Page 1: Biography
Ngai Te Rangi warrior, farmer, orator
This biography, written by Steven Oliver, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Hori Ngatai was from Ngati He hapu of Ngai Te Rangi, and was born at Maungatapu, near Tauranga. His ancestry can be traced to both the Mataatua and Te Arawa canoes. He was the son of Tutahi, who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in April 1840 at Tauranga.
In the wars of 1863 and 1864 Ngatai supported the King movement. In August 1863, at the start of the Waikato war, he led a group of Ngai Te Rangi and Pirirakau warriors to fight beside the King's forces in the Hunua and Wairoa ranges, south of Auckland. He was at Otau, near Te Wairoa (Clevedon), when Waikato was defeated, and afterwards fought at Meremere on the Waikato River. Ngatai was at Te Tiki-o-te-Ihingarangi pa, near Cambridge, waiting for a British attack, when news came that troops had landed at Tauranga. He and other Ngai Te Rangi warriors returned home and defeated the British at Pukehinahina, or the Gate Pa, on 29 April 1864. The battle was notable for the sophistication of the Maori trenchworks and for the humanity shown to wounded British soldiers. However, on 21 June 1864 Ngai Te Rangi and their allies were defeated by the British at Te Ranga. Some laid down their arms at the British camp at Te Papa on 21 July, and others, including Ngatai, on 25 July. Ngatai addressed the second surrender ceremony and said that Ngai Te Rangi would never return to warfare: 'Let there be peace in the land.' When Pirirakau and some Ngai Te Rangi supported Tauranga Hauhau in 1867, Ngatai was issued with arms by the government, but did not participate in the campaign against them.
After the wars Ngatai committed himself to maintaining his tribe's ancestral rights and to promoting understanding between Maori and Pakeha. He developed a marae at Whareroa, a well-used staging post for travellers, opposite Te Papa mission station. Close to the water he built a meeting house, which was opened in 1873. It was named Rauru Kitahi, after an ancestor famous for never breaking his word; Rauru Kitahi had also been a rallying cry during the Gate Pa battle. Ngatai would not allow alcohol to be brought into his settlement and often spoke against its use. With local settlers he sat as a commissioner of the Tauranga and Te Papa licensing districts.
In 1866 Ngatai and other Ngai Te Rangi had sold the Katikati and Te Puna blocks for £7,700. Some 6,000 acres of good agricultural land were set aside for reserves. At Whareroa Ngatai became a highly successful farmer and for years was the largest producer of wheat and maize in the Tauranga district. By 1888 he was planning a mill on the Wairoa River, west of the town settlement.
As a leader of Ngai Te Rangi, Ngatai acted as spokesman for his people. He was the tribe's correspondent with the Maori King. At numerous meetings with government officials he defended Ngai Te Rangi rights. He also expressed his personal irritation with anomalies arising from general legislation and from local government action. Rates levied on Maori landowners holding a Crown grant particularly annoyed him, because he was one of the few affected at Tauranga. In February 1885, at a meeting with John Ballance, minister of native affairs, Ngatai expressed his concern about fishing rights: 'I…look upon the land below high-water mark as being part of my own garden…. My mana over these places has never been taken away…. But now, in consequence of the word of the Europeans that all the land below high-water mark belongs to the Queen, people have trampled upon our ancient Maori customs'. Ngatai told Ballance that Maori custom should be upheld; the Tauranga Harbour had been apportioned to various hapu and the Queen's sovereignty should 'remain out in the deep water away beyond Tuhua [Mayor Island]'.
Ngatai married three times. His first wife was Kimi, who had six children – Heeni, Te Reweti, Te Wetini, Ngahuia, Puha and Te Tatau; his second wife, Hohi, had Enoka; Waiari, his third wife, had Ratapu, Hirini and Makere.
Hori Ngatai died on 24 August 1912 at his home at Whareroa. He was thought to be in his late 80s. He is buried on the site of Otamataha pa which became the mission cemetery at Tauranga. The site is marked by a granite monument, erected by the government and the Maori people of Tauranga, and unveiled in August 1920. A large gathering of Maori and Pakeha expressed their respect for Ngatai. A life-size portrait of the leader was unveiled at the same time. A tall, square-shouldered man with a short beard, Hori Ngatai was tattooed on his cheeks and chin with the patterns known as rerepehi and kauae, and on his nostrils with pongiangia. He wrote an account of the battle of the Gate Pa which appeared in Gilbert Mair's work, The story of Gate Pa, published in 1926.