Volume 60 1951 > Volume 60, No. 1 > He poroporoaki - a farewell message, by Te Rangihiroa, p 22-31
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I first heard of Apirana Turupa Ngata when I entered Te Aute College in 1896. I learned that he was an old Te Aute boy who had earned a Government Scholarship which enabled him to take a B.A. degree at Canterbury University College. He later took his M.A. degree with honours in political science and capped this performance by taking his LL.B. degree. He was the first person with Maori blood to take a university degree and thereby prove that the higher peaks of Pakeha education could be scaled by a Maori. I made him my hero and determined to do my best to qualify for pursuing the trail which he had blazed.

I first met Apirana in 1897 when he visited the college to assist in the formation of the Te Aute College Old Boys' Association. I remember that he had a copy of the Polynesian Journal and that he discussed with our headmaster, John Thornton, a paper by Archdeacon Herbert L. Williams on the construction of the Maori house. Apirana had followed it up with a paper on the Ngati Porou methods of building. I did not know anything about the Polynesian Society at the time, but I was greatly impressed by this further proof of my hero's knowledge and scholarship.

The Te Aute Old Boys' Association was duly formed with the ambitious object of aiding in the amelioration of the Maori people, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It adopted the motto, “Whakatangata, kia kaha” (Quit ye like men, be strong). Apirana had been working in the law office of Devore and Cooper, Auckland, and Mr. Cooper, afterwards Mr. Justice Cooper, had predicted a brilliant future for him in law. However, Apirana foresaw the possibility of the Te Aute Old Boys' Association starting a renaissance of the Maori people if guided aright, and he gave up the law to become travelling secretary of the association. We Te Aute boys were provided with an ideal which we accepted with all the fervour of youth. Some of that fervour was our own, and some of it was inspired by our travelling secretary.

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As travelling secretary, Apirana visited village communities throughout the country. He stirred up the zeal of old Te Aute boys who needed a common cause. He preached the gospel of work and progress to the leaders of the tribes and to their people, and urged the co-operation of all in supporting the efforts of the young. He organized the first public meeting of the association in the Maori centre of Taumata o Mihi in the Ngati Porou territory. It was something unheard of for the young to be lecturing the old, but on the whole, our elders were kind and tolerant to the aspirations of youth. Some of the health measures advocated appeared rather harsh. The suggestion that the blank back wall of the meeting-house be pierced with windows to promote ventilation met with vehement opposition. Conservative orators held that as the back walls had remained blank throughout Maori history, any departure from ancient custom would bring disaster upon the Maori people. However, many recognized that a new era had dawned and they left to the younger generation what they themselves could not do.

The recognition of the aims of the association found expression in the words of a classical saying:

Ka pu te ruha, The old net is laid aside,
Ka hao te rangatahi. The new net goes a-fishing.

And so the new net was launched from the marae of Taumata o Mihi with Apirana Ngata as “Head Fisherman” directing the operations.

After the Taumata o Mihi meeting, Tutere Wirepa and I entered the Otago Medical School. During the six years I was away in the South, I saw little of Ngata, but I knew that he was the accepted leader of the young and had earned the respect and confidence of the old. During our student days, Maui Pomare 1 returned from the United States with the degree of M.D. The Department of Public Health which was established in 1900, appointed him as Health Officer to the Maori people. During this period, the Maori Councils Act was passed whereby the two islands were divided into Maori health districts in which Maori councils and village committees were empowered to enforce the model health - 24 by-laws which were gazetted. The machinery was thus provided for improving conditions which in the past had taken a dreadful death toll of the Maori people. Things were on the uplift and in order to advise council and village members as to their powers and duties, Apirana was appointed organizing inspector of Maori councils.

For many years Sir James Carroll had been fighting a lone battle to stay the wholesale alienation of Maori lands. His policy was to postpone matters so that there would be land left when, by experience and education, the Maori would be able to farm his own lands. This was the taihoa policy that was criticized disparagingly by those Pakeha who, for ulterior motives, promulgated the atrocious theory that the Maori was incapable of becoming a farmer. Many a prosperous Maori farmer today has reason to bless Sir James and his taihoa policy. What Sir James needed at the time was a practical uprising of the Maori people to verify the truth of what he had been fighting for. He needed an energetic young leader to stir up the people, and he found that leader in the person of Apirana Ngata. Sir James and Apirana formed a wonderful combination, Sir James with his mature experience and cool judgment, and Apirana with the energy and keen desire to produce practical results.

The economic development of Maori lands by Maori farmers needed legislation in various forms. The Maori readily realized the difficulties in his way, but the obtuse Pakeha needed further education to enable him to take a more enlightened and sympathetic view of Maori land problems. The most effective way seemed to be an active crusade in Parliament. The incumbent of the Eastern Maori electorate was old-fashioned Wi Pere who, like the other old-timers, required an official interpreter to translate English speeches into Maori and his own speeches into English. An active crusade needed a Maori member with the eloquent gift of both tongues to support Sir James Carroll by adding the energy of youth to the judgment of age. The time had arrived for Ngata to enter Parliament. Wi Pere had half-promised to stand down and “allow a new net to go a-fishing.” However, he stalled and Ngata had to oppose him in the general election of 1905. Wi Pere was defeated and Ngata, the crusader, entered Parliament.

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By this time, I had regained the main current of Maori life in the North Island by joining the Public Health Department as a Maori Officer of Health after a brief sojourn with the Native Department under Sir James Carroll. Pomare took the southern half of the North Island and I took the northern half. I visited Ngata's territory on the East Coast where I saw him in action among his own people, and on visits to Wellington I saw him at work in Parliament. I grew to know him intimately and we became life-long friends.

During this period, the Te Aute College Old Boys' Association had expanded into the Young Maori Party in order to include all who had the interests and welfare of the Maori people at heart. We continued to hold annual meetings in Maori centres at which Ngata was always a source of encouragement and inspiration. In the course of time the annual meetings were given up because the Maori people had become fully aware of the necessity for change and progress. However, the Young Maori Party did not die, for its members, throughout their lives, continued to put its teachings into practice to the best of their ability.

In Parliament, Apirana became associated with Hone Heke who represented the Northern Maori electorate. Heke was younger than previous Maori members and he spoke perfect English in a charming manner. He had a happy disposition not easily ruffled, and he was regarded as the best “stonewaller” in the House. Apirana and he were drawn together by a love of music. Heke had a pleasing tenor voice and Apirana had a good baritone. They amused themselves by interpreting the popular songs of the day into Maori and singing them over together. Among the songs dealt with were “Just One Girl,” “Sons of the Sea,” and “Soldiers of the Queen.” To these were added a classical rendition of “Home, Sweet Home.” An opera company played “Maritana” in Wellington and the number “In Happy Moments” attracted attention because of its pleasing tune. The Maori words were selected to fit in with the English tunes. I have used the word “interpreting” advisedly, because they did not follow the English text literally, but they substituted Maori expressions and idioms to improve the Maori versions. As a result, the Maori interpretations are often more poetical than the English - 26 originals. These songs, with an article on the poi dance, were printed by Whitcombe and Tombs with the title “Souvenir of Maori Congress” and under the name of the joint authors.

In the general election of 1908, both Ngata and Heke were re-elected. Unfortunately, Heke died early in 1909 before the new Parliament assembled. His loss was serious because he was popular with the Pakeha members and he possessed all the qualifications needed to advocate Maori progress. Sir James Carroll and representative chiefs of various tribes escorted Heke's body from Wellington to his northern home in Kaikohe. I joined the cortege at Auckland. Heke's mother in an address to the northern tribes, proposed that their debt of honour for the return of their son's body should be balanced by marrying their son's widow to a chief from the south. The proposal met with general support and the selection of a husband was left to Sir James Carroll. The proposal meant the gift of the vacant Northern Maori seat to someone from outside Heke's tribes, and it was both unexpected and startling. Sir James asked for time and next day, after a diplomatic speech which disposed of two political aspirants in his own party, he offered the name of Te Rangihiroa. I was utterly dumbfounded, but as the Ngapuhi offer was the most magnanimous ever made by any Maori tribe, I stayed dumb. Later, Sir James confessed he had wired to Ngata for advice and the prompt answer was “Te Rangihiroa.” And so it came to pass in due course that I was married to Heke's widow and entered Parliament to help Ngata fight the good fight.

The great accomplishments of Apirana Ngata, both in and out of Parliament, have been described in detail by previous writers and in the tributes paid to him by his colleagues in Parliament. I have been asked by the Polynesian Society's editorial committee to deal with other sides of his life. Apirana had an infinite capacity for fun and humour. On entering Parliament, I found that he was a prominent member of a small group who called themselves the Scarlet Pimpernels. I automatically became a member as successor to Heke. A book entitled “The Scarlet Pimpernel” had aroused great interest, and a dramatized version played in Wellington by a travelling company had evidently aroused the enthusiasm of Carroll, Heke, and Ngata.

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The Scarlet Pimpernel of the book was a courageous gentleman who delighted in helping people out of difficulties. The Maori trio decided to follow his example by helping Members of Parliament out of difficulties they might encounter on the floor of the House. They added three Pakeha members—R. B. Ross (Pahiatua), H. Poland (Ohinemutu) and H. J. Greenslade (Waikato). The Scarlet Pimpernels thus formed a very strong debating team and they became feared in the House because their efforts to help, more often than not, embarrassed the person they were ostensibly trying to help.

The office termed Scribendus by Sir James was allocated to me. When the members of the society decided to help someone, it devolved upon me to write him a note couched in courtly language informing him that the Scarlet Pimpernels were prepared to support him through thick and thin. The drafting of the notes was fun and they were usually composed by Apirana and myself. When the wording was deemed satisfactory, the seal of the society was affixed. The seal was a circular piece of white paper with a scarlet pimpernel flower on one side and gum on the other. The note, duly sealed, was delivered by Greenslade, our official courier.

It is curious that most of our offers, if not all, were not received with the appreciation they deserved. A member in charge of a bill for which he wished a speedy passage generally viewed with apprehension the prospects of a prolonged debate by the Scarlet Pimpernels in their desire to help the measure through. I regret to say that practically all the recipients of our offers to help invariably tried to bribe us by inviting us to Bellamy's 2 under the guise of gratitude. However, if we were assured that our sustained help was not really needed, we stayed our aid and accepted their hospitality. The tenets of our order were to help and to share. Thus while some of us closely accompanied our host to Bellamy's, others collected all the stray members they could find and brought them in to share our enjoyment of our host's reward for services not rendered. And so on diverse occasions, the Scarlet Pimpernels tried to brighten the dull hours of those who refused to be helped.

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While attending Parliament, Apirana took no exercise beyond unavoidable walks. His secretary, H. R. Balneavis, and I, tried to persuade him to play golf to which we were both addicted. Apirana characterized golf as “a form of marbles” and refused to waste his adult time on such a puerile pastime. However, we did manage to get George Forbes 3 and Apirana out to the Heretaunga links to a four-ball best-ball match between Parliament and the Defence Department. Arthur M. Myers (Auckland East) and I played together again a Defence pair. Apirana caddied for me and Forbes for Myers. At a short hole, Myers teed off with one of the worst shots I have ever seen. His shot went off obliquely in line with an intermediate stream. The ball, before disappearing into the wilds, sliced over the stream, struck the rough and, after a few wild hops, rolled over to the green where we lost sight of it.

One of our opponents played a perfect shot which stopped a few inches from the hole thus making a birdie 2 and a win certain. The other opponent and I played our second shots on to the green and there the three balls lay. Myers's ball was nowhere visible and our caddies searched for it on the far side from the green without finding it. Myers gave up and Apirana went to take the pin out before we putted. As he lifted the pin, he gave a yell for there in the hole was Myers's ball. Myers emerged from disgrace to immortality for he had holed in one. To get such an end result from an awful beginning convinced Apirana more than ever that golf as a game of skill was “out.”

In the general election of 1911, Apirana and I were re-elected, Charley Parata succeeded to his father Tame Parata (Southern Maori) and Pomare was successful in capturing the Western Maori seat from Henare Kaihau. We formed a good team—three with university degrees and one with a first-class licensed interpreter's certificate, and all speaking both languages fluently. The old-established position of interpreter to the Maori members ceased to function in the House of Representatives.

Through discussions among ourselves, we determined to take a more active part in the work which had been carried on by Elsdon Best, Percy Smith and other Pakeha lovers of the Maori. It was due to Apirana's initiative and our - 29 support that the Government established the Board of Maori Ethnological Research and the Rotorua School of Maori Carving. The Board was able to assist the hard-pressed Polynesian Society with grants of money to aid in printing its journal. The Ethnological Board was later merged in the Maori Purposes Fund Board and the carving school was transferred to Ruatoria.

As regards individual work, Pomare went into mythology, I attempted physical anthropology and material culture, and Apirana devoted himself to checking the origin and annotating corrected versions of classical laments and general Maori poetry.

Ngata's bibliography 4 does not provide any record of his unwritten activities in the field of what is now known as applied anthropology. In his constant urge to the younger people to retain their Maoritanga, he had to demonstrate in a practical manner what elements could be retained and preserved for continued use in this changing world. The most obvious elements in a culture are the material things. Apirana recognized, as I do, that the centre of Maori community life was the marae with its carved meeting-house. The carved meeting-house added dignity and prestige to the marae outside and the carved ancestors within created an atmosphere which was intensely Maori and spiritual. Without the carvings the meeting-house becomes a mere hall without a soul. It was to restore this fundamental feature of our Maoritanga that Apirana advocated the establishment of the school of Maori carving.

When he knew that supplies could be provided, he pushed the building of carved meeting-houses even among tribes which had lost the art of carving generations ago. The new buildings had to be adapted to modern requirements, such as glass windows, raised floors, higher walls and other details, but in spite of these, the carved gable front, the defiant tekoteko above, the carved wall posts, decorative panels, and painted rafters dominated the structure and restored the spirit and soul of the past. The carved meetinghouses and churches throughout the country are memorials to Apirana's life-long campaign to preserve our Maoritanga.

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On the lighter side, one of Apirana's assets was his outstanding skill in the Maori posture dances or haka. While a student at Canterbury University College, he won an Olla Podrida competition with a composition entitled “Scenes from the Past.” In reciting it, he demonstrated the dances described in the poems with perfect grace of movement and gesture. During the Maori Congress held in Wellington in 1907, he gave wonderful exhibitions of Maori dancing with his team of Ngati Porou in the Town Hall. The Wellington Savage Club invited him to appear on its programme after the Town Hall engagement was over. As it was to be a Maori night, I was put in the chair to preside over the evening's events. I remember stalling along until the chief performers arrived and when they did, I heaved a sigh of relief. Under Ngata's inspired leadership, the brown savages put on a performance that aroused the white savages to the wildest pitch of enthusiasm.

The haka, however, was not merely a pastime, but it was also a custom of high social importance in the welcoming and entertainment of visitors. Tribal reputations often rose or fell on their ability to perform the haka. The leader had to be an expert, who, by the timing of voice and movement, influenced the performance of his team. In the Ngati Porou gatherings of importance and the receptions to Royalty at Rotorua, it was always Apirana who led his Ngati Porou in giving finished performances. He was probably the best haka leader in all Maoridom. In his later years, he had to refrain from the more violent gestures of the haka. However, the spirit remained as was demonstrated on my last night in New Zealand in 1949. The Auckland Maori people were giving me a farewell at the Community Centre. Apirana sat beside me on the platform watching the commencement of a haka below. The performance lagged somewhat and a gleam came into Apirana's eyes. He stepped quietly down, took off his coat, and the next moment he was among the dancers. The effect on the young performers was magical. Apirana was the perfect teacher and his very presence restored confidence to the team which ended up with a performance worthy of their forebears.

The next day, we said our farewells to each other at the Whenuapai airfield, for Apirana was travelling home by plane. After our Maori goodbye in the reception room, - 31 Apirana went out, for his plane left before mine. As it was about to start, one of the boys called me to come outside as Apirana wanted us to have a last look at each other. He was standing on the steps of the plane with a smile on his face as he waved. I waved and smiled back, and we both stood perfectly still for a moment as we gazed across the intervening space at each other. It was a long look which carried a message of the love and affection which had existed between us for over fifty years of unclouded friendship. Then Apirana turned to enter his plane and I went inside to await mine. We had had our last look.


The following corrections are here included for Vol. 59, No. 4, December, 1950:—

  • Inside front cover—line 3 should read: “Apirana Turupa Ngata, 1874-1950,” etc.
  • p. 277—line 2 should read: “1874-1950”.
  • p. 280—line 23 should read: “first cousin Apirana Nohopari who is buried in the”.
  • p. 302—lines 22-24 should read: “was succeeded in 1912 by Te Rangihiroa who became the Maori representative on the Executive Council of the Mackenzie administration; and in a further change the same year, when Massey became Prime Minister, Te Rangihiroa gave way to Dr. (later Sir) Maui Pomare.”
1   Later Sir Maui Pomare (M.P. for Western Maori electorate, 1911-1930).
2   Refreshment rooms for Members of Parliament.
3   Later Prime Minister, 1930-1935.
4   See J.P.S., Vol. 59, Dec., 1950, pp. 347-8.