Ānaru Iehu Ngāwaka, more popularly known as Naru or Andrew Ngāwaka, was born in the Whāngāpē area of north Hokianga, probably in 1872. His father, Iehu Ngāwaka, a farmer, and his mother, Ngāneko Mare (Murray), later known as Mary Ngāhemo Ngāwaka, were both of Te Rarawa. Naru was a descendant of Ruanui and Nukutawhiti of the Māmari and Ngā-toki-mata-whao-rua canoes. His ancestral lines descended from the marriages of Waimirirangi and Kairewa, and Tarutaru and Te Ruapounamu. These lines connected him to many Northland tribes, including Ngāpuhi and Te Aupōuri, but he was principally of Te Rarawa. He was kin to the hapū Ngāti Hinerakei and Ngāi Tūmamao, but was most closely associated with Ngāti Haua hapū.
On 21 November 1894 at Whāngāpē he married Maraea Wētini of Ngāti Whātua from Te Pāraki. They were to have eight children. With other elders and rangatira of Ngāti Haua, Naru and his father supported education for the children and assisted with the introduction of formal schooling in the Whāngāpē area. They offered land for the schools and buildings and helped in their continuing maintenance.
Naru's interest in land issues probably developed as he travelled with his father, attending Native Land Court hearings from the 1890s. He was the first chairman of the Taitokerau Māori Trust Board and was known for his endeavours to ensure that Māori land was fully used. He stood unsuccessfully in 1914, 1919 and 1922 against Tau Hēnare, the sitting member of Parliament for Northern Māori.
Naru's public debates on the marae at Waitangi with Apirana Ngata over Treaty of Waitangi issues are legendary. This commitment to the upholding of the 1835 Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand and of the treaty had been instilled in him by his father and ancestors. He was a direct descendant of signatories to both documents, namely Pāpāhia and Te Huhu of Whāngāpē and Nopera Panakareao of Kaitāia. Occasionally, he appeared as an expert witness on land claims, and invoked Māori rights and obligations under the treaty.
The influence of Christianity in the region was profound from its formal introduction in 1827. However, the mana and tapu of Naru had such strength that one of his actions compelled some families to reconsider their membership of the Anglican church. In the early 1920s an unintended slight by Naru against a woman of Ngāti Haua caused most of the leading families of the hapū to change denominations. In 1923 they crossed the Whāngāpē Harbour to Pāwarenga for their baptism into the Catholic church. Despite Naru's attempts to apologise and effect reconciliation, matters could not be reversed.
Under the influence of the Reverend Hone Tana Pāpāhia, Naru was considered for ordination to the Anglican priesthood. He became the first Māori to be ordained deacon without first going to St John's College in Auckland. The ceremony took place on 12 May 1940 at Ōtīria marae, Moerewa. He was in his late 60s. Frederick Bennett, Anglican bishop of Aotearoa, conducted the service and had persuaded the bishop of Auckland, W. J. Simkin, that the ordination should go ahead. Naru was licensed to minister in the Māori district of Whāngāpē. Simkin did not, however, approve full ordination as a priest. He could not reconcile his views on what he considered to be tohungaism with the Christian priesthood. Naru had no such conflict and practised both Māori and Anglican forms of ministry, including healing. He travelled throughout New Zealand and had visited Rātana pā at its beginnings. Wiremu Rātana wanted him to be a minister of the new Māori church, but Naru declined.
Naru's wife, Maraea, died in 1941 aged 65. On 26 February 1944 at Whāngāpē, Naru married Ngārui Heiwari (also known as Ngāhiraka Rāpata). He was in his early 70s and she was 62. Naru Ngāwaka died at Whāngāpē on 15 August 1964 and was buried there. He was survived by Ngārui, and two daughters and two sons from his first marriage.
Naru was an acknowledged authority on whakapapa, Māori custom, illness and sacred places, the Treaty of Waitangi, and the Bible. He gained a reputation as a brilliant speaker and preacher in both Māori and English. His ability to heal and his gift of foresight are said to have come from his ancestors Tiari, Ere and Iehu. An advocate for the effective use of Māori land, he gained prominence as a champion of Māori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi. Like Ngata, Peter Buck, Te Puea Hērangi and Whina Cooper, he was one of the new generation of Māori leaders serving and leading their people into the twentieth century.