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Āpirana Ngata at Waitangi

Sir Apirana Ngata (1874–1950, Ngati Porou) takes the lead in a haka (war dance) at the Waitangi celebrations, New Zealand
Sir Apirana Ngata (1874–1950, Ngati Porou) takes the lead in a haka (war dance) at the Waitangi celebrations, New Zealand 1940, Photograph by James Robert Snowden (1904-82), New Zealand, courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand (1/2-029794-F)
'The message of the Maori race to you is: we want to retain our individuality as a race. If judged by your standards, we fall short. Try and look at it from the Maori standpoint … does it matter very much whether we square up with the Pakeha standards or not? Are they so very good that we should square up to them?'
Sir Apirana Ngata, Maori leader and Member of Parliament, 6 February 1940

Sir Apirana Ngata (1874–1950, Ngati Porou) delivered this strong message to Pakeha (European New Zealanders) at the 1940 centennial celebrations at Waitangi.

The centenary marked 100 years since the British Crown and Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document. However, the official emphasis was on celebrating a century of British government and European progress here. Little attention was paid to the fact that the Crown had breached the Treaty in many ways. Maori had suffered from land confiscations, discrimination, and disrespect.

Ngata, who was a Member of Parliament, reflected on Treaty obligations and spoke passionately for Maori culture to be celebrated as distinct from Pakeha. Maori were not treated as equal citizens, he argued, even though they were serving their country in World War II.

Ngata had earlier been vocal in his disgust about government plans to sideline Maori in the 1939–40 New Zealand Centennial Exhibition. The government attitude was indicative of inequalities within the country.

Te Whare Runanga

Ngata led the main Maori initiative for the centennial celebrations – a project to build a wharenui (meeting house) at Waitangi. The wharenui was unique in that it incorporated carving styles from iwi (tribes) around the country – a symbol of tribal unity.

Te Whare Runanga still stands as an authentic expression of Maori culture and identity. It contrasts strongly with less realistic depictions of Maori from the time, especially those shown in the Centennial Exhibition.

© Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.