Whakapapa is complex.

May 1, 2019

Prior to engaging in this year’s study, I have done a little background research into the whakapapa of my father’s maternal antecedents, who appear to descend from an Iwi in Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka.

It has been frustrating at times, as I have used many varied research strategies to attempt to unearth early generations of our family. My grandmother’s great-grandfather was an early settler in the Cook Strait/Wellington region, and it appears that his wife Annie was the offspring of a Maaori mother and a whaler.

Details are sketchy that far back in our history, so I have moved on to trying to locate the whakapapa that I have been told exists in a Blenheim archive; a piece of information relayed to me by Teremoana Sparks, who was at the time working on the Treaty Settlement claim for Te Tau Ihu, in Wellington. (This was over a decade ago…)


Reading Angela Wanhella’s detailed histories of inter-racial communities in Ootakou and Murihiku has been a very useful exercise.
Her scholarship in this area is impeccable, and grounded in her own whakapapa, explored adroitly in her first book In/visible Sight, including a photo identifying her grandmother. (Wanhella, 2009, p.139)

This book details the gradual loss of community suffered by the descendants of Ngaai Tahu whaanau living at Maitapapa, on the Taieri River plains. The earliest contact these communities had with paakeha was with shore whalers, from 1820’s onwards; the ongoing intermarriage between whalers and Ngaai Tahu led to assimilation of hapuu and whaanau into paakeha society, particularly with regard to the official censuses, which recorded “Maaori living as Maaori” vs “Maaori living as Europeans” when describing half-caste individuals. (p.107)

The official Government policy of the mid-19th century was to promote assimilation; for South Island Maaori, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy as inter-racial marriages continued in the second and third generation whaling families – who mostly switched to subsistence farming on Iwi and hapuu lands, after the collapse of the whaling industry in the Southern Oceans. (p.117)

“The colonial process of erasure, at work in the National Census, led to Ngaai Tahu being ‘assimilated’ into the general census on the basis of their similarity to their European counterparts…Yet this scenario is undermined by oral histories, which demonstrate that ‘invisibility’ was a strategy of survival, and it was only ever partial.” (p.143)

Wanhella’s second book, Matters of the Heart, expands her discussion of inter-racial marriage to the rest of Aotearoa New Zealand and documents a multitude of successful cross-cultural marriages that underpinned the colonial hinterlands, outside the main cities founded on mass migration of settlers post-1840.

“For new colonists, marrying into a world where former whalers were now established hoteliers, shopkeepers, millers and shipbuilders offered economic and social opportunities. Marriages to mixed-race daughters of traders helped newly arrived colonists establish themselves in the service trades in small communities, as shopkeepers, publicans & hoteliers well into the 1870’s.” (Wanhella, 2013, p.78)


This early advantage was quietly forgotten, further down the generations, as the land wars created bitterly divided townships.

“By 1864, six thousand military settlers were living on land confiscated from ‘rebel’ Maaori in Waikato and Taranaki. During the decades of conflict, ‘marriages between young officers and Maaori maidens were not infrequent’.”(p.85)

‘Passing as white’ became the norm, especially for fairer mixed-race women, who married ‘advantageously’ and became ‘civilised’ by the process, living in suburban areas and sending their children to schools in the cities.

“…the assimilative function of interracial marriage also relied on the man being able to bring the ‘native wife’ up to ‘civilised standards’, which was judged on her ability to speak English, her manner of dress, the cleanliness of her home and morality of her conduct.”(p.107)

Characterisations of ‘half-castes’ in the New Zealand census were integral to the ‘proving’ of the assimilation policy, especially from 1877 onwards. This was finally dropped after 1936, during the first Labour Government, who were focussing more on raising the entire nation out of poverty, than any eugenicist ideology. (p.128)


After the Second World War, social science revisited interracial marriage between the 1940’s-70’s, uncovering interpersonal racial discrimination in New Zealand society. After the publication of the Mazengarb Report in 1954, social scientists actively advised against cross-cultural marriages; there was a philosophy of encouraging stable family formation in the wake of the War, based on assumptions about race and identity. (pp.142-4)


Sociologist John Harre was a leading figure in the post-WW2 research into interracial marriage, noting a rise in interracial marriage among the Maaori population, which he attributed to economic and social policy shifts fostering Maori urbanisation “which brought increased opportunity for interracial contact, rather than a simple change of attitude alone.” (p.147)
The Hunn Report of 1960 also advocated integration of Maaori into New Zealand paakeha society; by 1964, Harre’s research was being published in the Department of Maaori Affairs Te Ao Hou magazine, and Hunn was one of his chief supporters. (p.161)


Along the way, many Maaori lost contact with their whakapapa, hapuu and Iwi affliations. By the heyday of Waitangi Tribunal Settlements Claim lodgements, most Iwi were researching their ancestors, and compiling lists of descendants who would be counted as beneficiaries of any claims; there was also an imperative to enumerate the exact level of population loss incurred due to colonisation and alienation from traditional lands and food sources.


Wanhella’s work in these books, and in her many Journal articles, helps to reclaim the whakapapa of many Maaori who became ‘hidden in plain sight’, with European names and loss of language and culture compounding their erasure from the public record.
She describes in detail sources and information retrieved to build up her picture of thriving interracial communities of the mid-19th Century in the South; much of her data comes from oral histories conducted with elder informants, listed in the bibliography of In/visible Sight. It is an invaluable resource as a template for how to do thorough research with a community of inter-related informants, using a kaupapa maaori research methodology.


Select Bibliography

Paterson, L., & Wanhalla, A. (2017). He Reo Wāhine: Māori women’s voices from the nineteenth century. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press, 372p.

Wanhalla, A. (2013). Matters of the heart: A history of interracial marriage in New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press, 231p.

Wanhalla, A. (2009). In/visible sight: The mixed-descent families of southern New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books, 208p.

Stevens, K., & Wanhalla, A. (2017). Intimate relations: Kinship and the economics of shore whaling in southern New Zealand, 1820-1860. Journal of Pacific History52(2), 135-155. doi: 10.1080/00223344.2017.1366820

Full bibliography available on her University of Otago staff profile:

One Response to “Whakapapa is complex.”

  1. Beautifully embraced and written

    You drew me into your mind and perspective extremely well and didn’t know it!

    Thank you

    I will re-read several times I think

    Guy (Turk) Puke-Mason

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