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Sport 40: 2012



When my first daughter was a baby my mother made a composite photo for her, comprising photos of six generations of women in her maternal line, uninterrupted since her namesake kuia in the early 1900s, our marae in the background. A powerful legacy in the face of which the story of male ancestors held much less fascination. Until last year. I was on the trail of another great-great grandmother, on the other side of the family. I soon discovered it was not her, but her father who held the mystery, for we could discover nothing of him but the name: Haimona—a transliteration of Simon, a fairly common name. Every other line in the whakapapa travelled back much further, origins and migrations recorded in detail. We think Haimona was Moriori. The obliteration of his history seems to support this theory.

Looking for Haimona meant exploring the whakapapa around page 9 him. I discovered more ancestors, more family stories now reaching back seven generations or more. It meant just as much to learn the women’s names as the men’s, but this time it was the stories of male ancestors that claimed attention. I had come to understand the kinds of lives my grandmothers had had. Their stories had dominated my imagination for a long time. I knew little about the men: what kinds of lives did they have? Why were more of them Päkehä than I’d realised, and how did they come to earn chiefly wives? And why did it matter to me?

A loss early in life can be a defining thing. If we want to go to the source of a person’s obsessions, it is perhaps best to take a journey through their early years. After all, some things, once taken out of a childhood, cannot be put back. For me, the picture of what a family or culture consists of was never complete. I hungered for stories of origins, and stories of how people make families. ‘Stories matter,’ says Chimamanda Adichie, ‘lots of stories matter’:

It is impossible to engage properly with a place or person without engaging with all of the stories of that place or that person. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of an equal humanity difficult. It emphasises how we are different, rather than how we are similar.2

And what if you don’t know all your own stories?

I took what I had learned about Haimona and all his in-laws, and I charted the whakapapa. I made copies of this chart and gave one to my mother for Christmas.