during Covid lockdowns we are operating in code blue. Code blue is based on a set of instructions stipulated by Knox. My korero has been pre-ordained. It may take some time. Make yourselves comfy. Knox has gone to extreme lengths to bring you within hearing range. Its no assumption that you will choose to listen. That is entirely up to you.
The first intellectual cab off the rank, more of an uber ride, is the matter of rangatiratanga. I don’t raise this as some sort of political construct. I mean it in the sense of self. As in the poem I recited, “I am who I am”. Each of us oversees our self. We can choose what we do, how we act, how we behave.
Yes, it is true that in Aotearoa the system is racially biased, and that colonization has robbed many Maori of land, language, culture, and wealth. And because of this there has been a generation or two of whanau dysfunction. Consequently, many people have had a difficult start in life. There are those that are victims.
But the essence of rangatiratanga is responsibility for oneself.
Wherever you have ended up in life, wherever your head and heart and spirit are at today, here, at Makaurau, at Isshy, attending the nehu (funeral service and burial) of Wiremu Knockers Allen, on the 7th day of November 2022, decide to seize your own personal rangatiratanga and take responsibility for yourself. Take responsibility for everything that occurs in your life regardless who’s at fault.
If you have ever gone off the rails, been out the gate, if you have ever slipped and fallen, pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and start all over again. Today.
Make use of failure. Discover and recognize your own flaws and mistakes and use them to improve your own life, and the lives of those you love, and those who love you.
Ah, the love word. That’s one thing Knox wanted me to speak about.
Our friend Joe Walsh from the Eagles once sang the message Knox wanted sent to us, with the following lyrics
Oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger
They’re drivin’ you home
Freedom, oh freedom
Well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walkin’ through this world all alone
Why don’t you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences
Open the gate
It may be rainin’
But there’s a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you
(Let somebody love you)
You better let somebody love you
Before it’s too late
The only way to achieve meaning and a sense of importance in one’s life is through a rejection of alternatives. We are often told not to do this or that. As our late brother Paora White would say, “If monkey see and monkey do, then change the monkey”. Flip the script. Let’s encourage each other to do things, rather than not do things.
I remember listening to Knox’s friend the Mongrel Mob leader, the late Roy Dunn speaking at an “all gangs of Auckland” hui held in Mangere in 2008. Roy told about his nephew asking him, if he was offered a deal from the dark side, what he would do? Roy told him, “I don’t have time for that stuff. This is what I want to do”. And the ‘this’ that Roy was talking about was a focus on whanau wellbeing.
Rangatiratanga isn’t a license to do anything you bloody well like. Its a narrowing of freedom, a choice of commitment to a primary set of beliefs, one group, your whanau, your hoa rangatira, your tamariki and mokopuna.
To value something we must reject what is not that something. To value whanau we must reject what is against the wellbeing of whanau. We must be prepared to swap the breadth of experience in our lives for the depth of experience in our lives. Quality over quantity.
We heard on Saturday during whaikorero (speeches) that early in his gangsta journey Knox put his patch ahead of his whanau.
Today that binary split between whanau and patch is no longer how the gang world operates. Now we are one extended whanau and our wahine and our tamariki and mokopuna are at the centre of it.
We live in a VUCA world. What does that mean? VUCA, volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous.
Volatile. Goddam, there is war in Europe. We are possibly in the most dangerous times since World War 2. One mistake by a nervous general or a delusional politician could unleash nuclear war. There is political apprehension about the presence of China in the South Pacific. The Yanks have sent long range nuclear bombers to be stationed in Australia.
Australia! Next door. They’ve already sent us Queensland Fruit Fly, and Myrtle Rust, to say nothing of the 501’s. Now they invite both pre-emptive and/or retaliatory nuclear strikes. If so the result is that Aotearoa will experience nuclear fallout. Nice one ANZAC!
Uncertain. If you think things are topsy-turvey then you are right. Its hard to know what to think. There is misinformation – and that’s stuff that’s just wrong. And then there’s disinformation – stuff that’s deliberately wrong. Conspiracy theories designed to split and divide us and to erode trust. Acknowledge your own ignorance. Constantly challenge yourself about the certainty of your beliefs
Complex. We are in the age of virus, of pandemics. I don’t understand all the variants. Should we be wearing masks? Will Knox’s tangi be a super spreader event? What’s the go with vaccinations? Are they an evil money-making tactic by Pfizer? What about measles? Do you need to get your kids vaccinated? Should you trust the epidemiologists?
I trust epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker. I have invited Michael to our waananga (collective learning experiences) and he participated. Why do I trust him? Because besides the fact that he is trained and has deep knowledge he was there with us well before Covid. He was promoting harm reduction instead of criminalization when we take our jollies. Michael Baker has long argued for a health approach, introducing needle exchanges, arguing for drug law reform, supporting ‘know your stuff’ to test drugs at festivals and concerts so at least you know what you are taking.
It cracks me up to hear someone going on about not getting vaxxed because they don’t know what’s in it where they are prepared to snort some shit up their nose or drop a pill because their mate gave it to them without knowing what the hell it is.
Ambiguous. This means something is open to more than one interpretation. When our brothers set up an initiative to reduce our drug use, or to promote health literacy, or to give our wayward, mischief, hoodrat, rangatahi-ram-raiding nephews something positive to do – the young ones that Knox requests us to care for – what are we doing? Is this just a shiny front for the world to see, a racket? Are the brothers recruiting or diverting? Are the brothers sending these kids out to steal property and sell drugs or are they equipping them with life enhancing skills and knowledge? It is ambiguous.
When the Police recently busted a post-release hostel house and found firearms and a meth stash is this an example of the failure of aspirational rehabilitation or is it an example of very good policing? When a gang chapter espouses prohibition of methamphetamine, but a senior member is at the same time importing and dealing the stuff does this mean the whole crew are duplicitous frauds? These are examples of ambiguity. Is the glass half full or is it half empty? How do you handle that?
I have three little sayings when I face ambiguity– shibboleths they are called in te reo Pakeha – whakatauki in te reo Maori
Focus on the good – Tareha Te Moanaui
Assume the best – Abraham Maslow
You will see it when you believe it – Saul Alinsky
Now how do you nudge things in the direction of good? You apply values. Following the 50th anniversary of the Black Power the leadership met in council at Ngongotaha in May 2021.
Confounded by methamphetamine the Black Power had become disunified. Knockers asked “Do we come back together?” Mark Pitman said that if the patch features the fist, then we are one and indivisible. Mike Kaipo said we need to cease our internal bickering. Mike Te Pou said we need to rebuild our house and to build it as a Maori house, te whare e tapa wha. Bongee Mahauriki insisted that regardless of a chapter size mana whenua rule. We follow the wishes of the locals.
The young leaders of the Black Power ‘Nga Rangatira Hou” then came together in 2001 for waananga, first at Tauranga Ika Marae in Taranaki, followed by another at Wai o Turi Marae, again in Taranaki, and finally this year at Tarukenga Marae. The now reunited Black Power Mangu Kaha were reimaged as ‘Whanau of the Fist’.
The Rangatira Hou worked together to identify the values and a strategy that the Whanau of the Fist will need in this VUCA world through to 2070. The outcome was ‘Oranga Mana Ake 2070’.
Values are more useful than a set of rules. This is because they have differing importance in different circumstances. They can be applied to help make the best decision to support the kaupapa on a case-by-case basis.
The first required value for a member of the Whanau of the Fist is Pono. Be true to your word. Be straight up. Speak the truth even when it is unpopular and could be critical of the actions of another brother or sister. If we can’t be pono with one another, we might as well go home.
The next value for a member of the Whanau of the Fist is whanau (family). Put the whanau at the center of everything you do. On one hand true rangatiratanga means a reduction in your freedoms because you are compelled to do away with your freedom to do negative shit.
The commitment required by true rangatiratanga replaces frivolous and destructive activity with positive commitment to whanau. Positive activity.And here’s the paradox. commitment gives you freedom because you are not distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. You can stop listening to Police radio because you aren’t up to shit. You can stop worrying about who said some crazy stuff about you on Facebook because you don’t have time for Facebook. You no longer have to steam and scheme revenge.
Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus on stuff that matters. The new generation of leaders in the Whanau of the Fist have specified an action agenda for the next 50 years: Oranga Mana Ake 2070.
The desired new state of ‘oranga’ is headlined as “Tinana, Taonga, Matauranga”. Healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Assist the oranga of your whanau by developing warm safe, dry, healthy, affordable-to-live-in, whare.
Make sure your tamariki are literate, numerate, and broadly educated both in Te Ao Hurihuri (global economy) and Te Ao Maori (Maori world) – e tipu e rea.
Ensure food security for your whanau and other whanau through your own mara kai (gardens), ability to gather seafood, and farming livestock.
Ensure the economic security of your whanau by acquiring saleable skills and qualifications, being in employment, developing legitimate enterprises, and by building capital and assets.
Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.
The next value for a member of the Whanau of the Fist is Manaaki. Mana Manaaki. Look after each other. Uplift and support. Step in when required even if not asked or invited. Do so humbly. Do simple things that just let people know that someone cares, and that they are loved.
But bring everything to the table when required. You see it in practice here today on the marae, and we have seen it over the prolonged journey of Knox’s illness and eventual death. MG’s, whanau, and helpful members of other chapters, you make all us OGs (original gangstas) proud.
Kotahi. For the Whanau of the Fist, if you wear Te Ringa Kati (fist semiotic), regardless of your rockers, we are one, united, indivisible. Let no man tear this asunder. Support unity. Do not allow it to be eroded by petty bickering. United we stand, divided we fall.
We have another value amongst the Whanau of the Fist. Puawai. The relentless pursuit of excellence in anything we do. Sport, culture, business, academia, housing, health, running cool whanau friendly gigs, having fun. Everything we do!
Now that is each of the five fingers of the fist accounted for. But we have one value to go. This is the value that separates us from the Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army.
This value is Ringa Kaha, the preparedness to stand up physically to ensure the other values can flourish. That is the Fist itself.
I’m not promoting or endorsing violence, but the reality is that for the Whanau of the Fist, for the Blacks, just like the All Blacks, we must win the physical when required. We are who we are. We are tama toa, warriors.
What do you think the ritual at the marae is all about with the karanga (call) followed by the wero (challenge by a warrior)? Its not an invitation to do what you like.
Some marae are too scared to allow people wearing patches on to their marae. Why is that? Well generally its because previously people wearing patches have behaved disgracefully. And they have gone away unscathed because there were no warriors to protect their kaumatua and the mana of the marae. Do not tolerate disrespectful behaviour on marae.
We have seen here at Tamaaki Makaurau how warriors, even from seemingly opposing groups, are able to maintain their dignity and self-control and to enjoy that mutual respect that leaves each other’s mana intact. On this point its behaviours that count. Not colours. Not what you wear. Its not your get up, its what you get up to.
We are closer than we may first think, often through friendship, generally through whakapapa, always through shared humanity. I have six children, 18 grandchildren, and 10 great grandchildren. And wouldn’t you know it, all my great grandchildren have a mongrel mob father. That complex world again.
So related by whakapapa, or by kaupapa, we are one brotherhood in Aotearoa. Brother and sisterhood, on a paradise island simply struggling to be free, and to be all that we can be.
I’ve asked my brothers Tigilau Ness and Ross France to sing for Knox and to amplify the message that I have shared.
We have heard over these last few days that fatherlessness is a feature of our social landscape. Where there are larger-than-life fathers often their sons have been dominated by them and have had to live in their shadow.
These two OG brothers live in the shadows of their sons. Tigi’s son is Che Fu (famous NZ contemporary vocalist). Ross’ son is Kai Kara France (world ranked UFC fighter). There’s hope yet young fullas!
So, waiata (song), and a reading from Colm Toibin’s ‘The Testament of Mary’ and we will send our brother on his way.
He gathered around him, I said, a group of misfits, who were only children like himself, or men without fathers, or men who could not look a woman in the eye. Men who were seen smiling to themselves, or who had grown old when they were still young. Not one of you was normal, I said.
Yes, misfits, I said. My son gathered misfits, although, he himself, despite everything, was not a misfit, he could have done anything, he could have been quiet even, he had that capacity also, the one that is the rarest, he could have spent time alone with ease, he could look at a woman as though she were his equal, and he was grateful, good-mannered, intelligent.
And he used all of it, I said, so he could lead a group of men who trusted him from place to place. I have no time for misfits I said, but if you put two of you together you will get not only foolishness and the usual cruelty but you will also get a desperate need for something else. Gather together misfits I said, and you will get anything at all – fearlessness, ambition, anything – and before it dissolves or it grows, it will lead to what I saw and what I live with now.
Haere ra e te Rangatira Knox. Honoured to have been given a role in your exit journey. My aim was to make you proud but your whanau, and your brotherhood, more than equalled anything I could contribute. Aucklander (or is it to Ngapuhi) to the end!
Already miss you Knox.