Field Notes: Hannah Chapman

Hannah Chapman is an Adjunct Teaching Fellow for Venn, focussed on integrating te aō Māori through the educational contexts and helping to foster Venn’s engagement with Tangata Whenua. She has recently moved back to Auckland from Tūrangi. Pictured above are the lands of Ngāti Tūrangitukua, including Pīhanga maunga and the Tongariro river,

Tell us about yourself—where you’ve grown up, where you now live.

I was born in Porirua. Our family were living in Cannons Creek, and we lived there for a little while until my Dad was asked by the family to come home to Tūrangi to help address the mass unemployment that was going on here. So we moved back—I was one year old, maybe. So those early years were here for me, in our whānau homestead. And it was idyllic—all the memories I have of home in that period were just awesome.

When I was five, Mum and Dad decided to go on sabbatical up in Auckland at Fowey Lodge, an international Christian discipleship training college, at the invitation of Tony and Christine Hanne. It was meant to be a year, and we ended up there for 10 years. Mum and Dad became co-directors of Fowey Lodge alongside Chris and Tony. So, my small town, very Māori, first five years shifted to an international Bible college set in a very wealthy and almost entirely Pākehā neighbourhood in Howick. It was very different. We lived with students—it was residential and very multicultural, growing up around all the different cultures. There were regular rhythms that were kept around food and celebration and song alongside the teaching—very much a community upbringing within a wider community. It was a spectacular place to grow up—a place of fairy tales: three-and-a-half acres on a cliff top with a huge old stone English manor looking out over the [Hauraki] Gulf. Being the child that I was, I loved growing up there; it was just magical. Alongside Fowey Lodge, Mum and Dad had a ministry of what they described as “open cupboard, open door, open fridge,” and that was literally our life. There were always people coming in and out of our home. I remember six weeks in my childhood when there was no one living with us. So, it was very busy, and it was a blessing for me to have three acres to play around on because I’m quite an introvert, so I could leave and go sit in a tree if I wanted to, and no one would notice.

It was a very busy childhood—lots of travel. Dad was an itinerant preacher with other Māori Christian leaders, and they would travel around the country to various marae and church contexts. So that was just part of our life—travelling all over the motu. When I was about seven, my Mum’s parents came and joined us. They wanted to support Mum and Dad’s ministry by helping to look after us kids. Literally, the day after Poppa finished and retired, they moved. So we had this interesting mix—a very natural mix—of being Māori and Irish as this hand-in-glove combo. The comings and goings weren’t just students, or people involved with the ministry or their family, it was also my Mum’s family. I had a great childhood; it was incredible.

The Chapman whānau: my koro and some of his descendents at Hīrangi Marae.

Some of the challenges of it were mostly to do with my identity as Māori, and not having anyone in my school who was Māori or who looked Māori (both my brothers were there at the time—John and Luke, older and younger: blond hair, green eyes). So, I looked quite different. And that was just really obvious and quite confusing—where you feel very safe and secure in who you are within your own home, and you have to step outside and be very different to everybody else. I remember just wanting a normal house and a normal driveway, not this sweeping grand driveway, oak-lined, complete with a lamppost that looked like it was out of Narnia. I just wanted to fit in. So that was a challenge. But home was always the safe place.

Mum and Dad had started to do a lot more work out in Ōtara. They’ve always felt very strongly that they are meant to be living in the community that they serve, and so that transition culminated in a move to Ōtara when I was 15, which was another shock—moving from Tūrangi to Howick was a shock and moving from Howick to Ōtara was a culture shock as well. But we were there for a very long time. And—same thing: people coming and going. We grew into adults in that home. And Mum and Dad were able to purchase the houses around that one house that we owned. So, we had this model of an urban papakainga that we had as a whānau, complete with my grandparents. So, again—a very different way of living as a community within a community or as a papakainga within a community.

We had a lot of interaction with other indigenous Christians around the world that was also a big part of growing up. That started in 1986. Mum and Dad would travel and go overseas, and then people would come and stay. So, there was a lot of exposure to indigenous cultures, indigenous Christians, working out their faith within the context of their culture and their own communities and all that that looks like as colonised peoples. So it was pretty much my norm growing up—you know, civil rights leaders—it was just insane, the people that would come through: people involved with helping Nelson Mandela establish a new government in South Africa, peacekeeping in Ireland … it was just my norm. I look back on that and think how phenomenal it was to be a child in that and how much that shaped me. So, very grateful for parents who believed in taking their children with them. We were in Ōtara until we moved down here eight years ago.

Several years ago, your whānau returned to Tūrangi to re-establish the papakainga there. Tell us about this. What has it meant for you to return home?

I mentioned Dad being asked to come back to Tūrangi when I was little to help because of the mass unemployment here. The mass unemployment here was because of the hydro dam project being shut down. When my Dad was 15 (in 1965), the government determined to put a hydro dam here and confiscated our land. The land belonged to our hapu, Ngāti Tūrangitukua. Dad has a memory of sitting on the backstep of the homestead with his father and older brother, watching men put a fence up around the house because the rest of the family farm had been confiscated; my nan inside crying. An agreement had been reached with the hapu, and the Crown breached that agreement: it was meant to be a 10-year project, and the land that they were supposed to lease they were then supposed to give back. They took more than what they asked for and what was agreed to, and then they sold it all. The trade-off was employment because they needed people to help build the dam. And then that project finished, resulting in mass unemployment. In 1995–1996, our hapu reached a Treaty [of Waitangi] settlement and were able to settle independently of our iwi. We were the third, I think it was, to settle. Our family land had been used to build a maternity hospital, and in the late 90s, that was put up for sale. There was a right of first refusal process that was a part of the settlement, so that kicked in: we had to buy it back—my Dad and his cousins—and they did that.

When it came time for us to move home eight or so years ago, it coincided with the family trust that owned the maternity hospital property not being able to service the mortgage anymore. My cousin, who had been leasing it, had passed away, and there was no one else to take it on. Within the first year of us living back here in Tūrangi, the Lord provided miraculously, and we were able to purchase the land back. And man, it’s been a real fight to keep it—learning more and more about the challenges that come with wanting to live as Māori. The hurdles are insane as property owners. So, living here at home has been healing and restorative and beautiful and soul settling. But it’s also intensely political. And you constantly have to be thinking about how to do what it is that you want to be able to do because you’d have to think outside what the system offers and negotiate with many stakeholders.

I was still married at the time, and so Mum and Dad moved first and then we followed. We were able to use the maternity hospital to continue the ministry of hosting, but it took on a new expression because we were on our whenua. Mark Barnard [and] Urban Vision asked if they could bring a group to stay with us for a week as part of their three-year programme. The desire was to connect with te ao Māori and for us to be like a doorway for them as tauiwi to come through. That kickstarted something that God must have had in mind because we just got request after request—just word of mouth. After the first year, I stopped counting—we’d hosted over 1,000. It was really crazy, almost like a full-time job. But I was so curious about it—like, what is going on? So many Pākehā Christians want to come and hear the story here and to come and be on the land. And, by and large, it was the same reason: just wanting to connect with the Māori world—not knowing how, but feeling that God was in that somehow.

And, so, it’s been a curious time, living in extremes of hosting and sharing and teaching and inviting people into our world, and then also trying to create our world in terms of the restoration of the land. Our settlement as a hapu included ancillary claims where we’re one of three whānau that have a direct Treaty settlement with the Crown (we’re the only ones to have it, and the loophole that enabled that closed after our settlement, so it can’t happen again). As part of that, the land around this property (the old hospital property), which sits between this property and the river, was meant to be given back, and it still hasn’t been. About six years ago, I tried to get that process rolling. I spent a bit of time in Christchurch, and when I got back two years ago, I started it again. So, trying to negotiate with the Crown to get your land back when you’re not a lawyer or you’ve got no experience in the Treaty settlement processes, but you have the faith and the support of your family ….

Yeah, it’s a strange life living here. But it’s also very calm because we’re here on the whenua. We’re here where we belong. The sense of belonging, the sense of being, is really strong, and so it’s grounding. And having our hapu and a really active marae where we can participate regularly in just the normal things of a marae as hau kāinga—it’s all really grounding. And it’s been a real healing process.

I came home because I wanted my children to have the certainty of knowing who they are that I didn’t have growing up in Howick. I didn’t know much about what it meant to be Tūwharetoa or what it meant to be Tūrangitukua. I didn’t know much of our whakapapa or our tikanga. I just knew who I was: that I was Māori and that I was in this whānau and that I was loved. So, coming home, I wanted my kids to have that, and to have the opportunity to have the reo. It’s been difficult, but it’s been the right move. I see the way they move in the world and the certainty of knowing who they are in that sense. They’ve got other uncertainties—they’ve got the typical teenage stuff going on—but [knowing who they are] is not an issue. And I’m so grateful that home has enabled that to be true for them—the people who make this home have done that for them.

What does it mean to make a home?

I love the transformation of a house becoming a home. I thought a lot about that, especially for my children—what did they need to be at home? I think that it’s the really tangible things like taonga, your keepsakes, or gifts that you’ve been given over time, or artworks that are special to you or books that are special to you. Having those things around you creates home. We didn’t have much growing up. Mum and dad’s big thing that they’d often reference was the presence of God; Mum would often talk about how we can bring God inside by bringing nature inside—bring nature indoors, and you bring the presence of God indoors. So, she would always have seasonal displays: in autumn, there’d be displays of pinecones and autumn leaves, and, every springtime, she would have displays of daffodils with William Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils. She was always creating and beautifying our home. She taught me beauty presences God in the home—to think about how to bring beauty into your home, whether that be through art, or music, or through bringing nature indoors.

And then there’s the intangible things, too, that make home warm, like manaaki and aroha. I think often about the marae context and the pōwhiri process. A whanaunga of mine described the pōwhiri process: you see the people standing at the gate—so, that’s “I see you”—and then you begin to hear the call—”I hear you”—and, as they come through the gate and then they’re seated, and the process of the speechmaking begins and the orators are doing their thing, you get a sense of people—so, “I sense you”—and then you come around and you harirū and press noses, and you touch one another—”I feel you, I touch you”—and then you take the people through and give them a meal—”I sustain you”. I think about that process of a stranger becoming one of us. You don’t ever have to go through that process again—you’re welcome, you’re part of us now in terms of pōwhiri. And so, I think about home in the same kind of way: how do we be in this place in a way that reminds us that we see each other, we hear each other, we sense and touch and sustain one another?

For me, with our Māori–Irish home and extended families, often that was expressed through food. Recently, when Mum’s cousins came up, we had a sort of mixed version of that: we had a boil-up in one pot and the equivalent in Irish [in another], and then the different breads—rēwena and soda bread. And that was a way of us seeing each other and sustaining each other through food. Food—and music—played a big role. It’s such an easy way to do it to break bread with one another. Tradition is a big thing, creating traditions as a family. It doesn’t have to be a grand thing. Saturday morning bagels: that was something that I just started in Christchurch as a rhythm for our family, and it’s become a thing, so much so that my son, who’s now working, still buys bagels on a Saturday morning and brings them in for us. Little rhythms like that all contribute to that sense of home and what home can be for each other.

Because we’re a family who’ve moved a lot, I’ve learned that there’s different types of home: there’s the home that we create and that we adapt according to wherever we may be. And then there’s ūkaipō, the origin or the source of sustenance—your real home (it can also mean mother). For me, that’s Tūrangi. I have other places that I whakapapa to, but this is the place that sustains me. I’ve lived overseas, my kids have lived in different places, and we’ve been able to create home wherever we have been. But that sits alongside ūkaipō for us, and I sometimes wonder if the strength of knowing what our ūkaipō is, and where it is, and who we are in relation to it, enables us to do that, moving around a bit more easily.

Ūkaipō anchors me here. You know attachment theory, right? It’s between parent and child, and then, later in life, spouse and spouse. For Māori, it’s not just the human relationships that matter in terms of attachment, it’s place—it’s whenua. We’re grounded and we’re anchored, and that enables us to go out from and go back to. I was urban Māori my whole life until I came home eight years ago—that’s the only place I’d ever lived. But there was still that part of me that knew there was somewhere else to return to. And so, if there was an encouragement that I could make—in addition to the thing about practices and bringing life—it would be to respond to that yearning. If you feel that yearning that there’s a place to return to, then do that. I did that in January; it was the first time I went to where my koro was from—didn’t really know anybody, and people were looking out their windows and saying, “Who’s this?”. It’s nerve-wracking! And it was scary coming home [to Tūrangi] ‘cause hardly any of my immediate family live here. But it just touches something in you that God put there. And it comes to life when you respond to it.

Scripture presents us with a complex picture of home: exodus and promised land, exile, and the expectation that God will dwell with his people. How does Scripture speak to your experience of home and the task of making a home?

Growing up, that verse from Jeremiah was a big one in our household—seek the welfare of the city in which you dwell [see Jer 29:7]. And as I got older, the part that stood out to me the most was to plant gardens because that was like “Oh, you [God] mean this for a long period of time!” For example, if it was he māra kai—a vegetable garden—you plant something now anticipating growth months ahead or, if you’re planting trees, you’d anticipate growth years ahead. And then it might not necessarily be something that you would enjoy yourself. You know, it’s like that saying, “You plant an oak tree for the future generations to sit under its shade”—that’s always stood out to me. What happens to you as a person when you plant a garden? It means that you have to get to know the soil; you have to get to know the whenua and how the seasons work; you have to understand the climate; you have to toil; and you have to nurture it. And the sense of kaitiakitanga that you adopt, you know, when you garden. It also speaks to presence: you’re presencing yourself in a place; you’re beautifying a place. For me, beauty is such a core way that God has revealed God’s self to me through beauty. That’s such a key element of the nature of God. And we can do that with gardens. It just was really profound for me. And so, when I’ve moved around, if I couldn’t have a garden, I’d have pots outside the door or something, recognising that God values the connection between us as people and the whenua that is sustaining us—that reciprocal relationship that we have a responsibility to. That’s been a big one for me.

And it’s been interesting to think about that whole story of being in exile. Now we’re finally back here on our whenua, but there’s still a sense of exile in terms of how we want to live here. We can’t just go and live on our land. We can’t be kaitiaki of our land. The Crown still hasn’t given it back 24 years after it was settled. And I have to engage councils, and DOC, and [the] Crown, and Fish and Game. There are so many stakeholders related to our whenua and our awa that there’s a sense of exile from it. But then, what does it mean for me to seek the welfare of those who also live here and who also call it home? This isn’t just my family whenua. It’s enjoyed by thousands of people who come here and who have called this place home. And, so, the sacrifice of that, I’ve taken that on and have a responsibility to that.

I also think about exile in terms of my Mum’s family leaving Dublin post-World War II. I could see very much how they were home to each other. It wasn’t about a place; it was about being together—so it was this really different expression of home. When my Poppa passed away, I wrote a song about that, Home is Where the Heart Is: “Wherever I may roam / you, my darling, Dublin girl will be forever home” because that’s who they were to each other. And they could go and live anywhere—like, in their 60s, they went back to live in the East End of London and serve in ministry there. So yeah, I’m really fortunate that I’ve had these different experiences of what it means to have home, and to be at home, and to create home. And all of those experiences have been spoken to by that passage to “seek the welfare of the city.”

Four generations of wahine on my mum’s side. Pictured are (clockwise from bottom left): Mabel Rowden, myself, Thelma Chapman, and my daughter Psalm Haiu.

(Images: Supplied by Hannah Chapman)