Blanket Man

Esther Zorn
I saw the Maori Jesus

If you happen to be walking through Cuba Mall or Courtenay Place in Wellington, you might come across a man – a sinewy, vagrant, dreadlocked, Māori man sitting by the side of the road. It’s quite likely you’ve come across him before. “Blanket Man” is one of Wellington’s most recognisable icons.

You can’t help but put yourself in the shoes (if he had them) of this vagrant who sits before you, attired in nothing but a loincloth. His possessions seem to include only a bright purple blanket, an iPod, and the occasional peace pipe. Instead of inciting general disgust or revulsion, Blanket Man is a subject of intense curiosity. Though unkempt, he does not present a hygiene problem; he does not beg, he does not rifle through rubbish bins, he does not pleadingly raise his eyes to passers-by in mute helplessness. (However, he was forcibly removed from government steps by Winston Peters, who objected to the view from his office window, not to mention the desecration of our glorious city.)

You will find him jamming to music on his iPod (he likes rock music) and staring despondently at the traffic. He will smile at you if you smile at him. He’ll greet you and accept your cigarettes. It’s not only his apparel and attitudes that make Blanket Man a subject of such scrutiny, but also the fact that, since 2001, he has chosen to be homeless.

His name is Ben Hana. He subscribes to no system, eschewing especially the pervasiveness of capitalism with its consumer-producer values. Ben believes that social systems and social pressures are damaging to us, individuals who are misunderstood and undervalued by the system. Put simply, Ben is a non-conformist. He believes in the supremacy and healing power of nature, particularly the Māori sun god Ra, which is why you’ll often find Ben sunning himself on traffic islands. He believes no one should hold power, that power is the earth’s alone, and that all men are free to be free.

Ben is the homeless man with something to give. Ben’s fashion (or lack thereof) and his minimalist attitude toward life remind us in a roundabout way of some really important issues – peace and social justice. Ben gives a face and name to many of the increasing number of homeless who roam Wellington’s fair streets. So consider your material possessions. Then consider our very own Blanket Man, and take what you want from one who owns very little, Ben Hana.

When Esther Zorn isn’t researching Blanket Man, she can be found on park benches reading about ancient Greek gods.