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Evolution of the Workman whānau

Next weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the inaugural gathering of the Workman whānau at Greytown’s Pāpāwai Marae. TĀ KIM WORKMAN explains the significance of the event for his family and in a wider societal context.

One decade at a time

This Easter, the Workman whānau will gather at Pāpāwai Marae, Greytown, to celebrate 190 years since the 1834 arrival of 16-year-old John Stanton Workman, a Scottish cabin boy on the whaling vessel William Stoveld, and his relationship with Rewhaunga, whom he met in 1839 while whaling at Tokomāpuna Island, off Kapiti Island.

Rewhaunga, of Ngāti Ira, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, and Rangitāne o Wairarapa had been taken captive by Te Rauparaha during one of his earlier raids in south Wairarapa. Te Rauparaha sanctioned their union, and they went on to have nine children – eight boys and a girl. In 1843 they returned to Te Kopi, Cape Palliser, where John managed Frederick Weld’s whaling station.

In 1984, 150 years since John Stanton’s arrival in Aotearoa, the whānau held a family reunion, inviting all the descendants of John and Rewhaunga. We wanted to honour our kuia Rewhaunga and learn more about our whakapapa [genealogy]. Because most of our whānau had never ventured on to a marae, we held the reunion at Pāpāwai Pā.

Why Pāpāwai? John Stanton had left Te Kopi in 1839 to take up a position as shepherd and boatman on the Flaxbourne Station at Marlborough, working for Frederick Weld and Sir Charles Clifford. However, his third son, William [my great grandfather, known as Wi

remu Wakamana] returned to Greytown in 1890, with his younger children, including my grandfather, Robert [Bob]. Pāpāwai quickly became part of their existence.

My father, born in 1908, recalled an idyllic early childhood in which he would accompany his father and grandfather on a walk during the weekend from Greytown, across the fields to Pāpāwai Marae. There would be much political discussion and debate, and the sharing of kai, before they departed homeward.

Around 1915 things changed. There was a major family dispute over how the children should be raised, and his pākehā mother considered it not in the family’s ‘best interests’ to connect closely with their Māori relatives. Visits to the marae stopped, and while our Māori heritage continued to be acknowledged, it was not actively embraced again until the 1960s.

The family’s decision to limit engagement with our Māori relatives did not apply to me. From my early years, I somehow knew I was Māori, and so did everyone else around me. The whānau at Pāpāwai accepted me without question and always embraced my presence. That identity was never in doubt. They talked about my parents, grandfather, and great grandfather with affection.

My uncle Dick Workman was a member of the Pā Restoration Committee in 1956. Pāpāwai was the centre of Māori activity – the base for the Ngāwaka hockey and softball teams, and the kapa haka group of which I was a member. But other members of the whānau were uncertain, disinterested, or just didn’t want to know. Whenever I slept at the marae, I would feel safe beneath the tāhuhu [ridgepole] of Hikurangi and the beautiful unadorned totara ceiling. As a teenager, I learned about the extraordinary tipuna and rangatira who had slept in the whare over the years and felt reconnected and protected. I would return to Pāpāwai whenever I got the opportunity. Other whānau who had a strong connection felt the same way. It was time to share our bounty with others.

In 1984, we issued an open invitation to the descendants of John Stanton and Rewhaunga – over 400 turned up. It soon became clear that we had a challenge on our hands.

There were some in a confrontational frame of mind. After the pōwhiri [welcome] we allowed time for questions and comments. One rather daunting matriarch wanted confirmation that Rewhaunga was a ‘Māori Princess’. I had noted over the years that for some, having a Māori ancestor was more acceptable if they were of high status. I wriggled out of that one by saying that regardless of Rewhaunga’s status in the Māori community, she was certainly John Stenton’s ‘Māori Princess’.

Some were familiar with marae; others were eager to learn. Breaches of protocol were dealt with gently – when one group produced their whakapapa during meal time and plonked it on a table surrounded by food, we explained that whakapapa was tapu and should not be placed anywhere near food.

The dinner, held at Kuranui College, was a focal point for storytelling, memories, laughter, and moments of reflection. Whanaungatanga was the winner as new friendships were forged across the many branches of the Workman whānau. The descendants of Robert Workman, mostly located in the Wairarapa, resolved to continue to hold Easter reunions every two or three years – to develop whānau connections and to explore further our bi-cultural heritage.

Eighteen reunions have been held over the past 40 years. Most have been held at Pāpāwai, but twice the whānau have stayed at Takahanga Marae, Kaikōura, in order to visit and maintain the graves of John and Rewhaunga at Kaikoura and visit sites like Waiharakeke [Flaxbourne Station] near Ward, where John worked as a boatman and shepherd for over 30 years.

Forty years on

One of my memories from the 1950s was singing in assembly at Wairarapa College. One of the favourites was the Harrow School Song ‘Forty Years On’, which began:

  • Forty years on, when afar and asunder
  • Parted are those who are singing today
  • When you look back, and forgetfully wonder
  • What you were like in your work and your play.

What has been the impact on our whānau, if any, of 18 Workman reunions over the past 40 years?

After our first reunion in 1984, with 400 attending, we realised we didn’t have the resources to organise a reunion of that magnitude every two years. John Stenton Workman and Rewhaunga had nine children, the third eldest being my great grandfather Wiremu Wakamana. He had 11 children, the eighth being my grandfather, Robert [Bob] who had eight children. There were thousands of descendants; the decision to limit the reunions to the descendants of Robert was met with reluctance by some, and relief by others. We focussed on strengthening our whānau relationships within that smaller group.

The focus was ‘whanaungatanga’. Sharing our lives, our triumphs, our disappointments. Whānau activity – sporting events, talent nights, a Sunday church service, and [essential to any Workman occasion] good kai. It gradually evolved – visiting Cape Palliser, identifying the homes of the early Workman whānau, sharing and expanding the family genealogy.

The politics of the day were always up for discussion. The 1981 Springbok Tour was still a hot topic in 1984. But times were changing. In 1982, Race Relations Conciliator Hiwi Tauroa’s ‘Race Against Time’ survey noted two commonly held views within New Zealand society. One indicated that the old assimilationist position — that ‘all New Zealanders are one people’ — was still strong, while the other stressed national ‘unity through diversity’. The question of partnership, and what that meant, underlay not only the national conversation, but also kōrero within the family.

When the first kohanga reo was established in 1982, the possibility of learning and speaking te reo arrived at a time when only a handful of our local kaumātua could speak their own language.

By the 1990s the Workman whānau were familiar with marae protocol and moved easily within the Pāpāwai community. Our fair complexions were offset by intermarriage, and a long standing acceptance by the Pāpāwai community that we were part of the furniture.

In the 1950s I recall a couple of aunties discussing within hearing my penchant for kapa haka and the fact that my friends were almost all of Māori descent. They sadly concluded that, unlike the rest of the family, I had ‘gone back to the mat’ – ie, abandoned civilisation. It was a reminder that as early as the 1900s, some Māori whānau considered that the key to success and advancement was to ‘become Pākehā’.

By 1990 however, it had become safe to reclaim Māori identity. While historians such as Michael Bassett insisted that anyone with more DNA from non- Māori ancestors were not Māori, that was not the way many perceived themselves. As demographer Tahu Kukutai noted in the Social Policy Journal of New Zealand Te Puna Whakaaro in December 1984:

“At the heart of the problem of defining ethnic group membership is the lack of definitive criteria. In this case, just what is it that makes a person Māori? Is it a preponderance of Māori ancestors–something akin to the notion of being a ‘full blood’? Is it knowledge of cultural practices and engagement in Māori networks? Is it having a Māori ancestor, no matter how far back? Or, is being Māori merely a state of mind? Clearly any criteria invoked are not objective, but are products of the motivations and cultural assumptions of those doing the classifying.”

We have learnt not to impose ‘our’ definition on others. If whānau members are uncomfortable in identifying as Māori, or identify as both Māori and Scot, that is their right. The important thing is that they remain within the whānau construct rather than being alienated by it.

By the 1990s the Workman whānau were very much part of the Pāpāwai fabric. They have been members of the Pāpāwai Pā Committee. The photographs of John Stenton, Rewhaunga, Wiremu, and Robert hang in the whare and form part of our hapū history. Pāpāwai whanau are on a monthly ‘working bee’ roster to maintain the marae. In July of last year, 36 members of the Workman whānau, from Dunedin in the south to Sanson in the north, turned up to make their contribution.

In the past 15 years, the vision for our whānau has been realised. The younger generation are making their own impact on Te Ao Māori. They are engaged in Māori sports administration and Māori academic study. Whānau members are represented on Māori Trust Boards, and iwi entities. Some are competent te reo speakers.

That interest is not confined to our own branch. Every month, descendants of John Stanton and Rewhaunga from other whānau branches turn up at Pāpāwai and pay homage to their tipuna. It is time, in the words of Isaiah, to ‘enlarge the place of our tent’ and include other whānau branches in our ongoing development.

All this is happening while the government is discarding the policies of the 1980s – the policies which encourage Māori to exercise rangatiratanga over their own resources and promote te reo in public discourse. Some whānau will submit to these demands, and ‘play down’ their identity in the face of official opprobrium. Not ours. We have the collective strength to ignore systemic racism, and be proud of who we are.

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