A tale of two stories: Unsettling a settler family’s history in Aotearoa New Zealand

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MDPI (Basel, Switzerland)
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On the morning of the 5 November 1881, my great-grandfather stood alongside 1588 other military men, waiting to commence the invasion of Parihaka pā, home to the great pacifist leaders Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi and their people. Having contributed to the military campaign against the pā, he returned some years later as part of the agricultural campaign to complete the alienation of Taranaki iwi from their land in Aotearoa New Zealand. None of this detail appears in any of the stories I was raised with. I grew up Pākehā (i.e., a descendant of people who came to Aotearoa from Europe as part of the process of colonisation) and so my stories tend to conform to orthodox settler narratives of ‘success, inevitability, and rights of belonging’. This article is an attempt to right that wrong. In it, I draw on insights from the critical family history literature to explain the nature, purposes and effects of the (non)narration of my great-grandfather’s participation in the military invasion of Parihaka in late 1881. On the basis of a more historically comprehensive and contextualised account of the acquisition of three family farms, I also explore how the control of land taken from others underpinned the creation of new settler subjectivities and created various forms of privilege that have flowed down through the generations. Family histories shape the ways in which we make sense of and locate ourselves in the places we live, and those of us whose roots reach back to the destructive practices of colonisation have a particular responsibility to ensure that such narratives do not conform to comfortable type. This article is an attempt to unsettle my settler family narrative.
Pākehā, colonisation, critical family history, Parihaka
Genealogy, 2021, 5 (26)