Ben Hana

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Ben Hana in April 2006.
Ben Hana in 2008.

Bernard "Ben" Hana, a.k.a. "Blanket Man", (8 February 1957 – 15 January 2012) was a homeless man who wandered the inner city streets of Wellington, New Zealand.[1] He was a local fixture and something of a celebrity, and was typically found on the footpath in the precincts of Cuba Street and Courtenay Place.[1]

Hana was a self-proclaimed devotee of the Māori sun god Tama-nui-te-rā,[2] and claimed that he should wear as few items of clothing as possible, as an act of religious observance.[citation needed] As a result, he would sometimes remove all his clothing, which resulted in the consequent attendance of police officers.

His name of "Blanket Man" was a reference to his usual mode of dress, which was a single blanket,[1] long dreadlocks and either a loin cloth or briefs. His activities and presence provoked a degree of public debate within Wellington.[1]

It's believed Hana chose to live on the streets after killing a friend in a drink-driving accident[3] as a form of self-penance.[4]

Early life[edit]

In the late 1970s Hana associated with the Black Power gang, living in Wellington, going by the name Bugs[5] and fathering two children.[3]

Judicial hearings and convictions[edit]

Hana was arrested and imprisoned several times for offences including public nudity[6] and possession of cannabis.[7] His criminal record reportedly ran 17 pages long.[1] In 1979, he was convicted of drunk driving causing death.[1]

Ben Hana visited the South Island for the first time in 2010, was arrested, charged and flown home after being provided with a shower and new overalls.[8]

In 2010, a judge ordered that Hana be made a mental health patient to be housed in Wellington Hospital's psychiatric ward 27, where "he will have clean clothes, regular meals, and no access to drink and drugs." In the same year he was released back onto the streets without any notable change in character.[1] In his later years he was a diagnosed schizophrenic under a community treatment order which allowed forced medical treatment as an outpatient.[3]

Local celebrity[edit]

With his distinctive look and high visibility location, Hana became something of a local celebrity. In general, he was tolerated by some shopkeepers outside whose premises he sat, and by passers-by, although there have been times of opposition from other shopkeepers. Also, on occasions when he decided to push the boundaries of offensive behaviour, police officers were likely to be in attendance. As someone who departed from the patterns of normal behaviour, Hana had become a figure of amusement, sympathy, disgust and even some academic interest. During the 2006 Rugby Sevens tournament, one costumed group appeared in dreads and blankets, mimicking his distinctive look.[9]

In media[edit]

Hana featured in several works:

  • 2012 Blanket Man tribute song created by Leon Mitchell, sung by Michael Murphy, recorded and released by ZM radio http://www.zmonline.com/player/ondemand/blanketman-song
  • "A Different Way of Life" by Marcelina Mastalerz, an interview with Hana
  • Te Whanau o Aotearoa — Caretakers of the Land, a New Zealand documentary film by Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones.[10]
  • In 2007 Victoria University of Wellington sociology lecturer Mike Lloyd and PhD student Bronwyn McGovern delivered a presentation titled "World Famous in Wellington: Blanket Man as contemporary celebrity" to the New Zealand Folklore Symposium[11]
  • "The man behind the blanket" The Dominion Post - Saturday, June 19, 2010 - Tom Hunt.[12]

Death[edit]

Hana, age 54, died in Wellington Hospital at 3:35 p.m. on 15 January 2012[13] of suspected viral myocarditis.[3] However, he was suffering medical problems stemming from heavy alcohol use and malnutrition.[14] A temporary shrine was created outside the ANZ Bank on Courtenay Place, a location where Hana could often be found. Messages were written on the building's facade, and flowers, candles, food and other items were left in tribute.

Among those who paid tribute were Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown and sports athlete Sonny Bill Williams.[15] His funeral was paid for by philanthropist Gareth Morgan.[16]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Hunt, Tom (19 June 2010). "The man behind the blanket". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 19 September 2011. 
  2. ^ "Wellington icon 'Blanket Man' dies". 15 January 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/8063784/Blanket-Man-died-of-heart-attack-inquest
  4. ^ "Tributes pour in - but who really was Blanket Man?". 3 News NZ. January 16, 2012. 
  5. ^ Trust: A true story of Women and Gangs. Pip Desmond. 2009. Page 22.
  6. ^ "Free if he wears his pants". Stuff.co.nz. 2009-01-01. 
  7. ^ "Blanket Man guilty on cannabis charge". Stuff.co.nz. 2008-01-22. 
  8. ^ "Blanket Man Flown Home". Stuff.co.nz. 2010-11-06. 
  9. ^ "Sevens group copy Blanket Man". Stuff.co.nz. 
  10. ^ "1/4 Te Whanau o Aotearoa — Caretakers of the Land". video.google.com. 2009-??-??. 
  11. ^ "Academic unravels Blanket Man". Stuff.co.nz. 2007-12-05. 
  12. ^ "The man behind the blanket". Stuff.co.nz. 2010-06-19. 
  13. ^ "Wellington icon 'Blanket Man' dies". 3 News NZ. January 15, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Wellington's 'Blanket Man' Ben Hana dies". stuff.co.nz. 2012-01-15. 
  15. ^ Tributes to Ben Hana
  16. ^ "Gareth Morgan to cover Blanket Man's funeral costs". 3 News NZ. January 17, 2012. 

External links[edit]