Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori mourns former commissioner Tā Patu Hohepa

Tā Patu Hohepa 1936 - 2023. (credit: Jos Wheeler)

He maimai aroha ki a Tā Patrick Patu Wahanga Hohepa KNZM (1936 - 2023).

We are devastated to hear of the passing of one of the most prominent stalwarts of te reo Māori and a former commissioner of this tari. Our deepest condolences go to the whānau of Tā Patu Hohepa (Ngāpuhi, Te Māhurehure and Te Ātiawa), who passed away peacefully at his home in Waimā, Hokianga, aged 87. 

Māori Language Commissioner 1997 - 2007

Between 1997 and 2007, Tā Patu served as the commissioner for Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, promoting the Māori language and developing proficiency testing. Whānau spokesperson and broadcaster Julian Wilcox recalled it was he and his team that put te reo on the path it is now on.

Tā Patu advocated for te reo Māori to be seen as a precious taonga, accessible to all New Zealanders, which continues as the ethos of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori. 

Professor Rawinia Higgins, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori commissioner, says," The magnitude of what Tā Patu achieved during his tenure cannot be overstated. His commitment to te reo Māori is one of many reasons that the language is loved by many in Aotearoa."

In a speech delivered at the 2002 Ākona te reo exhibition in Wellington, Tā Patu urged attendees that the country needed to rethink its commitment to the language. 

"I think this country needs to discuss a much wiser language policy rather than thinking that stabilising and generating Māori speakers of Māori among Māori is the be-all and end-all."

Tā Patu advocated for the following, which reflected the state of the language in 2002: 

  • That Māori becomes the first language of all Māori.
  • That Māori language becomes the second language of all other New Zealanders.
  • That the official status of the Māori language be equal to the existing status of English.
  • That Māori be used in all schools.

"His legacy further cements our commitment to advocating te reo as a language for everyone," says Professor Higgins.

Tā Patu Hohepa at his poroporoaki following the end of his tenure as the commissioner of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, 2007. (credit: Te Tauri Whiri archives) 


Before becoming commissioner at Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, Tā Patu was a professor of Māori Langauge at the University of Auckland. He was the first to advocate for a marae at the whare wānanga. From the 1950s to the 1970s, he had various roles as a lecturer in Māori studies.

He penned a report on the Waitangi Tribunal's creation and repealing the Māori Affairs Act for the government in the 1980s.

He served as a member of Te Waka Toi, the Māori Board of Creative New Zealand, from 2004 to 2008.

He had a hand in leading the New Zealand delegation accompanying an exhibition of fifty portraits of Māori by pre-eminent painter Gottfried Lindauer to Europe in late 2014.

In the 2022 Queen's Birthday and Platinum Jubilee Honours, Patu was appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori culture and education. Making him Tā Patrick Patu Wahanga Hōhepa. 

Tā Patu Hohepa receives his Knighthood in 2022, pictured with Governor General Dame Cindy Kiro at his home in Waimā, Hokianga. (credit: Jos Wheeler) 


"Heartbreaking news for our people of Ngāpuhi who have lost a storehouse of knowledge and leader of Ngāpuhi." - Peeni Hēnare, Tāmaki Makaurau MP and minister. 

"We have lost another great leader for te reo Māori, a taonga in his own right. Advocating for all New Zealanders to have access to te reo Māori will never be forgotten." Ngahiwi Apanui, Tumu Whakahaere mō Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori.