Let me acknowledge first that, in the whole of the world, I doubt whether any native race has been so well treated by a European people as the Maori –Sir Apirana Ngata, 1940

Dedicated from his school days to promoting Maori progress 

By Roger Childs

Apirana Ngata was from the Ngati Pouru people on the East Coast and he attended Te Aute Maori Boys College in Central Hawke’s Bay during the late 19th century. While there he was involved in financing Maori farms to advance economic development in tribal areas and he helped form what became known as the Young Maori Party. Other members included James Carroll, Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter Buck) and Maui Pomare. The group saw the best way ahead for Maori as being to take the best of European culture while maintaining the positive aspects of Maori tradition.

Ngata encouraged young Maori to become well educated and learn to speak fluent English to make their way in the world. He opposed Maori witchcraft, and along with Buck and Pomare, who were both qualified in medicine, supported the suppression of tohunga whose advice on health matters had killed many people in the villages.

Education and politics

From Te Aute Ngata went on to university and gained a MA and LLB before entering parliament as MP for Eastern Maori. He later became Minister of Native Affairs where, amongst many progressive policies, he promoted cooperative farming and the consolidation of small land holdings into more economic units. 

He was also a strong advocate for maintaining Maori culture and

  • collected Maori songs, chants, poems and sayings
  • brought the haka to life 
  • encouraged traditional crafts such as weaving and carving.

Although in younger days he had emphasized that Maori should learn and speak English at the expense of native dialects, Ngata later changed his mind on the use of language and from 1939 got behind the speaking of Te Reo as well as English. He kept in touch with the great Maori historian, Te Rangi Hiroa, who wrote The Coming of the Maori and Vikings of the Sunrise, and also wrote books himself. 

His short work The Treaty of Waitangi: An Explanation emphasized in John Robinson’s words that “the chiefs had handed the rule of the country to the British, to bring the rule of law to replace tribal anarchy”. For him the 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi was unquestionably a transfer of sovereignty to the British Crown. Speaking on the hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty he concluded that the Treaty “… on the whole hasn’t been badly observed.”

At the celebration in 1940 of the opening of the Waitangi meeting house he took off his suit jacket and led a spirited haka much to the delight of the large crowd. 


He was knighted for his service to the Maori people, was chosen to appear on the $50 note and also featured on stamps.

Despite the pathetic attempts of a few cancel culturists to discredit the great man claiming that he favoured his own tribe, created division in Maoridom and was too cosy with white politicians, his stature remains undiminished. The modern day Maori separatists would learn a lot from studying the writings of Sir Apirana Ngata. Compared to this giant of a man the detractors are mere garden gnomes.

Latter day Maori scholar, Professor Ranginui Walker, provided the ultimate accolade in 2001.

“Apirana Ngata was a student reformer, scholar, farmer. churchman, businessman, politician, developer of Maori farming, builder of meeting houses, father of the Maori Batallion, supporter of Maori sport, pioneer of the Maori cultural revival, teacher, poet, pioneer of sound recording Maori music, promotor of Maori broadcasting, supporter of education and fund-raiser extraodinaire.”

Today is the 71st anniversary of the death of this truly great New Zealander.