Christine Rogers

Meri marries James sampler

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Photograph by Michelle Williams

My great-great-great-grandmother Meri Wehikore was Ngāi Tahu (Māori). As a young woman she lived in Southland, Aotearoa/New Zealand, where numerous Pākehā (European) whalers and sealers began arriving from the early 1800s seeking their fortunes. In this early period Māori women often sought out Pākehā partners—they had high status and came with goods that made life easier.

I began with a children’s sampler pack found in a second-hand store and stitched Meri and James’ union. The text shows what each might have brought to their relationship.  Needles, potatoes, muskets, and pigs were some of the desirable items that Pākehā brought with them. In all likelihood Meri brought land. She certainly brought labour, had children (three of them), brought mana (prestige) and hopefully love. I ran the words together to show a little of the strangeness that Meri might have experienced when she first read English, and James when he first heard Te Reo (Māori).   

Photograph by Michelle Williams
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