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Thomas Wynne: A man of mana – A tribute to Fa’anānā Efeso Collins

Saturday 2 March 2024 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion


Thomas Wynne: A man  of mana – A tribute to Fa’anānā Efeso Collins
Columnist Thomas Tarurongo Wynne. Photo: CI NEWS/16040843

What is mana? At a funeral this week in Auckland where thousands attended, including many from our Cook Islands community, a man with mana, who loved God, his family and our community was honoured and laid to rest., writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

Earlier in the week, representatives of our three pillars came together to honour the mana of former Green MP Fa'anana Efeso Collins. Traditional leader, Pa Upokotini Marie Ariki joined alongside government leaders - Consular General Te Pini Keukarakia Mataroa, former Consular General Mama Rosie Blake and former MP and Minister Alfred Ngaro. And finally, the Ekalesia represented by Reverend Maka Tumu Makara - on behalf of the Cook Islands Religious Advisory Council.

The sombre gathering was a time to acknowledge the mana of this leader, community servant and advocate, and as we arrived a group left and as we left another group arrived. For days, people streamed in to pay their respects, their tears and laughter mingling with waves of sorrow, grief, and sadness.

I am reminded of the kama’atu which says, “Me oro koe, ka aru rai I to’ou ata – When you run your shadow will follow you”, and as we sat there, I asked myself what shadow do I cast as I run through this world and what shadow is left to those we look up to that lead our families, tribes, communities and government. Because it is this shadow, this shade that we leave behind that determines the mana of each and every one of us.

Some think it is because they hold positions of power that they have mana, some take power, some cajole power from others, and some believe they are simply entitled to it. But mana, is not found in the wrestle for power nor in the holding on to it at any costs or in the proud and haughty sense of entitlement that some presume. Mana is found in the shadow of service, in the shade of integrity and cast by the long warm rays of the Son of a God who loves us without condition, and in whose service, we can choose to surrender our lives to.

People are tired of leaders who are like dried bones, e ivi maro, that will not change or flex or give life to those they are supposed to support. They are tired of promises broken, because it is not your promises they remember but your character that gives them reason to give you mana. Mana is the invisible and yet so visible currency of leaders today and too often we have little reason to give them mana at all.

‘When the heart is kind, the ears will listen’, is one of my favourite kama’atu from Papa John Jonassen’s books – Me maru to ngakau, ka akarongo atu te taringa. How often we have wanted to sit under a kind heart, though kindness is to also speak truth as much as it is to speak love – because love corrects as much as it encourages. It builds a heart that is kind and courageous, a leader that knows the heart of their people and listens, listens and listens before they act. And when they act, they do it decisively and with, our dreams and moemoea cupped in their hands, and our voices saddled to their sides.

This week here in Aotearoa, we farewelled a man of mana, a man who loved his God, his family and his community, who wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power and who knew if we go, we go together or not at all. That if we get it wrong, we own it, fix it and keep going and who took little currency from the profit of position, power and prestige, and when he died filled a stadium, of those he touched with the simplicity of his generosity, humour, love and honesty, because that’s what mana does.

Efeso had mana, and when you see what it is, you also see what it is not. When you see what it takes to have mana, you also see what it takes to not have mana, and when you understand what mana with leadership is, it also becomes very clear what leadership without mana looks like also.