The Space at the Edge

Down back of the paddock, close to the river, a tui has just sung three clear flutes, a sound that grounds every New Zealander in a contemplative mode. It’s time for some reflection in preparation for this blog. Living on the edge isn’t living on a precipice. Once you’re there you realize that’s there’s plenty of space, plenty of room to move.

Despite the ultimate victory intimated in the ‘resurrection’, Easter is pretty death-focused, just as the last couple of weeks have been funeral-ridden. These sad occasions have provided low valleys of emotion as a contrast to the generally uplifting peaks we’ve been enjoying in the Mokai Whanau Ora project, so the reflexivity encouraged by the tui’s birdsong is appreciated.

Jimmy Baxter used to reckon that attending tangi ranked amongst the ‘corporal works of mercy’ for the modern age (visit the sick and dying, visit those in prison, feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless are others I can recall). But sometimes events of mourning seem to come so thick and fast that they impact upon the very vitality of the living.

I cried when Eugene rang me to tell me that young Mauricé had killed himself. He was Zip and Barbara’s youngest son. His sister also suicided, only last year.  We buried his dad, Zip, in January of this. At the time Rob Paki and I drove up to Ruatoki to see the big guy off. In his day Zip was a nationally known street warrior.  But, in recent years a restricted social life due to dialysis treatment – itself a consequence of hard living – and the bitter fallout from an in-house feud amongst his old gang chapter, meant that apart from his whanau there were few friends by his side as we laid him to rest.  After Zip’s funeral service I spoke with his two sons and offered support on call.

The call didn’t take long to come. Housing New Zealand had decided to kick the whanau out of their state house on the basis that the tenant, Zip, was no longer in need of accommodation – the irrefutable but chilling conclusion of the bureaucratic mind. A bit of negotiation meant that the eldest son took on the responsibility for the house. A number of other supports were put in place as well. One might have thought we had things more or less covered.

And, so, when I received the news that Mauricé, the young man of the whanau, had taken his own life, and that the tupapaku (body) was already on its way to Ruatoki for burial, I could only cry, partly from deep grief and partly from intense frustration.

My heart wanted me to jump in the car and drive up to the burial service but it was too late to arrive at the marae before dark – a requirement of Tuhoe kawa – and my head reminded me that I had already committed the next day to the essential work of the living.

So, let me share these words to soften this young man’s rest.

E koe e Mauricé, e hoa, e te teina, e te tamaiti, e te taonga,

Takoto, takoto, takoto mai.

Haere ki to tuakana, haere ki to matua papa, ko Zip,

Haere ki to matua tipuna ko Hehu Karaiti.

Noreira, e te tama, haere, haere, haere atu ra.

To you Mauricé, friend, younger brother, son, treasure,

Rest easy, rest easy, be at rest.

Reunite with your sister, reunite with your earthly father, Zip,

Go meet your ultimate ancestor, Jesus Christ

Accordingly young man, farewell, farewell, farewell for ever

If Mauricé’s tangi was a micro event then the other funeral, the macro event of note was that extraordinary period of international focus on the requiem for John Paul II.

I sat in my shed at Waiohiki and, fortified only by pinot noir, watched the whole shebang on BBC TV. As an opening comment, let no-one henceforth complain about the length of a powhiri. Pope Gregory liked mucking about with time for sure, and Gregorian chant can surely make a usually brief word a very long affair. And I loved it. For a kid brought up with the Latin Mass this was nostalgia in trumps. As I communed with the watching world through the sharing of the pinot, I found myself responding to the prayers in Latin, and, as I communed even more I realized I was responding in Gregorian chant as well, even though I couldn’t remember exactly what it was I was saying. I thought the liturgical script was great; good old Psalm 23 the psalm of David, the reading from St Paul about taking on a new form and remaking our lives, and other words urging us to focus on love, to focus ahead; “the young; the future and the hope”. I know one could become virtually apoplectic about the duplicity of the papacy and all that, but, hey, as shows go, this was a good ’un.

And, no connection to the previous topic other than nostalgia (circa 1975), I had the chance in Auckland the other week to catch George Clinton and Parliament-Funk live. What a buzz. About 20 something musicians on stage, including legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell, a powerful horn section, multiple guitarists, drums and support percussion, rock violin, a chick on roller blades doing vocals, ‘Starchild’ in an adult nappy, ‘Mr Nose’ doing the pimp-daddy thing and George Clinton himself, at 64 now the repository of funk-wisdom; “Free your mind and your ass will follow”. Ain’t that the truth!

But, to heel D! Let’s speak of issues of more importance.

Election time produces some funny old behaviours. Normally I gird my loins for the election year crack down on ‘law and order’ with its usual swipe at gangs. But hey ho!

This time the media and political attack is on the Police; 111 failures, poor culture and unacceptable behaviours and so on. We need a well resourced and competent police organization and at the moment there does seem to be some dysfunction.

However the issue has been so politicised that it is difficult to come to rational decisions.

I gave my tuppence worth of input last week with a presentation at the Royal Police College (NZ) to a group of policeman who work in the field of gangs and organized criminal groups. I told them they need less focus – which can promote myopia – and more locus, a sense of place and context. This context needs to be located in the south Pacific, not in Scotland Yard or the FBI Institute. We need to develop our own analyses and not shoehorn our indigenous people into international paradigms of criminal activity.

An example of what I’m on about is the ‘Build Communities not Prisons’ movement being driven by the Napier Pilot City Trust. Each year this Trust holds ‘Unity Week’ in the period leading up to ANZAC Day. Besides honouring our war dead the programme includes a series of fora designed to celebrate and reaffirm a sense of community unity. Events are held to help inform people of local alternatives to conflict, to encourage development for flax-roots projects, and to provide support for local people willing to lead change.

The Pilot City fora promote social interaction, facilitate information-sharing and encourage community volunteers to realize their full creative potential by caring for one another. Rather than remaining isolated and independent the aim is to learn from one another’s experience by forming alliances, relationships of trust, and, through open communication, develop working bi-cultural partnerships in keeping with the spirit and values of the Treaty of Waitangi.

I’m going to contribute to one of the sessions at midday on Friday 22 April. Later in the day (at 3.00pm) the annual Robson Lecture will be given by social anthropologist Dr John Harreé and criminologist Professor Phillip Stenning. The topic will be “Napier the Social Justice Centre of  New Zealand ?”

Last time I left off the blog asking for at least spiritual support for the then upcoming Symposium with John Wareham ‘Self, Race, Drugs and Justice in New Zealand”.

It’s been and done and it all went well, so, not ignoring the impact of our own good planning and competence, thanks if you sent prayers or wishes or good vibes or however these things work.

In the weeks before the Symposium Edge and Mane had been doing their bit, Edge liaising with his brothers in the Mob, and Mane with his in the Blacks. Some of the responses from some leaders though seemed a bit ambiguous and it was enough to make me climb into the wheels and take to the road in order to get face to face affirmation of the kaupapa from enough key ‘pou’, leaders of significance.

We needed to ensure buy in (or at least get an agreement not to directly obstruct) from these opinion and influence leaders, some of whom (quite accurately) considered this event as a direct or indirect threat to their activity. Some individuals have been keen to keep the ‘p’ trade alive whilst others, some of whom may well have been involved in the trade in the past, have seen the destruction caused by this substance, and want to kia whakarite – put things right.

This ‘stakeholder relationship management’ took real effort and some delicate persuasion. Right up until the powhiri (traditional Maori welcome) on the Friday we were unsure as to who was actually going to turn up, but in the end we had a very strong and national representation of the senior leadership of the Mongrel Mob and of the Black Power.

John Wareham produced a book of readings, ‘The Heretaunga Transcepts’, especially for the Symposium. I’ve attached a list of the excerpts and their sequence of application;

Friday Evening

  • The Journey, Dante Alighieri
  • The Wayfarer, Stephen Crane
  • Iron Bars, ChandlerHaste
  • The Call, Shorris
  • The Blind Men and the Elephant, Saxe
  • Misguided Intellect, Wareham
  • Brain Blockers? McWhorter
  • The Little Self, Rabindranath Tagore
  • The Golden Eagle, Anthony de Mello
  • The Cave, Plato

Saturday Session 1

  • The Life Malcolm X Prochink Perry
  • Sonnet 119 Redemption, Shakespeare
  • The Recognition I Deserve, Haste
  • The Inferiority Complex, Alfred Adler
  • Snakebite, Max Phillips
  • Walking or Riding, Folklore
  • Michael’s Defining Moment
  • The Art of Failure, Malcolm Gladwell
  • Words, Ben Okri
  • The Panther, Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday Session 2

  • The Psychic Contract, Wareham
  • The Parable of the Lost Son, The Book of Luke Chapter 15
  • Listen and Obey, Hijack Co-ordinator
  • Inspiring the Troops, Lt General James N Mattis
  • One from the Flock Kenneth Johnson
  • Castrating the Magistrate, Haste
  • Parental Love in the 21st Century, John Suss
  • La Belle Dame Sans Merci, John Keats
  • Sonnet 129, Lust, William Shakespeare
  • The Services of Intoxicants, Sigmund Freud<
  • The Ring of Gyges, Plato
  • The Virtues of Lying, Haste
  • Addiction and Criminality, Joseph Roberts

Session Three

  • 7 Kokology Exercises
  • The 5 Defining Moments of My Life
  • The 5 Pivotal People in My Life
  • Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre
  • My 5 Most Critical Choices
  • The Other Person, Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Heavenly Chopsticks, Shundo Aoyama
  • The Essence of the Buddhism
  • Sermon on the Mount

Session Four

  • Industrialist and the Fisherman, Anon
  • Priorities Aesop
  • It Couldn’t be Done, Edgar Guest
  • A Message to Garcia, Elbert Hubbard
  • The Cat and the Fox, Aesop
  • When things go Wrong Edgar Guest
  • 6 Aphorisms
  • Excuse me while I be myself, Johnson
  • Why bother to be honest? Plato
  • The falconer and the Partridge Aesop
  • The story I’ll tell
  • The Red Heifer Harold Kushner
  • Things in our Power, Epictetus
  • Where happiness Comes from
  • What it means to be Human Ano
  • Lose this Day Loitering, Goethe


  • The Stranger Rudyard Kipling
  • The Waitangi Conundrum Claudia Orange
  • The Role of Modern Royalty, Chandler Haste
  • The Charm of Gangs, Mike Carlie
  • The New World Order Alberto Gonazales
  • Jungian Perspectives on Torture John R Van Eenwyk
  • Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl
  • To My Old Master Jourdan Anderson
  • The Ballot or the Bullet Malcolm X
  • Letter from Birmingham City Jail, Martin Luther King
  • The Oneness of the Human Race Nelson Mandela
  • Whatever Became of Integration? Tamara Jacoby
  • The Last Word, Edgar Guest

It may test your credulity to imagine some of our heavy looking brothers working their way through Plato and Shakespeare but it had to be. These excerpts were essential pre-reading. Forty books were distributed to the likely delegates and we set up reading support groups for those who had literacy difficulties. In the final outcome the book, ‘The Heretaunga Transcepts’ became the hottest property in Kiwi gangland. We had to get another ten books couriered from New York and make a further twenty copies locally.

Delegates and presenters turned up at Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga at 5.30pm on Friday March 4th. The Taiwhenua is a modern day health and social service centre as well as a tribal base and conference facility. It was formerly a huge pub – a booze barn – and its transformation into its present use was quite symbolic.

Prior to the karanga, the call of welcome from the women of the tribe, Mane and Edge called their respective roopu (groups) together.  The men were wearing their patches and gang regalia and this heightened the potential for conflict. The two leaders had their members individually greet each other with handshake and hongi, the ceremonial touching of noses and mutual breathing out so as to share each other’s air.  This established the necessary interpersonal respect for us to move as a single body into the venue.

A kaumatua (elder) Mr. Tom Mulligan led the papepae (the row of local male elders and speakers) and behind them sat a large representation of the local community.  Due to the important nature of the event and because of the presence of international visitors as well as a wide tribal representation amongst the gang members, there were a number of speakers, each accompanied by a waiata (song). When they had concluded it fell to the representatives of the visitors to reply.

Amongst the manuhiri (visitors) there were about fifteen senior members of the Mongrel Mob and some sixteen senior Black Power. About ten people from the broader community, men and women (mainly partners of gang members), were also in attendance, as well as Sir Russell Pettigrew and G arth Mc Vicar of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, a conservative law and order lobby group; Paul Stanley CEO of another tribe, Ngai Te Rangi; Hugh Lynn a tribal leaders and entertainment industry entrepreneur; and John Te Ngaire a member of the NZ Police.

Despite the karanga a large group of Mongrel Mob members would not enter the venue and waited outside in the carpark for their captain to arrive. It was a bit of a lumpy start.

The final stage of powhiri requires the sharing of food, and over a cup of tea the mixing and mingling began. After a short time John Wareham took his cue and began the first session.

John seated people more or less in a circle and outlined the programme for the days ahead, reiterated that the point of the process was to take personal responsibility for change, and proposed that we can make change through the power of big ideas, and the actions we decide to take based on those ideas.

John Wareham outlined the purpose of the Eagles Foundation USA by way of a parable about an eagle that is hatched in a chook house and thinks it’s a chook.

The bird sees an eagle flying above the chook house, admires the great bird, but doesn’t think outside the possibility of chookiness and so dies a chook.

The point of the transformation programme then is to assist a metaphoric eagle who is trapped in a metaphoric chook-house to become all that he/she can possibly be.

John introduced Joseph Roberts, former heroin addict, a ‘reconstructed felon’, Eagles Foundation president, and tutor at Rikers Island . Joseph spoke briefly about his belief that criminality and addiction are two sides of the same coin and summarized the presentation he was to give on the Saturday.

John began a discussion about being ‘snake bitten’, psychologically hurt and emotionally injured by some person or cause at a time when you were unable to do anything about it.  At about this point a large number of Mongrel Mob members came into the room. They sat outside of and away from the discussion circle. There was palpable tension.

And here the mastery of John Wareham began to shine. This is a very complex area to seek change in but John’s a very clever guy. Besides being a world ranked corporate headhunter and coach he has spent a great deal of time ‘pro bono’ at Rikers Island Prison, the largest penal colony in the world – it was here that he had developed the process outlined in his book “How to Break Out of Prison. Now John’s not a big bloke, in fact, relative to the size of the guys at the symposium he was just ‘a little Pakeha’. And, if relatively small stature is not disarming enough, John frequently stutters.

As the newcomers began to ‘stare-down’ others in the room John moved towards them, grabbing each in turn by the hand, introducing himself and evoking the response of the person’s name in return and leading them into the circle. Finally he reached the guy who was sending out the most aggressive vibes. John grabbed his hand, heard the guy’s name and asked, in a low and intimate voice, “Were you ever hurt as a child? Were you hurt when you were defenceless? When you couldn’t do anything about it?” and he pushed some more, “Were you?”

It was a riveting moment. It left no doubt as to who was in charge and that we were all in good and skillful hands.

By the Saturday morning the numbers had swelled to about 60 people all up. We had been joined by a Catholic nun, Tess, the prison chaplain at Paremoremo Prison, another chaplain from Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison, Harry Tam a governmental policy writer and Mob confidante and some more Mob members.

John worked through his process of helping individuals identifying their personal ‘imprisoning beliefs’ and acknowledging their patterns of ‘misapplied intellect’. We worked through the readings from the Heretaunga Transcepts, that assembly of ‘big ideas’ drawn from philosophers, thinkers and poets, ancient and modern. We worked outwards from the Symposium topic ‘Self, Drugs, Race and Justice in New Zealand’. The interaction was high. John had different participants present particular readings.

He was great at getting a response, fostering discussion and then moving on once the point had been made. We worked hard. Some of the seemingly most unlikely people expressed profound insight and the discussions were intelligent, intense, and engaging.

However, whilst the discussions were couched in terms of the particular philosophical concepts under discussion they were in fact essentially on about the issues of the day, ‘to be a criminal or not to be a criminal’, ‘to do whatever you like regardless of the consequences on self or family or to take responsibility for self and for your impact on others’.

The Saturday was long and hard. Attentions began to wane in the late afternoon but the final session was as spirited as it was honest. The mood had shifted. A Mob member, Francis, from Turangi had reminded us earlier in the day of the need to preserve tikanga (ritual) by way of prayers to start and finish. There is a strong capacity for te reo Maori amongst the leadership of the groups and so appropriate karakia were given by different members of the two gangs.

At breaks there were quiet discussions between and amongst individuals from the different gangs. Sir Russell and Garth were consistently talking with gang leaders, swapping cards and agreeing to follow up.

We had a kai and people chatted on through until about 7.00pm.

The Sunday morning was slow to start but by 9.30am we were up to our regular sixty participants. The big encouragement came with the arrival of Roy Dunn (Roy Won Ton) more or less the national president of the Mongrel Mob.

Roy had been actively encouraging his leaders to attend and had given strong support to the event even though some of his own members were currently battling with the Black Power in Auckland. Roy had been denied entry to board a plane because he had been wearing of his gang colours and thus missed his original flight.

His arrival put the final stamp of approval on the event as far as the Mongrel Mob leadership went. This, matched by the continued participation of Knockers Alan, probably currently the most widely accepted leader amongst the Black Power, ensured that the event carried the marque of authenticity.

John Wareham’s first presentation on Sunday was based on the life of Malcolm X and the lessons that could be derived thereof. This had a profound impact; the realization that the price to pay for truth and leadership with integrity may well be the ultimate price. We went back to Plato’s ‘The Cave’ and the exchange of ideas and insights became fast and furious.

We worked our way through a text on the Treaty of Waitangi and then through Martin Luther King’s ‘Reply from Birmingham Jail’ (Joseph Roberts noting that in his view the ‘crack epidemic’ had neutralized many of the gains of the civil rights movement, and, again in his view, methamphetamine was even worse than crack).

And then we were done.

The poroporoaki, the ritual of farewell, was beautiful, uplifting.

Leaders spoke form the heart and from the head. Hugh Lynn presented an African taonga to Joseph Roberts. The Mongrel Mob made presentations to John, to Joseph, and to Dr Ian Prior as ‘kaumatua’.

Finally, Johnny Nepe – Apatu, a senior member of the Hastings Mongrel Mob chapter, gave the closing address and a prayer for the safe passage home of all of those who had participated.

I hadn’t quite anticipated the media reaction.

We’d kept the weekend tabloids but allowed the cameras in for the final session. The Symposium was the lead item on TV3 National News and received substantial coverage on TV1 as well. Print media coverage was good and talk back land went ape, even if the bulk of the callers made aspersions about the purpose and integrity of the event.

In terms of follow up we’ve simply asked the participants to go home, to mull on their insights, and to take the actions they believe are necessary for them to become all that they can be, and to build a better future for themselves, their whanau and their community.

We don’t plan to bring in more psychologists or to hold more hui waanaga between the groups. We are encouraging and looking to create real outcomes, things that you can see, touch, count. These may be jobs or legitimate enterprises, they may be houses, they may be health, education and holiday programmes.

We want the focus to be on the various hard to reach and serve whanau that are connected to the gangs, not the gangs themselves. The gangs are the entry point not the point itself.

We still face a steep road ahead.

Amongst those that attended the Symposium will be people who today will be involved in the distribution and consumption of methamphetamine.  Despite this they will not be able to escape a twang of conscience, and, when they eventually hit the wall (as all P users do) the Symposium experience will reverberate and may assist them.

But there will be others who have been strengthened, reaffirmed, and better equipped to put things right by doing what they know they must.

But, yet, even in the midst of something we could well declare as a victory, the news came through that our new brother, Joseph Roberts had fallen ill on his return home to New York. The chest cold he thought he had picked up was more serious than anticipated.

What can one say?

While his pure image, fair and high,

The light of all men born to die,

Te Ra is flaming in the sky,

And thus my rambling letter ends,

Begging that he will bless my friends.

James K Baxter, Letter to Eugene O’Sullivan


Tags: Denis O'Reilly  Elections  Policing  Tangi  Tui  

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