Catherine Griffiths

“Charles Wilson Hursthouse is my great-great-grandfather ... an 1843 oil painting of his mother-in-law has come down one line of eldest daughters, beginning Ellen Hursthouse, and is now in my care. She leans on a wall in the lounge close by a keyhole rug from my »Club de Conversation« series. In August 2016, on a journey from Auckland to Wellington via New Plymouth, I found my aunty, Te Muri Jo Turner, eldest great-granddaughter of Charles Wilson Hursthouse and Mere Te Rongopamamao Aubrey ... Opārure Road, the signpost said ... I knew this was where their daughter Rangimārie Hetet, sister of my great-grandmother Margaret Kate Lattey, was born ... I know I’m a dot in this landscape of whakapapa, yet it is important to me.”

— from A whakapapa, two lines of women (an installation drawing), 2016, part of a group exhibition All Lines Converge, Govett-Brewster, New Plymouth

You mention the word ‘Peace’, and I cannot help but flick back to Rangimārie. You see, in Māori, ‘rangimārie’ is ‘peace’. Born in 1892, she was the only child of my great-great grandfather — an English-born New Zealand surveyor, public servant, politician, soldier, and speaker of te reo Māori — and Mere Te Rongopamamao (Ngāti Kinohaku, Ngāti Maniapoto, and English).

Almost a decade earlier, in March 1883, Charles, aka Wirihana, was captured (along with Te Haere and Newsham) by Ngāti Maniapoto’s Te Mahuki as his “hoariri no Parihaka” or “enemy from Parihaka”.

Two years before, on 5 November 1881, at the invasion of Parihaka against passive resistance, Charles was present at the arrest of prophets / pacifist leaders Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahu, and protestor Wiremu Hiroki. As interpreter for the Crown, he was the only person, it is said, that Te Whiti would reply to when arrested that day. As Te Whiti walked through his people, he told them: “We look for peace and we find war.”

It is not difficult to understand Te Mahuki’s motive to capture Charles. Yet it was Rewi Maniapoto and Te Kooti with the support of Wetere Te Rerenga, who came as quickly as they could to expedite the release of Charles and his companions after being beaten and imprisoned for 48 hours in a whareumu (cooking shed) at Te Kumi pa, above the road to Opārure ...

To add complexity, it was at Parihaka that Mere Te Rongopamamao, there as a passive resister, first saw Charles. They encountered each other years later, when he arrived on horseback bearing news of the death of her then husband, whose horse had rolled.

Charles and Mere Te Rongopamamao named their daughter Rangimārie, to signify the peace made after his brief capture and release:

‘Mahuki declined to plead, but desired to make a speech. “I am a man belonging to Te Whiti and Tohu, and will not present answer to these words, I have come to-day to make peace with my enemies, Mr Bryce and Mr Hursthouse.”’

— The Taranaki Herald, March 31, 1883

Being a descendent of this complex history is unsettling and humbling. It is also invigorating. Yet it is not an uncommon story in Aotearoa New Zealand, where Māori and Pākehā share whakapapa. Finding my aunty and whānau has been deeply emotional. To walk towards Aunty Muri in the doorway of the very house built by Rangimārie’s husband, Tuheka Taonui Hetet, her hands outstretched, beaming smile, to embrace, was like no other. To be taken inside and to see, on the hall-way wall, my great-great grandfather, it felt I had come home. To stand beneath a large black and white photograph of a young Rangimārie with another sister, Tira, both in korowai ... there are no words.

I felt I had walked into a complex, yet rich history on my father’s maternal side ... where peace is still being sought between Māori and Pākehā as we find ways to acknowledge the past and move forward together in language and understanding.

A whakapapa, two lines of women

Catherine Griffiths

Catherine Griffiths (b. 1966) is an Aotearoa New Zealand designer, typographer and artist. She lives and works in a rainforest near Auckland, intermittently on a barge in Paris, and occasionally in a shipyard on the outskirts.

Improvisation is critical to her practice which moves between graphic design, self-publishing, writing on design, and comissioned art installations in public and private spaces.

Projects of note include the Wellington Writers Walk, a series of large-scale concrete text sculptures (2002, 2004); the curation and co-organisation of TypeSHED11, Wellington (2009); and her ongoing Vowel series. Catherine works with other artists, architects and designers, writers, poets, curators, scientists and engineers, charity groups and women’s organisations. She is active in the international design community, teaches on invitation, offers assistance and mentors students, delivers lectures, and hosts the occasional workshop including the compact typ gr ph c series.

Selected works are in the collections of the Stedelijk Museum, National Hangeul Museum in Seoul, Shanghai Institute of Visual Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art Special Collection Library (books), and the Special Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago (books). She has exhibited in New Zealand, Chile, France, USA, China and Korea.

Photographer — Jinki Cambronero

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