I am the break in the chain. My mother and her mother were both adopted. Neither of them know who their fathers were, so I count myself lucky I have a solid sense of belonging. Despite this, my identity feels incomplete, the weight of unknown histories rest heavily upon me. I have found many missing pieces of the intricate puzzle, but how do they fit together?
My Māori heritage.
Chief Taiaroa. Respected leader of Ngāi Tahu.
Te Rauparaha. Feared warrior of Ngāti Toa.
My European heritage.
An estranged father, my grandfather. Foreigner.
Czechoslavakian. A name on a piece of paper.
Finding a people to belong to and a place to stand.
170 years ago, we began establishing ourselves as a country. The white man dominated the space, calling the land his own. From settlements came cities, from forests came farms and from communities came culture. We were born out of a melting pot of ethnicities – English, Irish, Dutch and Scottish, where immigrants stepped ashore this new, foreign land. Aotearoa, New Zealand.
I was brought up the ‘Pākehā’ way, my father’s side being predominantly English. We lived in the family home for a number of years, where please and thank-you’s were essential, with well spoken, rounded vowels. A dinner bell would be rung to call everyone to the table where bread, butter and tea was frequently consumed. I went to an Anglican primary school, prayers were said every morning and church was every Thursday. I enjoyed the idea of coming together, singing hymns and listening to biblical stories.
Mum was adopted as a baby, as were her five other siblings who were all from different families. Her adopted parents were farming folk who owned a large block of land out in Leeston. Mum has bittersweet memories from her childhood, but one in particular holds a certain significance. Despite being very young, she vividly remembers being at the Leeston showgrounds and watching a man walk past with his cattle – he had dark, weathered skin and bright piercing blue eyes. Many years later, Mum discovered that she was related to this old Māori fellow. Her adopted mother had known of this connection but she never been told.
Mum’s biological mother was also adopted, but the memories of her childhood are more bitter than sweet. Her adopted parents both had the English stiff upper lip, with two biological children of their own. My Grandmother didn’t know much about her background, but she was often scolded with the statement, “That’s the Māori coming out in you!” Upon moving out of an unhappy home environment, she fell pregnant with Mum to a Czechoslovakian man she had met when she was nineteen. My unidentified Grandfather wanted no part in it and was never seen again. Working two jobs and barely getting by, my Grandmother had no choice but to put Mum up for adoption.
It was Mum’s adopted sister’s wedding. I remember playing with my cousins as a child and wondering, “If they are my family, why do we look so different?” As I grew older, I began to understand how Mum and my Grandmother would have felt out of place. Over time, the need to fill this void has become more apparent. Despite my stable and happy upbringing, the circumstances of the generations before me have created a domino effect.
By engaging with the land and immersing myself in the things that surrounded me, my work has allowed me to retrace the footsteps that my ancestors once tread. Bloodlines is an ongoing project that documents places of cultural and historical significance associated with Ngāi Tahu Māori. The scrapbook produced as part of this work is an accumulation of photographs and concentrated research that are record of piecing together my whakapapa.