Page 1: Early life
Ngāpuhi; boilermaker, poet
This biography, written by Janet Hunt, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
Hone Peneamine Anatipa Te Pona Tuwhare was born on 21 October 1922 at Kokewai, a rural area south-east of Kaikohe, Northland. He was of Ngāpuhi descent, with connections to Ngāti Korokoro, Ngāti Tautahi, Te Uri-o-Hau, Te Popoto, Ngāti Hine and Ngāti Kurī hapū. Hone was the son of Peneamine (Pene or Ben) Anatipa Te Pona Tuwhare and his wife, Mihipaea (Mihi) Maihi, née Anihana (Anderson), who had Scottish and Te Popoto ancestry.
Hone was the middle child of five and the only one to survive to adulthood. He also had three older half-siblings from his mother’s first marriage: Hoana Puarau Maihi, Mingo Puarau Maihi and Eruera Puarau Maihi.
Hone’s mother died when he was five years old. In the late 1920s and 1930s, he and his father lived an impoverished, nomadic existence, initially around Kaikohe, and later in the Freemans Bay area of Auckland. Later still, they lived in Avondale, Panmure and Māngere. Hone claimed to have lived in 16 different houses by the time he was 13. His identification with working-class people and passion for social justice dated from these years.
Some time after Hone left home, his father married again. With his second wife, Mihikerei Renutai Uri Karaka Puhata of Ngāti Pāoa, he adopted a son, Tame Parata.
Schooling and language
Hone’s schooling was sporadic and he left after standard six (year eight), having passed his proficiency examination. However, his bilingual upbringing and early love of reading made up for his lack of formal education. As a young child he was immersed in Māori language through kōrero (talk) in his home and waiata (songs) and whaikōrero (speeches) on the marae. Although his confidence in speaking Māori faded as he aged, he strongly identified with Māoritanga.
He likewise loved English – from the argot of the streets to the solemnity of the King James Bible, which he read with his father. For Tuwhare, reading was the key to a magic kingdom, ‘a little like discovering sex,’ he later said.1 As well as the Bible, his writing had many influences, including popular novels, Shakespeare, poet Federico García Lorca, Marxist writers such as Christopher Caudwell, and the writings of New Zealand contemporaries, among them Noel Hilliard, Bill Pearson, R. A. K. Mason and James K. Baxter.
Hone Tuwhare was indentured as a boilermaker with New Zealand Railways from 1939 through the Second World War, and attained his trade certificate in 1944. He joined the New Zealand Communist Party in 1942. After the war, he served in Japan with Jayforce (the New Zealand troops that were part of the post-war occupation force in Japan) and saw first-hand the ruination of Hiroshima.
Marriage and children
Tuwhare married Jean Agnes McCormack on 13 January 1949 at Auckland. They moved to Wellington immediately after their marriage. Tuwhare was employed on the railways, briefly had a clerical position with the Department of Health, was active in the Communist Party of New Zealand, and mixed with other socialists and writers. The couple’s first son was born in 1952. In 1953 the family shifted to Mangakino in the central North Island, and later Te Māhoe in the Bay of Plenty, where Tuwhare worked on hydroelectric schemes. Twin sons were born a year later.