Mātai Smith introduces his guiding light, baby Raekahu

Holding his late brother’s grandson brings bittersweet memories for the TV star
Mātai Smith holding baby RaekahuPhotos: Rebecca Grunwell

Mātai Smith struggles to get words out as the tears start to roll down his face.

Even four years on, it’s hard to recount the day he lost his brother. But it’s a story he wants to share – to pay homage to Hakim, who died literally on Mātai’s doorstep.

Mātai bought his house in Manutūkē, 13 kilometres south of Gisborne, only a year earlier, next door to his parents Whenu and Honey, and sharing a boundary with his aunt.

It’s his home town, where he and Hakim went to the same school, and spent weekends climbing the feijoa and plum trees.

Hakim had been working on his aunt’s fence and sat on Mātai’s porch to enjoy a beer when he had a heart attack. He was 41.

Mātai was in Gisborne when his brother’s partner Sam called from Hakim’s phone, screaming, “Come home now, something’s wrong with Hakim.”

He arrived to see first responders trying to resuscitate his beloved brother.

An old photo of Mātai and Hakim in front of a marae

“I knelt next to him and said, ‘You can’t leave us, we need you, we love you.’ But I realised there was no coming back, so I whispered, ‘I love you, brother. I promise I will look after the kids.’

“He’s got two beautiful children, my nephew Hakim who’s named after him, and Samara. She was 17. Hakim was 20. I had to let them know, that was awful. I just burst into tears.”

They are harrowing moments 47-year-old Mātai will never forget, made worse, he says, by hearing his mother howling that her son had gone.

“Mum used to say she would hate to lose one of us, so her worst nightmare came true. It absolutely rocked our world.”

Since that day, Mātai has become almost a father figure to his niece and nephew. He’s in awe of how well they’ve coped.

“Those kids are so selfless. They’re very much like their dad – so humble, honest and giving. Wow, the strength they have shown since losing their dad.”

The void the whānau has felt was eased a little in April, with the arrival of Hakim’s first mokopuna – Samara is now mother to Raekahu, who Mātai says is his brother reincarnated.

Mātai Smith holding baby Raekahu, sitting on a couch beside niece Samara and a framed photo of late brother Hakim.
Mātai’s so proud of his niece and “the strength she’s shown since losing her dad”.

“I see him in Raekahu. He is mauri tau – very calm and at peace. I couldn’t wait to get to the maternity ward. He was asleep, so I just put my lips on his forehead and said, ‘Papa loves you, Papa will look after you.’

“There were tears. There still are tears. Hakim is missing these significant milestones. We had Samara’s 21st birthday last night and while my brother was not physically there, in a spiritual sense he’s living on through his mokopuna, so it was a little bit emotional.”

Mātai often visits Hakim at the cemetery and plans to take Raekahu there soon. Meanwhile, he frequently tells this precious pēpē how wonderful his grandfather was.

Often people who learn how Hakim passed suggest Mātai sell the house and start afresh, but he would hate to lose that connection.

“He’s now my kaitiaki, the guardian of my house. That holds a special place in my heart. I’m out on the deck some nights and I’ll have a tear or two.”

Although he admits to being a little miffed that his brother’s spirit has visited other members of the whānau but not him, yet.

Mātai will give thanks and remember Hakim this week, on the most significant day of the Māori lunar calendar – Matariki. He will be joining Stacey Morrison for the third year to host the Matariki commemorations in Wānaka.

Mātai Smith holding baby Raekahu, with Mātai’s grandfather Mātai, dad Whenu and niece Samara around him
Giving thanks for baby boy Raekahu (from left) Mātai’s grandfather Mātai, dad Whenu and niece Samara. “I find comfort and joy every time I’m with him,” says the doting uncle.

Matariki is when the Pleiades cluster marks a new lunar calendar. The stars each have their own meaning, including Pōhutukawa, that honours the memories of people who have passed.

“Whenever I think of Pōhutukawa, I look to the stars and my brother’s always at the forefront of my mind,” Mātai says.

And Hiwa-i-te-rangi is the star that looks to the future, and Mātai believes that Raekahu is that hope and light.

“Hiwa-i-te-rangi has gifted me this taonga, this precious thing that I have yearned for since losing my brother. Raekahu is my physical connection to my brother. I just find comfort and joy every time I’m with him.

“Now I can appreciate what it must be like to be a parent when you are absolutely yearning to see this child at every chance possible.”

With whānau his priority, Mātai remains single and wondering if he has time for a significant someone to share his life with.

As well as managing Tūranga FM, he coaches cross-fit, manages a gym, is involved in kapa haka and emcees events.

And anyone special he does meet will have to compete with another significant male in his life – Raekahu.

Mānawatia a Matariki screens live from Friday, June 28, from 6am. Stream it on TVNZ 1, TVNZ+, Three, Sky Open, Whakaata Māori, RNZ and Iwi radio.

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