Te Piere Warahi found his Māoridom at 71 and at 73 graduates with a PhD

Dr Te Piere Warahi: ‘73 with a PhD’ NZ Herald

Te Piere Warahi (Ngāti Maniapoto) has an immaculate silver topknot, cobalt blue suit and red snakeskin shoes.

In Old Government House, Warahi starts the interview with his pepeha, something he wouldn’t have considered before starting his doctorate on caring for kaumātua.

The research on Māori caregiving, born out of his own experience caring for his mother, led to him rediscovering his Māoritanga, changing his name at the age of 71 and growing personally.

Many universities in New Zealand offer dedicated spaces to help support minority groups. Photo / Martin Sykes / NZME

Now, he describes himself, in beautifully rounded tones, as ‘73 with a PhD’, graduating in the autumn of 2024 with a doctorate from the School of Population Health at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.

“I started off rather arrogantly thinking I didn’t want too much of the Māori stuff. I wanted to appeal to a wider international audience,” he says.

“I decided that I was going to look at the absence of law that protected the rights of caregivers and so I did infinite research on that.

“And then I wrote a chapter which focused solely on the voices of the carers.”

The theme that came through all the stories was ‘care means love’, rather than the usual narrative of ‘care means burden’.

Associate Professor Marama Muru-Lanning, director of the James Henare Māori Research Centre. Source: NZ Herald

When Associate Professor Marama Muru-Lanning, director of the James Henare Māori Research Centre, read it, she said, “This is perfect, this is what it’s all about.”

The 13 participants were all kaumātua looking after elderly kaumātua, so the cultural element became important.

And the topic changed to the value of caring to the carers.

It all changed again in 2022.

“Marama and I had a 10-minute Zoom. She said, ‘Look, I’ve had a thought, I want you to anchor your work in cosmology.’”

Warahi had to research the tales of the atua, gods, which he relates beautifully in his thesis, and found they became the anchor stone of his thesis.

However, along with the aroha and service were grittier findings of elder abuse in the wider whānau, and the impacts of colonisation and marginalisation.

Carers were frequently an unpaid workforce as they carried out acts of service required by tikanga, culture.

Rotorua Hospital. Photo / Andrew Warner NZ Herald

Hospitals were culturally unsafe places which added to whānau distress at difficult times.

“All the interactions, all the aroha, all the antagonisms, all the strife between the gods and their families; I used those as an explanation of the things that were happening, both positive and negative, in my carers’ experience,” Warahi says.

This was important, because Māori are a spiritual people and they highly value connections, especially connections to tūpuna, ancestors.

It was at this time Warahi’s tūpuna gave him a tap on the shoulder and said, “It’s time.”

And so, he changed his name, from Edgar TPW Wallace to the one gifted to him by his grandfather.

“In the middle of my name was ‘TPW’, which was my Māori name. It was an invisible voice tucked away there between these two colonial pillars.”

From there Warahi retrieved his te reo, which he had heard spoken growing up in the chilly valley settlement of Nihoniho near Taumarunui.

“We were dead poor country bumpkin Māori and, at the time, didn’t believe that we had a great deal. But, as I grew up in the urban environment, I realised just how rich we were in culture.”

When Warahi’s whānau moved to Hastings, his parents encouraged the children to abandon their culture to get on in the Pākehā world.

“They didn’t want us to go through what they had been through.”

Young Edgar Wallace passed UE but with no encouragement to attend university or information about support and scholarships available to Māori, he went to work as a clerk for New Zealand Rail.

“Had things been different, I could have had an academic career, perhaps been a professor by now.”

Warahi moved into the property team and transferred to Wellington, where papers in planning led to a bachelor and a masters degree in property and planning from Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.

Then it was back into the workforce, working as a broker for an export merchant house before retiring 20 years later and taking up care for his mother.

He cared for his mother for more than a decade until her death.

“I just think it’s such a privilege to have served to the end. I just loved it,” he says,

“And then of course, that same year, I received Ingenio and this began my journey toward a PhD.”

On the cover of Ingenio was a ‘young girl’, Marama Muru-Lanning.

Warahi read her story and was impressed that she ‘ticked all the boxes of excellence’.

A fortnight later, Marama turned up at Warahi’s tennis club in Greenlane.

“I told her I had been looking after my mother and she said, “You would be a perfect fit for my research at the university.”

Warahi protested he was too old and Marama said, “Age has nothing to do with it.”

With Marama’s tautoko, support, Warahi had a successful business lunch with Professor Ngaire Kerse, gerontologist in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, who readily agreed to become Te Piere’s lead supervisor.

Now, years later, Warahi describes himself as ‘a pensioner with a PhD’, proving Marama right.

He is now considering a role as a researcher in the James Henare Research Centre, while enjoying the freedom of writing a novel, with no need for scholarly citations. Its hook; the 21st century birth of King David’s son.

Warahi takes every opportunity to speak publicly about his thesis, which he hopes will become an educational tool.

The population is ageing, while the Government is looking the other way, he says.

“There’s a saying, ‘a silver cloud is coming’.”

Warahi’s research with its korowai of ‘care means love’ takes the best of Māori and Pākehā thinking and applies it to this immense societal challenge.

- NZ Herald