Story: Ngata, Hori Mahue

Page 1: Biography

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Ngata, Hori Mahue


Ngati 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.

Hori Mahue Ngata was born on 8 August 1919 at The Bungalow, Waiomatatini, the home of his grandfather, Apirana Ngata. His father, Makarini Tanara 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 Maori Women’s Welfare League. He was born into Te Whanau-a-Karuai, Te Whanau-a-Rakairoa and Te Aitanga-a-Mate hapu of Ngati Porou, and had links to Ngati Rongomaiwahine and Ngati Rakaipaaka of Nuhaka and Mahia, and Rongowhakaata and Ngai Tamanuhiri of the Gisborne area.

Hori 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 Henare Dewes and later under Reupene Pahau Milner at Whangara station, north of Gisborne. He married Mihihara Whakaara Ngarimu at St Peter’s Anglican Church in Whareponga on 25 March 1940, in a wedding celebrated by Poihipi Kohere and Turoa Pohatu. Mihihara was a younger sister of Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu, who later won the Victoria Cross. The couple lived at Pohatukura, home of the Ngarimu family at Ruatoria, and then moved to Te Pahi, near Te Puia Springs, where they were sharemilkers.

Ngata enlisted for the Second World War at Ruatoria on 18 May 1941. He joined the 28th New Zealand (Maori) 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 Pohatukura until early 1947, when he and his family moved to Mangere Maori Workers’ Camp in Auckland. There his stepfather, Nopera Te Kawa, and his mother were camp supervisor and caterer respectively. Hori Ngata worked at the railway workshop in Otahuhu until he became camp supervisor after Nopera’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 Maori studies at the University of Auckland. From 1962 he was a part-time lecturer in Maori, 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 Maori. When Maori studies was extended to stage three level in 1966, deed translation was included in the curriculum. No full English–Maori dictionaries were available, so Hori prepared his own manuscript of translations for legal terms. This was later developed to form the basis for his English–Maori 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 Nga moteatea , the Maori Bible and other Maori-language material. He worked this way until he and Mihihara retired to Ruatoria 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 Hori 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 Hone Apanui. A working party of six people, the Komiti Arohi, was then established to help him with the manuscript. Its meetings, held at Ruatoria, Hicks Bay, Wellington and Auckland, were sometimes attended by Maori elders who took part in the work. Ngata’s English–Maori Dictionary was published in 1993, four years after his death.

Hori Ngata died at Ruatoria on 15 February 1989, survived by his wife, his son and three grandsons. He is buried at Turangarahui cemetery near Pohatukura, where he had spent some of his early married life.

How to cite this page:

Whai Ngata. 'Ngata, Hori Mahue', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 6 June 2020)