Ngoi Pēwhairangi

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Te Kumeroa "Ngoingoi" Pēwhairangi, QSM (29 December 1921- 29 January 1985) was a prominent teacher of, and advocate for, Māori language and culture, and the composer of many songs. She spearheaded the Māori Renaissance in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[1][2]


She was born Te Kumeroa Ngoingoi Ngāwai on 29 December 1921 at Tokomaru Bay, on New Zealand's East Coast, the eldest of five children of Hori Ngāwai, a labourer and minister in the Ringatū faith from the Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare hapū of the Ngāti Porou iwi of Tokomaru Bay, and his wife Wikitoria Karu of Ngāti Tara Tokanui in the Hauraki region. She attended Hukarere Girls’ School from 1938 to 1941.[1]

Ngoi was a niece of Tuini Ngāwai, another prominent composer and promoter of the language and culture. In the early 1940s, Ngoi travelled around New Zealand in a fundraising drive for the war effort with the Hokowhitu-ā-Tū Concert Party. Her aunt, who founded the group, trained her in kapa haka performance and groomed her for leadership. She continued her involvement after the war.

In 1945 she married Rikirangi Ben Pēwhairangi of Tokomaru Bay. The only child of the marriage was a son, Terewai Pēwhairangi, but they fostered many other children.

Ngoi taught Māori language and tutored the Māori club at Gisborne Girls' High School for three years from 1973. In 1974 she also began teaching a course of Māori studies in Gisborne for the University of Waikato. In 1977, Kara Puketapu, the new secretary of the Department of Māori Affairs called on her assistance in setting up Tū Tangata, a scheme that targeted at-risk Māori youth in the cities, and attempted to connect them with their iwi. She continued working for the Department as an adviser, and was involved in the preliminary consultations that led to the establishment of the kōhanga reo movement, which saw children receiving their schooling in Māori.[1]

From 1978 on, she was an adviser to the National Council of Adult Education. In this capacity she promoted Māori language and culture around the country, especially in rural areas. She was the co-founder, with Katerina Mataira, of the highly acclaimed Te Ataarangi programme of teaching Māori, which was the basis of a TV programme and a series of books, Te reo (1985).

Among Pākehā who have heard of her, she is best known as the composer of the poi song Poi E, which topped New Zealand charts in 1984 in a recording by Dalvanius Prime and the Patea Māori Club, and sold 15,000 copies. She also wrote the popular song E Ipo which was performed by Prince Tui Teka.[1]

She died in Tokomaru Bay on January 29, 1985. Her tangihanga (funeral) was held at Pākirikiri Marae. A waiata tangi (lament) composed for her by Dr. Timoti Karetu was for a number of years the signature piece of the kapa haka group of the Te Tumu School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies at the University of Otago.

In 2016 she was presented with the Nostalgia Award from the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand, an award presented to an artist deemed not to have received suitable honours during their career.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d Ka'ai, Tania M. (7 January 2014). "Pewhairangi, Te Kumeroa Ngoingoi". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 24 January 2016. 
  2. ^ Ka'ai, Tania (2008). Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi: A Remarkable Life. Huia Publishers, New Zealand. p. xii. ISBN 978-1-86969-317-6. 
  3. ^ "Variety Artists Club of New Zealand Inc, 2016 Awards".