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Story: Ngata, Hōri Mahue

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Ngata, Hōri Mahue


Ngāti Porou; farmer, railway worker, workers’ camp supervisor, accountant, lexicographer

This biography, written by Whai Ngata, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Hōri Mahue Ngata was born on 8 August 1919 at The Bungalow, Waiomatatini, the home of his grandfather, Apirana Ngata. His father, Mākarini Tānara Ngata, a farmer, was Apirana’s eldest son; his mother was Maraea Mereana Baker. After his father died in 1929 his mother remarried, and as Maraea Te Kawa was president of the Māori Women’s Welfare League. He was born into Te Whānau-a-Karuai, Te Whānau-a-Rākairoa and Te Aitanga-a-Mate hapū of Ngāti Porou, and had links to Ngāti Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Rākaipaaka of Nūhaka and Māhia, and Rongowhakaata and Ngāi Tāmanuhiri of the Gisborne area.

Hōri Ngata was educated at Waiomatatini Native School and Te Aute College. On leaving secondary school he took up a farm cadetship at Horoera under the tutelage of Hēnare Dewes and later under Reupene Pāhau Milner at Whāngārā station, north of Gisborne. He married Mihihara Whakaara Ngārimu at St Peter’s Anglican Church in Whareponga on 25 March 1940, in a wedding celebrated by Poihipi Kōhere and Tūroa Pōhatu. Mihihara was a younger sister of Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu, who later won the Victoria Cross. The couple lived at Pōhatukura, home of the Ngārimu family at Ruatōria, and then moved to Te Pahi, near Te Puia Springs, where they were sharemilkers.

Ngata enlisted for the Second World War at Ruatōria on 18 May 1941. He joined the 28th New Zealand (Māori) Battalion and served in Egypt, and later under Colonel Arapeta Awatere in the Italian theatre. He was an intelligence officer, became a lieutenant and returned to New Zealand in 1946.

He then farmed at Pōhatukura until early 1947, when he and his family moved to Māngere Māori Workers’ Camp in Auckland. There his stepfather, Nōpera Te Kawa, and his mother were camp supervisor and caterer respectively. Hōri Ngata worked at the railway workshop in Ōtāhuhu until he became camp supervisor after Nōpera’s death in 1954. He held this position until the Department of Labour closed the camp in 1957. He then transferred to the accounts section of the Department of Education. He and his family lived in Pakuranga and he studied accountancy part time.

In 1960 Ngata enrolled in Māori studies at the University of Auckland. From 1962 he was a part-time lecturer in Māori, and continued there for nine years. He became a licensed interpreter in 1965, and through this work saw a need for a dictionary that enabled students to translate from English to Māori. When Māori studies was extended to stage three level in 1966, deed translation was included in the curriculum. No full English–Māori dictionaries were available, so Hōri prepared his own manuscript of translations for legal terms. This was later developed to form the basis for his English–Māori dictionary. He would dedicate his lunch hours and most Sundays to working on the word lists. These were compiled over 26 years from many sources including Ngā mōteatea , the Māori Bible and other Māori-language material. He worked this way until he and Mihihara retired to Ruatōria in 1979.

For many years Ngata had a passionate interest in golf, always wanting to become a scratch player. He was never able to achieve this but managed to get his handicap down to three. He was a member of the Grange golf club in Papatoetoe and the Kawhia golf club.

In Ruatoria Hōri Ngata served on the Waiapu County Council and on marae committees, where his accountancy ability was greatly valued. He encouraged young people to further their education and quietly promoted contact between the races, and intellectual discussion. With the assistance of his wife, and friends and family, he worked on the dictionary until editorial work began in 1980 under the guidance of Hōne Apanui. A working party of six people, the Komiti Arohi, was then established to help him with the manuscript. Its meetings, held at Ruatōria, Hicks Bay, Wellington and Auckland, were sometimes attended by Māori elders who took part in the work. Ngata’s English–Māori Dictionary was published in 1993, four years after his death.

Hōri Ngata died at Ruatōria on 15 February 1989, survived by his wife, his son and three grandsons. He is buried at Tūrangarāhui cemetery near Pōhatukura, where he had spent some of his early married life.

How to cite this page:

Whai Ngata. 'Ngata, Hōri Mahue', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5n10/ngata-hori-mahue (accessed 24 February 2024)