Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Heritage and home

This Waitangi Day, when politics and dissension seem to rule the news, I spent the day contemplating my Pakeha family's existence in New Zealand.

I gave thanks to all of my ancestors who make the choice, for whatever reasons, to start a new life in a new land. And I thought about them and their lives - and the lives of their descendants, shaped by our home.

I thanked them for making their choices that led to here. The choices that enabled me to enjoy a day in the sun,  in a climate that is temperate, in my pyjamas, in a house that is warm, a house financed by a job that I love and which pays me well - thanks to my education (oh, and experience, a result of age...).

My mother is a first-generation New Zealander. Her father's father used to take her out walking the fields around his home in Onehunga, enjoining her to breathe deeply of the clean air, something that was obviously lacking in his native England.

I calculated how many generations of my direct family - through the paternal line - have been born in New Zealand, mostly in Auckland. We're up to six now. Sarah M arrived in New Zealand from Ireland in 1840.
  1. Her daughter, Sarah N (#1), was born in Auckland and married a fellow first-generation-er.
  2. Their son, Alfred C was #2.
  3. His son was Ray (#3, and my father).
  4. Then me and my siblings (#4).
  5. Then my nieflings (nieces and nephews) make #5.
  6. Therefore, the great-nieflings are #6.
All but two of that list were born in Auckland (two nephews).

My genetic heritage is British. Some of my nieflings and great-nieflings have Māori heritage. Some have Dutch. Some have both. And, I gave thanks for that, too. How rich my family has become.

I gave thanks for my friendships with people of different cultures and genetic heritage. They, and their perspectives and history (both personal and cultural) add richness to my life.

I am forever grateful to my smoking mates, who embrace me as their 'token Pakeha'. I love our wide-ranging conversations. And I appreciate how they understand my family and they way they work. Maybe just being in New Zealand has seeped into our family cultural practices. Maybe it's that Celtic heritage that, sometimes, seems so similar to Māori (this argument is odd, as one of the main proponents is my 99+% English heritage mother. That said, my Māori workmates are convinced my mum is Māori. Maybe her soul is). I don't know.

What I do know is that my smoking mates *get* it. They understand the things we do. And the whys which, sometimes, is just that we *have* to do it that way.

Things like the fact that family - whanau - isn't limited to people born or married into the family. Some people *become* family, with no legal or blood ties. And, sometimes, alas, some 'real' family just aren't family-of-the-heart.

Like the celebration and commemorate of Dad's 10th Deathday.

Like, whenever possible, family die at home. Surrounded by family. With their bodies prepared by family. The grave filled in by family.

Some people with the same English background of my family just don't understand. They think we're weird.  

I am so happy that we have shed some cultural baggage in the move here.

From my parents down we have a lack of sectarian thinking. (Well, maybe not my Dad. He preferred not to get out of his car when visiting me at one workplace - a Catholic school. But that's a long way from his mother, a member of the Orange Lodge. And my maternal great-uncle who would always ask me if the Catholics had got me yet. Mind you, his sister, my grandmother, was taught to spit at nuns by her aunt.)

My maternal grandmother would probably not be impressed by us Wearing the Green on St Patrick's Day - even acknowledging St Patrick's Day was probably anathema.

Being so anti-Catholic - learning those prejudices - would have meant I wouldn't have accepted a couple of jobs in my past (including that Catholic school). And, those jobs helped lead me to my current role.

And, most importantly, it would have meant we wouldn't have had my wonderful, brought-up Catholic,  sister-in-law, her children and her grandchildren, as part of the family. And that would have been a tragedy.

So, I thank those ancestors. I thank the Universe. All of those elements and events which led to my life here and now. Sure, it's been tough for all of us over the years (Sarah M in particular) - but I'm sure that living in New Zealand helped eased that pain.

E kore au e ngaro he kakano i ruia mai i Rangiātea
I will never be lost, the seed which was sown from Rangiātea.

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