Remembering New Zealand Activist Des Ratima

September 9th, 2021 - by Liz Remmerswaal / World Beyond War Aotearoa New Zealand

AOTEAROA, New Zealand (September 8, 2021) — Hawke’s Bay activist Des Ratima died in late August at the age of 69. The following memorial comes from Ratima’s long-time friend Liz Remmerswaal, a fellow peace activist from Aotearoa. An earlier appreciation of des Ratima’s life and work was posted to EAW under the title ” A Leader Who Made a Difference.”

Evelyn and Des Ratima.

A Tribute to Maori Elder Des Ratima

Liz Remmerswaal / World Beyond War Aotearoa New Zealand

(September 8, 2021) — Kia hiwa rā, kia hiwa rā. Kua hinga te Tōtara haemata o te wao-nui o Whakatu.

World Beyond war Aotearoa New Zealand is heartbroken to report the untimely death of Maori elder Des Ratima, aged 69.

Des was a friend of our organisation and features in the movie ‘Soldiers Without Guns,” which will be screened during the September 18-19 International Day of Peace Virtual Film Festival. Des was scheduled to be a panelist in the discussion following the screening.

He was a 25-year veteran of the New Zealand Defence Force who took a leading role in helping integrate Maori culture into the New Zealand Army, something now entrenched in the armed forces.

“Soldiers Without Guns” tells the powerful story of how the bloody Civil War on the island of Bougainville was halted by a contingent of the New Zealand Defense Force that landed on the island carrying no weapons, armed only with guitars, the haka dance, and other instruments of peace.

Des took part in the cultural integration that was paramount to building trust with visiting Bougainvillean leaders as is shown in the film. When visiting New Zealand as part of the peace process, they were offered a traditional Powhiri or Maori welcoming ceremony, which included the Hongi — the pressing of noses and sharing of breath. They also shared in performances of New Zealand’s traditional Haka.

Traveling to the Pacific Island unarmed and using Melanesian cultural customs helped build trust within communities on the traumatised island.

Des said the Indigenous-to-Indigenous connection allowed trust to be built, which allowed people to have confidence that the peace was worth maintaining, despite the risk to their cultural integrity.

As Des said: ‘As the rebel leaders were preparing to receive their powhiri they could see the make up of the welcoming team. They noticed men and women, they noticed the different skin colours and said: ‘If they can work together then surely so can we.’

As the Secretary for Maori Development, Dave Te Tokohau Samuels said:
‘Des’ life was based around a wonderful mixture of aroha (love) and service. His aroha for his whānau (family), iwi (tribe) and faith were obvious for all to see and this flowed over naturally to the service that he unselfishly gave to Aotearoa New Zealand and te ao Māori (the Maori world).

As a former soldier, I stand and salute a fallen comrade who served his nation with pride, courage, and loyalty. As a Māori, I bow my head to a dignified and respected kaumatua (elder) who led his people well, who was public-spirited, and who did the very best he could for the betterment of Māori across the motu (country).’

Arohanui (love), rangimarie (peace), moe mai ra e (rest well), dear Des.

A mighty totara (tree) has fallen, you are irreplaceable but we shall step up and try and fill your big shoes, remember your beautiful heart and your love for justice in our community. 

Thank you for your visionary work. 

You are a true warrior for peace and we love you. 

•  A Soundcloud interview with Des is available here.

Liz Remmerswaal is the National Director of World BEYOND War Aotearoa/New Zealand, a Board member of World Beyond War, Coordinator of the Pacific Peace Network, and Recipient of the 2017 Sonja Davies Peace Award.

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