I'm getting ready to follow in Hamuera's footsteps... on Wednesday nite I fly to Chicago, pick up a rental car, and drive to Springfield. Today I spent a couple of hours putting together a word document of the things I've alreayd collected and found out, and I've been sorting through the materials I connected with in Adelaide and Wellington. I've got good memories of cold days in Wellington and Adelaide during the first month of sabbatical... and memories of spending time working and talking with Katrina and Megan in Wellington, and Glenice in Adelaide.
I've found that I know a fair bit about some aspects of Hamuera's life but some bits are still wide open spaces, years of his life stretching between small bits of information which protrude from the ground, with the weight of expectations and memory draped over the pliant rope like a clothesline that may or not be able to carry it own load.
I'm looking forward to being in these family places: Springfield and St Louis. Cities which have been in my imagination my whole life and which I will now get to see and walk around and experience.
I remember the first time I traced our Maori roots in the American Mid-West, when I was in Chicago on holiday while I was studying for my PhD. Once afternoon Nadine and I left the others we were travelling with and hopped into the car, heading for the South Chicago address written in even cursive on the back of a postcard from my great-grandmother Lydia. We found the site, which had recently been bulldozed and turned into a parking lot.
I am thinking about the conversations I've had with cousin Terese, about the acquisition of family knowledges and how getting a list of names without any context for their meaning isn't the same as whakapapa. If you work hard for the names and the bits of information, if you have memories tied to each part of the journey, if it takes time, then that's a different story.
Tracing family lines is an inexact science, and some days it's a bit like pulling pantyhose out of the washing machine. Once you see a piece of the toe or leg or waistband the temptation is to pull like mad and hope the stockings will emerge from the mess of other clothes... but it's likely they're tangled up in bigger and bulkier items and will be best extricated bit by bit while the other bits of washing are removed. Keeping an eye on the pantyhose is important - if you don't know where they are you're likely to tug too fast on something that feels stuck - but so is the smoothness with which you gently pull things apart.
This week I'll be following the story of this guy, Hamuera Hautu Irirangi Te Punga:
A different story indeed.