Rob Herewini, who played the role of Hana Kōkō at the Nelson Santa Parade last week, speaking with the Marae programme. Photo: Māori Television.

Man who played ‘Santa’ speaks out

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The man who appeared as Hana Kōkō at the Nelson Santa Parade has spoken out about the toll the saga has taken on him and his family.

Rob Herewini, who appeared on Santa’s sleigh complete with red feather korowai, told the Marae programme that the last week has been revealing about the nature of some people in the community.

Rob portrayed Hana Kōkō – the Māori equivalent of Santa Claus – after being asked by Community Arts to be part of the bicultural parade.

“I was just quite happy to go and represent our culture because it was all about biculturalism, that Santa parade.”

Rob works in the kura kaupapa at Victory School and volunteers for Community Artworks.

“What they wanted was a different Santa from the normal Santa you see. I was going to represent the South Pacific, the Māori community.”

However, the decision created a backlash, with many divided about whether it was appropriate to have a Santa Parade without a Santa and organisers were forced to apologise. It also prompted racism from some corners of the internet.

“I think a lot of people didn’t like the fact that there was a Santa that didn’t have a hat and a beard and a red suit,” Rob said. “As we were travelling down the street on the float you could see the shocked looks on the faces of people … people giving me the thumbs down and booing me.

“It’s been pretty tough with all the comments I’ve seen on Facebook. It’s been quite draining and it’s had an effect on my family.”

Rob said that a lot of his friends told him not to read the comments online but he couldn’t help himself.

“Some of them were pretty shocking. I’ve been in Nelson for 39 years, I didn’t really realise how deep the racism in this town flows.”

However, he said that he had come out of the other side of the experience. Rob said that he only did it to make people happy.

“It’s important to stand strong in your culture. If you have all these racist comments come to you, but you stick to your guns and see it through, you see that really they are just words from people you don’t know.”