Page 1: Biography
Ngati Porou woman of mana
This biography, written by Pakariki Harrison, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Materoa Ngarimu was born at Maraeke, Whareponga, on the East Coast, according to family information on 8 August 1881, the first of two children of Tuta Ngarimu, a sheepfarmer, and Makere Rairi. She came from the senior lines of descent of the leading hapu of Ngati Porou, which included Te Aitanga-a-Mate, Te Whanau-a-Rakairoa, Te Aowera, Te Whanau-a-Ruataupare, Te Whanau-a-Mahaki, Te Whanau-a-Iritekura and Ngati Rangi.
After attending Akuaku, Hiruharama and Tuparoa native schools between 1888 and 1897, Materoa was sent to Hukarere Native Girls’ School, Napier, from 1898 to 1900. By 1899 she was a beautiful and very accomplished young woman being courted unsuccessfully by Peter Buck, a future Maori leader. Her elders had already matched her with John Marshall Reedy of Ngati Porou, and they were married on 19 May 1903 at Whareponga. They were to have nine children. Although John was employed as a storekeeper and five years younger than Materoa, he was already gaining a considerable reputation as a hard worker and knowledgeable farmer and stockman. Together they were to form a successful and influential team.
North of the Mata River, Materoa and John Reedy ran sheep and cattle and established a dairy herd of 200 pedigree Jersey cows, a shepherd’s cottage, a six-stand woolshed, a large orchard and 60 acres of oats and barley to make chaff for their horses. Each year around 600 Angus steers would cross the river on their long trek to the freezing works in Tokomaru Bay. They employed a permanent workforce from the local community to maintain the fences, keep down the scrub and plough the land on each side of the river.
Materoa and John built a beautiful homestead, Waitangirua, with large grounds, a tennis court, several maids, a gardener and a chauffeur to accommodate a lifestyle which attracted frequent weekend visitors and included house parties. South of the Mata River there was a private racing establishment, their own race-track, racing stables and a private trainer, B. J. Clements. Pakanui, a great favourite of Ngati Porou, was the great horse to emerge from the stable, winning eight major races in succession before his untimely death.
Materoa became a leader at an early age. Her rank enabled her to take a role that extended to the whole tribe and was of a kind usually restricted to men. In the early 1900s she took over from Tuta Nihoniho the responsibility of allocating through the Native Land Court over 30,000 acres of Te Aitanga-a-Mate hapu lands between Hikurangi and Whareponga to the different whanau. Her skilled oratory and her extensive knowledge of history, tradition and lore made her a formidable exponent and repository of tribal knowledge. It has been said that ‘to hear Materoa speak on a marae was an education in itself, not only for the uninitiated, but also for those who were knowledgeable’.
Apirana Ngata recognised her status and used her skills and energies among her own and other tribes. A considerate and generous host, she welcomed, entertained and farewelled important visitors to Ngati Porou. Materoa provided an ideal complement to Ngata’s political and cultural agenda and, together with other elders and rangatira, invariably accompanied Ngata on his journeys. She was well known throughout the country. In 1934 Ngata and others asked her to speak at the important hui at Waitangi to celebrate Lord Bledisloe’s gift to the nation of the treaty house site and to lay the foundation stone of the meeting house in its grounds. Materoa asked for vice regal assistance in keeping Maori 'customs and usages alive’ and the governor congratulated her on her 'wise suggestions’. At this venue, visiting tribes competed for the Materoa Ngarimu cup.
A composer and performer of waiata, Materoa Reedy was a valuable contributor to Ngata’s annotated collection, Nga moteatea, and in 1931 led a group of her people in recording more than 40 waiata for Ngata in Wellington. She was an expert weaver of whariki (mats) and korowai (cloaks).
Materoa Reedy was a staunch member of the Anglican church, and a supporter of the United Party. During the First World War she was a leader of the Eastern Maori Patriotic Association, which worked to raise funds for the rehabilitation of Maori soldiers, and in 1921 she received a medal for her work from the Prince of Wales. Her eldest son, Hanara (Arnold) Te Ohaki Reedy, also became leader of his people and served as captain in the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion until he was captured in Crete. Her nephew, Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu, posthumously won the Victoria Cross. The celebration of this award was held in Ruatoria on 6 October 1943 with about 7,000 Maori in attendance and Materoa made the principal speech of welcome. Her mother, Makere, was ill and died the next day after first touching the medal.
Materoa Reedy died in Wanganui Hospital, on 5 June 1944 after a motor car accident near Parikino. She was survived by her five sons and three daughters. Her husband, John, had died in 1937. The people of Wanganui erected a memorial stone with the simple inscription 'Te takanga a Materoa’ (The place where Materoa fell). Her body was escorted to the East Coast by the Whanganui leader Alex Takarangi and a large party of his people. At her tangihanga people from all the tribes in the land came to pay their last respects. Her body was interred temporarily so that she could be mourned on the return of her son, Arnold. Her mana and knowledge were passed on to him and her other children, and they mastered the waiata, the whakapapa and the history of their tribe.