Sport 40: 2012
The photo my mother has of Henry Francis Eagar shows a thin and well-dressed man with a long straight beard that reaches to his chest. His pocket watch is prominent, his back straight. He stares into the distance with an expression that gives nothing away. With him are his daughter Riria and his grandson Keremete.
The day I look for Koro Eagar at the cemetery of Rangiätea Church, it is windy and cold, but not raining. It has been stormy for days, frequent thunder and lightning sending the dog spinning on her heels, barking madly as if to scare off her tormenter, hackles raised. As soon as we arrive, a light rain begins. We look at all the older headstones, especially the ones with clasping hands, of which there are many. According to my mother, Koro Eagar has this image carved on his headstone. A Rangiätea historian might be able to tell us the exact signiﬁcance of the relief carved handshakes, though the symbolism is fairly self-evident. Ötaki is a place where Mäori and Päkehä worked hard to establish community together.
We don’t ﬁnd my ancestor immediately, and the rain rapidly becomes heavy. My family take shelter while I continue my search. I go up the hill when I think I have exhausted other possibilities. The downpour becomes wild, sending biting rain at my skin. As the squall whips up around me I wonder whether I am being told to leave, but I am determined to look. I quickly survey all the stones on the hill and then begin my descent, looking at the last few headstones on the way. ‘Well, I give up,’ I say, when I reach my family. The rain has lightened. ‘Have you looked at that one?’ my partner asks, pointing to a monument behind me. I doubt it is Koro Eagar’s. We look towards the large freestanding obelisk-shaped memorial, separate but not too far from the other headstones. There are two hands clasped in a high relief handshake at the centre of the stone pillar. Better take another look. I jog over, see the words in Mäori ﬁrst: H.F. IKA. Then I know. It’s him.
I am surprised at how grand his memorial is. Perhaps this was why I didn’t look at ﬁrst. Sometimes a large headstone can suggest ostentatious wealth. But many things about Eagar’s stone suggest his memorial is indicative of high esteem, rather than pretentiousness. It reads:page 17
LOVING MEMORY OF
H F EAGAR
TENA KOE PAKEHA
E TAPU ANA TENEI HEI W HAKAMAHARATANGA MO
H F IKA
I MATE IA I TE 13 O AKUHATA 1911
On the plinth at the base of the memorial are the words:
HE TANGATA WHAKAPONO, AROHA HOKI KI TE IWI MAORI ME NGA PAKEHA TAE NOA KI TONA MATENGA HAERE R A KI TO MATUA I TE RANGI
There are two things that strike me immediately about this inscription. One, there has been much effort expended to tell this particular story about Eagar. He was ‘a man of faith’ and also had ‘love22 for the Mäori people and the Päkehä until his death’. Secondly, with the exception of the ﬁrst part of the inscription, the memorial is completely written in Mäori. Particularly affecting is the engraving of his habitual saying ‘Tena koe Pakeha’ inscribed above the handshake, which is almost three-dimensional and stands out in white stone.
Ofﬁcial records do not detail Eagar’s involvement with Mäori communities, apart from his status as secretary of the Ötaki Mäori Racing Club: ‘the only Mäori racing club in New Zealand, and possibly one of a few truly indigenous horse racing clubs in the world. . .’ He was ‘the most important individual in the early years’.23 He was also secretary to the early Ötaki Library, and:
Harry Eagar was the clerk to both [Te Horo and Otaki Road] boards, also secretary of many different concerns. Dust inside and on the page 18 papers of the shelves did not impair the efﬁciency of the clerk, nor dull the greeting of ‘Tenakoe, Pakeha’, which was usually accorded a local visitor. Eagar’s funeral, which took place on August 16, 1911, was very largely attended.24
Says A.J. Dreaver in Horowhenua County and its People: A Centennial History:25 ‘The Cyclopaedia (1896) called him “the veritable Pooh- bah” of Otaki.’
Ötaki at the time was a metropolis of 836 citizens. This might not be impressive now, but back then it had promising prospects:
OTAKI, the largest township since setting out from the Capital, is well situated, and near the sea coast, and although under Maori rule, as it were, is yet destined to become an important town for . . . the town and district have many elements of prosperity . . . [and] Otaki will become a resort for invalids, globe-trotters, and people seeking relaxation from the cares of city life.26
The community at the time was emphatically bi-cultural, perhaps more Mäori than Päkehä, and still retains a strong culturally distinct personality. There were shadows in Eagar’s life, as there are in any. I do not know what to make of the absence of his wife in our knowledge of him. Apparently he had caused offence to his in-laws, but I do not have the details of that, and with regards to some whakapapa, it is best to tread lightly over unsettled ground.
From the history I can piece together, I can’t say for sure what any of this tells us about Koro Eagar. We know him as the Welsh ancestor, though he was born in Sydney and his name is Anglo-Saxon. He was obviously a hard-working community man, but I can’t tell if I would’ve been on his side around the committee table.
What I am left with is a sense that he walked between two cultures, and that he did what he could to integrate both. He wasn’t like my older Päkehä Mäori ancestors—though he married into the culture and adopted the language just as fast. His was a world that was rapidly page 19 becoming Europeanised. Those that paid attention still did well by engaging and adopting Mäori views and ideas, by nurturing Mäori friends and families. Perhaps he was one of a new kind of citizen: one who could be accountable to both Mäori and Päkehä worlds. Rangiätea urupa carries testimony to this: a pointed memorial, hands clasped in friendship, the cheery greeting Tena koe Pakeha.