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Finding My Whakapapa

Finding My Whakapapa

Lt-Colonel Ian Hutson grew up in a Salvation Army family in a predominantly Pākehā cultural environment. He writes of the process and path he took in discovering and embracing his cultural identity and Māori heritage.

I seem to recall my family had positive impressions of other cultures, including Māori. Coming as I did from a strong Christian background, I had sung songs like ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…’—no matter what colour—‘…red, brown, yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight’. Not to forget The Salvation Army hymn that pointed to a time when people would ‘come from the east, they shall come from the west, and sit down in the Kingdom of God’ (SASB 1011); a hymn taken straight out of the Bible (Luke 13:29). A very impactful and aspirational song of inclusion and something we all probably thought we understood and practised fairly well. However, at the time, I only had a superficial understanding of what this might really mean or even who I was—my identity, my culture. 

Māori whakapapa

I seldom had an interaction on any deep or ongoing social level with Māori or other non-Anglo ethnic groups. I had many Māori friends at school, but I can’t remember visiting their homes, interacting with their world, or inviting them to our house for social gatherings. There were few Māori in my Salvation Army church community. You could say that the Māori world was not visible to me; this was all despite our family often talking about the fact that through my mother, we had Māori whakapapa. 

One foray into the Māori world came about when our family went to Hicks Bay on the East Coast for summer holidays for four years in a row. We worshipped at The Salvation Army corps (church) in Te Araroa which was a predominantly Māori congregation. The congregation operated within a very different cultural context than we did. The singing was so different: melodic, slower—beautiful. The wider East Coast world also operated differently. There was an easier pace of life, people riding horses bareback and the obvious predominance of Māori in the surrounding area. I met wonderful people there like Major Prowse, Captains Sam and Eva Medland and Nanny Brown—she impacted me immensely with her amazing smile, warm gracious manner and her coaxing me into saying ‘haere mai’ every time we met. Not to mention the deep Māori and Christian mysticism I noticed she had when she shared the kind of spiritual visions she experienced.

I didn’t know it then, but this was one of the last Māori Ministry corps remaining from an era when there was more Salvation Army work with a specific Māori focus in the late 1890s and early twentieth century. In hindsight, it was a real privilege I didn’t appreciate at the time. This was a glimpse into another world.

Introduction to whānau (family)

Later I met a Māori family in my Salvation Army ministry who invited me into their life. It was an absolute eye-opener for me. They involved me in tangi, unveilings and other social occasions. How Māori went about the process of tangi—even in an urban setting—was so different from anything I had previously experienced. I remember marvelling at how couldn’t I have known this completely ‘other world’ existed in New Zealand? It involved different values and practices based on a fundamentally different way of seeing the world. 

At that time, I saw Māori who had lost their culture and identity coming alive as they began to rediscover it. From a Christian perspective, as one person put it, ‘I knew God loved me, but now I knew he loved me as a Māori! Just as I was, not conforming to some alien identity!’

Gangs’ cultural identity

Some years later, I participated in an addiction rehabilitation programme for Mongrel Mob members and their whānau. Here I was confronted by individual histories of people who were taken from their families, placed in children’s homes and then, as one gang leader recalled, starting on a journey through borstal and on to minimum- and maximum-security prisons. Mostly Māori, these young men made this dismal and distressing journey with only one constant and visible kind of human support—the other young men who walked this same path; the same people they bound themselves to in solidarity in their gangs. In an imperfect way, they were seeking redemption from their lifestyle of violence, drugs and despair. They were so passionate about rediscovering their culture and identity. 

This encounter reminded me that the bicultural journey includes enriching discoveries of culture and people in ways that cannot be easily described—it must be experienced. However, it also comes with the pain of the huge fracture in racial relationships that has occurred and is too often perpetuated in Aotearoa.  

Looking back to move forward

My bicultural journey has been hugely impacted by hearing the gracious but clear voices of Māori outlining the history of dispossession, alienation and injustice that they have endured and continue to experience. My love of reading history has only reinforced this. I think that knowing our history is so important. It helps us understand how we have gotten to where we are. Too many people seem unaware of what has gone before, making the current tensions seem inexplicable or irrational. How can we progress forward unless we understand and acknowledge where we have come from? In many ways, my own family’s history reflects this fractured history. 

Thanks to my mother’s efforts, I eventually began to discover my Māori whakapapa. She discovered that it traced back to the Ngati Pikiahu-Waewae hapu based at Te Tikanga Marae in Tokorangi near the Rangitīkei River. My ancestry includes linkages to Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Raukawa iwi.

The family story behind the marriage of William Swainson to Ruku Te Kauki (my tipuna/ancestor) is intriguing and reflective of our bicultural journey as a nation. William’s father (confusingly also a William Swainson), along with other people, bought land in the Hutt Valley from the New Zealand Company in 1841. It was disputed Māori land that had not been legitimately purchased from Māori. This resulted in one of the first battles or skirmishes between Māori and Pākehā in New Zealand, which took place on the adjacent farm where there was a military garrison, owned by a Mr Boulcott. If some stories are to be believed, the older Swainson held a rather negative view of Māori from then on. This made it all the more surprising that his son, after moving to the Rangitikei area, would go on to marry a Māori woman. Having had several children together, William and Ruku parted ways for some reason, most likely because of external pressures causing hardening racial attitudes on both sides in the face of the Land Wars.

It was a moving experience to visit Te Tikanga Marae and meet whānau who (like me) descended from the marriage of William Swainson and Ruku Te Kauki and see the graves of Ruku’s whānau in the urupa (burial site); then visit the other side of the river and see the mansion owned by the Marshall family, descendants of William Swainson, and the church graveyard next door with the graves of the Swainson and Marshall families; my bicultural heritage.

My Salvationist and bicultural identity

My bicultural journey has also been interwoven into my Salvation Army ministry. I can think back to a Māori Salvationist Sally Rankin, who came to a Māori Ministry marae visit I organised for Salvationists in 1989. I can see her standing on the marae in her Salvation Army uniform saying that she had had a dream that The Salvation Army part of her, which meant so much to her, had come together on a marae with the Māori part of her, which also meant so much to her. I can still see her waving her rakau korero (walking stick), wearing her Salvation Army bonnet, outside the wharenui (meeting house) and saying, ‘Today my dream has come true’.

I am proud of who I am as a Salvationist with Pākehā heritage and culture, as well as my growing appreciation of my Māori cultural heritage and history. I, like Sally, desire to see our Army come together as one, but without looking to assimilate all cultures into a dominant culture.

I have been a part of The Salvation Army Māori Ministry for some time now. It is a precious aspect of my bicultural journey. I have learned so much about Māori cultural concepts such as manaakitanga and whakawhanaungatanga—concepts of hospitality, welcome, embrace and belonging in community; concepts so relevant and needed within Salvation Army ministry and fellowship—for all cultures.

There are and have been some incredible people doing important work in this area. What an amazing ministry—to see Māori Salvationists, volunteers, staff and clients in our corps and social services glimpse the possibility that The Salvation Army Te Ope Whakaora might embrace them as they bring with them their Māori culture, language and identity.

This Waitangi Day we can all reflect on how this journey has gone and is going. It shouldn’t be done in a way that glosses over the injustice and inequity Māori have and are experiencing. There will be pain and some anger. Honest and respectful dialogue is necessary.

We need to listen to each other and listen well. We need to enter each other’s world. It is like a marriage where both parties commit to sticking with it.

After all, Te Tiriti o Waitangi properly understood, is a covenant that binds us together in the sight of God.   

Prayer for Waitangi Day

Creator of all people,
we honour your glorious design
visible in our difference
displayed as your delight.

We are your people,
called to reflect your light and breathe life
wherever there is hurt and pain,
bringing hope and restoring mana.

May we hear your call to repentance,
for the grief caused by colonisation.
Grant understanding to those of us
who have not fully grasped
the true extent of our privilege.

Open our eyes and our arms, Lord,
that we may see and embrace your vision
for reconciliation,
and your longing for the healing of those
who have been wronged.

Open our ears and our hearts, Lord,
that we may hear and know your desire
that we love one another,
celebrating all you have made
together, as your body…


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