Reconnection with te ao Māori life-changing for Stewart

 Stewart Rehutai

Stewart Rehutai

Ko Hikurangi te maunga
Ko Waiapu te awa
Ko Horouta te waka
Ko Ngāti Porou te iwi
Ko Ruataupare te marae
Ko Stewart Rehutai taku ingoa

Getting back to his Māori roots has been transformative for Stewart Rehutai after having a stroke.

“I wanted to reconnect with my culture and to express my Māoritanga. I love to speak in te reo and it helps to re-stimulate my brain too,” he says.

Stewart grew up in te ao Māori in Tuparoa on the East Coast of the North Island. Te reo was his first language and it was all that he spoke at home with his whānau, which includes seven brothers, six sisters and now his own children and mokopuna.

“All I knew was Māori. My whole person and whole being was Māori. It was my world.”

This all changed when Stewart went to school, where English was the only language that was accepted.

“I went to school eager to learn. I wanted to learn English but my old man would growl us if we spoke it at home. It was very confusing.”

At the age of 12, Stewart was made a ward of the state and was sent to live with various families for the next nine years of his life. He says that this was a positive experience for him and that it set him on a good path.

“I was very fortunate because the people I lived with let the kids under their care speak Māori and English as well. I learned to live in two worlds.”

One of these families took Stewart to an A&P show, sparking an interest in heavy machinery that would become one of his biggest passions and his career. Trucks, cargo ships, bulldozers, diggers – you name it, Stewart has probably operated it.

“One I got the taste of driving a truck, that was it. I love machines. It’s the energy and the challenge. I have always liked to challenge myself.”

It’s not just in his working life that Stewart has looked for challenges. He has a black belt (5th degree) in Okinawan Karate and has undertaken various paths of study throughout his life. He is keen to further his education with a course in Māori culture or Māori anthropology.

“I enjoy studying and I’m interested in Māori history. I don’t really know a lot about my whakapapa but have found out a lot about my grandfather. I would like to learn more.”

Stewart is also a teacher of others, a role he has naturally fallen into at Rēhua Marae, where he acts as a kaumātua.

“People have come to me for help with their pepeha and more and more people keep asking. I also speak on the marae,” he says.

He is now sharing his knowledge through Hei Whakapiki Mauri - a project he became involved with through St John of God, where he has lived for the past two years.

Hei Whakapiki Mauri connects Māori with disabilities and their whānau, and Stewart says he enjoys the hui because they are a place where he can share his kaupapa Māori knowledge with other people who are interested.

“I want to be useful to people and I feel useful when I am standing up speaking in te reo Māori and sharing my culture.”

Looking ahead, Stewart would like to learn to sing again so that he can join in with waiata. He is learning to write with his right hand and is also determined to get his licence back one day and get out on the road in one of his favourite machines.