Dictionary fresh step in long trek
Whai Ngata spent four years completing the standard English-Maori dictionary his father started.
He toiled away at night after Hori, his father, died suddenly in February 1989.
Whai was born to the task: a great-grandson of the Ngati Porou visionary Sir Apirana Ngata, he grew up wrapped in Maori culture, tradition and te reo.Now, as retirement beckons, Whai Ngata plans to do it all again and compile a second edition of the H. M. Ngata English-Maori Dictionary.”If that’s not enough to keep me busy then I don’t know what will,” the 66-year-old says.
Next week Ngata leaves a 40-year career in journalism when he retires as general manager of Maori programming at TVNZ. It has been a long journey.When he started at the Auckland Star in 1968 the Waitangi Tribunal did not exist. He says there were just five Maori journalists. You could only dream of Maori being taught to primary pupils.The fact that Maori is now accepted as an official language of New Zealand means it has come a long way, he says.
“The advance of the use of te reo, when I started in broadcasting, was in the arena of protest. A lot of what we now have to choose to listen to are a consequence, in many ways, of that process.”Now, with the “normalisation” of the language through education and broadcasting, the audience for Maori programmes is made up of more non-Maori viewers than Maori.”This has to be a consequence of a much larger audience pool being able to choose from a large selection of programmes. I feel very comfortable with this.” But, Ngata says, there is still a journey to go. “Once all the issues that were subject to protest 30 years ago are no longer an issue and they are part of the New Zealand psyche, then we have arrived at our goal.”
He got into journalism to cover Maori issues. But in the early days all Maori reporting was about protest.”It was a lot harder to get the message the protesters were trying to make to be the story rather than the protest itself.”He switched to broadcasting in 1975 and was on hand for the big stories of the time: the 1975 Maori land March led by the late Dame Whina Cooper, the Bastion Pt evictions in 1978. He has covered “30-plus” Waitangi commemorations _ and got to Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s 50th birthday in London.Bastion Pt, he says, was a sad part of New Zealand’s history. “I wouldn’t want to wish that on our country again. But the things have had to run their course. In South Africa, processes had to run their course and in New Zealand, we’ve had to run it as well.”
“New Zealand is a far healthier environment for young Maori to grow up in today than it was 30 or 40 years ago.”Ngata thinks Maori programmes should be on mainstream as well as Maori television.”The funding agencies for the programmes are getting a bigger bang for their buck. The programmes are reaching two audiences. Some of the TVNZ Maori material has been re-aired up to four times.”He says anything that means people are interested in Maori TV other than “the All Blacks doing the haka” is good.
Stephen Stehlin, producer of TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika, has worked with Ngata for 21 years. He admires Ngata, whom he has seen in many difficult situations _ at times having to defend both TVNZ and Maori.”He is able to be both inside being a Maori and … outside being a Maori as well.He brought national identity to our screens.”TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis said: “Whai Ngata has been a rock in turbulent waters, and his guidance to us has been invaluable.
“Much of the revitalisation of Maori language and culture and its improved standing in Pakeha New Zealand has been the direct result of a handful of skilled, dedicated and passionate people like Whai.”
Ngata, who last year was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Maori broadcasting and television, says he looks forward to having at least a month of no cellphones or emails and sleeping in each day.