Golan Haberfield Maaka, also known as Te Korana, was born on 4 April 1904 on Oruawharo station, Takapau, Hawke's Bay. His father was Aritaku Maaka, of Ngati Hikatoa of Waimarama and Ngai Tahu of Takapau, hapu of Ngati Kahungunu. On his maternal side Aritaku was descended from Te Ori, who had attempted to kidnap the servant of the Tahitian interpreter Tupia (Tupaea) from Captain James Cook's ship, Endeavour, in 1769. (This was the incident that led Cook to give the name Cape Kidnappers to Te Kauae-a-Maui.) Aritaku's paternal grandfather was the great Ngai Tahu warrior Whangataua of Takapau, who in his old age held whare wananga at a place along the Manawatu River known as Te Ruamaire, at which Te Matorohanga and Golan's grandfather Maaka Whangataua were said to have been students.
Golan's mother, Annie (Ani) Haberfield, was the grand-daughter of William Isaac Haberfield, a whaler who arrived at Moeraki in 1836 and married Marian Tete (Teitei) of Ngati Rakiamoa, Ngati Te Atawhina and Ngai Tuahuriri hapu of South Island Ngai Tahu. She was the niece of the Ngai Tahu leader Tamaiharanui (Tama-i-haranui).
Golan grew up in Takapau and Waimarama where he attended the native school. One of his cherished memories was Halley's comet soaring over Waimarama in 1910. It was his dying wish to live to see it again but this was not to be. He was sent to Heretaunga School at Hastings where his teachers noticed his intellectual ability. At the age of 10 he went to Te Aute College. By the age of 16 Golan was an assistant teacher at the school, as well as continuing his own studies. After arguments with the headmaster, Ernest Loten, he left Te Aute and attended Dannevirke High School. He played in the First XV and matriculated in 1922.
Maaka enrolled at the University of Otago Medical School, where he wrote a preventive medicine dissertation on health practices at Ratana pa, with the help of his relative Turoa Karauria, a Ratana representative. (At the time, any publicity was frowned upon by T. W. Ratana and his followers.) He was stationed at Napier Hospital during the 1930s, and during the Hawke's Bay earthquake of 1931, he was involved in medical relief work and setting up residential camps for those made homeless. He served as an intern at Wellington Hospital in 1931, and completed his studies in 1932.
Maaka received his MB, ChB in 1937 and registered as a medical practitioner. In 1938 he resigned from his position as senior house surgeon at Napier Hospital, to join the Far East Relief Fund, set up under the New Zealand Red Cross Society and St John Ambulance Association to send doctors to war-torn China.
Maaka arrived in Hong Kong in July 1938, and was stationed at Ichang (Yichang) on the Yangtze (Chang Jiang) River. While providing medical attention to war victims, he was sometimes stationed on the munition ships of Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist forces. Medical problems included venereal disease, cholera, typhoid, malaria and malnutrition. Maaka learnt Mandarin, and studied Chinese medical techniques such as acupuncture. When the Japanese threatened to invade Ichang, Maaka had to head back to his base in Hong Kong, but because the main lines of communication had been breached he was taken west. He travelled by boat up the Yangtze River to Chungking (Chongqing), the nationalist headquarters, where he was given a document by Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Soong Mayling) guaranteeing him safe passage. After a long and treacherous journey he made it back to Hong Kong, where he was stationed in a refugee camp. He returned by boat to Wellington early in 1939.
When New Zealand entered the Second World War, Maaka applied to serve with the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion but was instead employed in November 1939 by the Department of Health as a venereologist and sent to Taneatua in the Bay of Plenty, where there was a high incidence of syphilis among the Maori population. He was nicknamed 'the Pox Doctor', which he loathed. In Whakatane he met Florence Ramari Oliphant Stewart of Ngati Awa, whom he married on 4 January 1941 in Taupo. He was then stationed in Northland at Kawakawa, to help eliminate venereal disease and tuberculosis and work with the district nurses to improve the general health of Maori in outlying areas. While in Northland he was also involved in a genetic survey of full-blooded Maori.
In 1943 he moved back to Whakatane. Here he spent 35 years as a general practitioner, one of the first full-time Maori GPs. Loans were hard to come by for professional Maori in the 1940s and new building was strictly controlled during the war, so Maaka was hard pressed to find funding and a practice location. His father-in-law, Albert Stewart, mortgaged his home and lands so that Maaka could buy a house. He set up his practice in his family home at 173 Commerce Street, Whakatane. He never charged for his services, claiming a sum from the government for every patient he saw, receiving payment from his patients in food and drink, and the honour of having his name bestowed upon new-born children. This system earned him the name 'the Cabbage Doctor', which he also disliked. He served the people within a 50-mile radius for 20 years until the district was divided between five doctors. He arranged welfare benefits and housing as well as travelling by horse and canoe into the Urewera forest to visit isolated patients.
When Maaka began his practice many Pakeha (and some Maori) did not believe a Maori could become a medical doctor, let alone supplant traditional tohunga with western medical practices. However, this view soon subsided. Maaka did not keep rigidly to western medical technique, but also used rongoa (herbal cures) taught to him by Tuhoe elders. He dealt with many cases of makutu by advising the victims to attend local tohunga he knew could cure them. During his career he became known as a master of diagnosis and an authority on skin disease.
Golan Maaka's busy practice left him no privacy, and little time for family life. He and Florence had three daughters, and a son who died in infancy – a terrible disappointment to Golan. He was a big man who inspired both love and fear in his patients. He held strong views and could be stubborn, moody, and sometimes violent and a heavy drinker. He loved fast cars and was a notoriously dangerous driver, had a passion for rugby and read avidly. Maaka collected whakapapa and became extremely knowledgeable on Maori and particularly Mataatua history. He gained much of his knowledge from his dealings with the old people of the district through his practice. For two years in the 1960s he was a Maori representative on the National Council of Adult Education but stepped down because of the demands of his practice. He wrote a discussion paper for the 1959 Young Maori Leaders' Conference on Maori health and its outlook.
Maaka never retired from his medical practice. Although he ceased working full time in 1976, he was still seeing patients until a few days before he died in Whakatane on 17 May 1978, survived by his wife, Florence. His tangihanga was held at Wairaka Marae in Whakatane and his body was laid to rest at Ohope. It is said that at his burial, two elderly kaumatua from Urewera gave their last money to Florence Maaka and exclaimed, 'Now that Maaka is dead, we go to the bush and wait to die’. The Maaka Clinic in Ruatoki, named in honour of his work for the people in that district, was officially opened shortly after his death.