Māori representative on haemophilia foundation graduates

05 May 2017
Te Whainoa Te Wiata

"Having excuses was never going to allow me to progress," says 33-year-old haemophiliac, Te Whainoa Te Wiata.

Whai, who has to inject himself everyday with a clotting agent to control his severe haemophilia A, graduates with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Linguistics and Māori Studies this week.

"If you are going to do something, then just do it, that's the attitude I run with," says Whai, who is co-leader of Piritoto — the Māori arm of the Haemophilia Foundation of New Zealand (HFNZ). "I can't be bothered with excuses."

He is also the national Māori representative on HFNZ and has been involved internationally in Affirm — a worldwide leadership programme for haemophiliacs. This has taken him to cities like Berlin, Houston, Milan and New York educating and building resources for haemophiliacs.

"We need to be very diligent in the way we look after ourselves," he says. "There is still a need for a lot of education around haemophilia."

Whai grew up across the Waikato river from Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia. His mother was in the army at Waiouru and he was brought up by his grandparents, who were loyal followers of Kīngitanga, the Māori King Movement. He spent much of his early childhood in hospital with bleeding joints. When he was four, he was one of many haemophiliacs who contracted Hepatitis C from contaminated blood products.

"I was lucky to survive, there were many boys who didn't."

With not much to do in hospital and a grandfather who was a talented guitarist (Ianui Te Wiata is still a member of swing band TPM), Whai quickly mastered the guitar. In his twenties he travelled overseas singing and playing with bands such as Cornerstone Roots and NRG Rising. He also played with King Kapisi at the Glastonbury Festival in the United Kingdom.

Whai was in New Mexico with NRG when he witnessed the extreme effects of colonisation and language loss. It had a profound impact on him.

"The last native speaker in one Pueblo Indian village we visited had died a couple of years previously. They said their language disappeared overnight. It scared me and I began to think I would love to do something to prevent that."

Back in New Zealand, he realised his own native language was on the decline.

"The old time Maori that I grew up with isn't spoken now. I decided I wanted to get a better idea of how I could add to its preservation. That's why I've studied linguistics."

Whai got into the University of Auckland under the Targeted Admission Scheme. He says "university has been harder than life."

"I'm using a completely different side of my brain. But I've loved it. The challenges, the people I've met."

He is now studying for a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Linguistics and would like to go on to a Master of Arts in Māori Studies. He is already a Te Reo teacher.

"But I don't feel like my work is done," he says.

"We have a saying in Māori: 'Mahia te mahi hei painga mo te iwi'." (Do what is needed for the benefit of the people).

"All that I do now is for the betterment of my people."

Find out more about studying Linguistics or Māori Studies