Ian Hugh Kawharu was born in Ashburton in 1927 and throughout his life took on many roles such as academic, professor, author, researcher, statesman and leader of the Ngāti Whātua iwitribe. He has been described as rangatira to all New Zealanders.
His education began at Auckland Grammar before he completed a BSc at the University of New Zealand (Victoria University, Wellington) in geology and physics. He then went on to gain his Master’s degree in anthropology at the University of Cambridge before completing a Master of Literature and Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford.
In 1970 he became the inaugural Professor of Anthropology and Maori Studies at Massey University in Palmerston North. He left Massey in 1984 and moved on to the University of Auckland to take up the role of Professor of Maori Studies and Head of the Department of Anthropology. During his time there he presided over the establishment of Waipapa marae and the carving and decoration of the meeting house, Tanenuiarangi. He also also helped to set up the James Henare Research Centre and became its first Director. He presided over the separation of Maori Studies from Anthropology in 1992. Sir Hugh left the university in 1993 and was made Emeritus Professor the same year.
Sir Hugh was an active and well respected academic who produced a large body of work. He undertook research in areas such as Maori welfare, customary title and the Treaty of Waitangi.
He also contributed to a large number of communities outside of the university. He was a member of the Royal Commission on the Courts, the Waitangi Tribunal, Board of Maori Affairs, Council of the Auckland Institute and Museum and Museum Trust Board, elected President of the Polynesian Society, consultant for UNESCO, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, the New Zealand Council for Educational Research and the New Zealand Maori Council.
Sir Hugh's many contributions to the public did not go unnoticed and in 1989 he was awarded with a knighthood and in 1992 with the Eldson Best Medal by the Polynesian Society. He was made Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, honorary fellow of Exeter College and Patron of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University. In 2002 he became a member of the Order of New Zealand and in 2005 received Auckland City's Distinguished Citizen Award.
Sir Hugh died in 2006. He was aged 79 and was survived by his five daughters Margaret, Evelyn, Lindy, Merata and Amokura.
Durie, M. (2006). Sir (Ian) Hugh Kawharu, obituary in 2007 Academy Yearbook. Retrieved from http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/publications/reports/yearbooks/year2007/obituaries/kawharu/
Ihaka, J. (2006). Ngati Whatua leader dies. New Zealand Herald, Sep 19, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1