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New research gives voice to historic New Zealand love story

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Wednesday 4 September 2013 9:17am

Since first European contact, inter-racial Maori and Pakeha unions have run the gamut of politics, societal attitudes and religion, but ground-breaking research from University of Otago historian Dr Angela Wanhalla has shown that for the most part, love held its own.

A Kāi Tahu historian and senior lecturer at the University of Otago’s history department, Dr Wanhalla has researched unions between Maori and Pakeha spanning from the late 18th Century and the arrival of explorers, followed by whalers, traders, missionaries and European settlers, through until the mid to late 20th century.

Her research also touches on the 1970s and 1980s, when attitudes to marriage and relationships markedly changed.

“Matters of the Heart,” published by Auckland University Press, is the title of this new work, a book that explores a surprisingly unspoken part of New Zealand’s history.


Citing heart-rending examples of inter-racial unions drawn from years of painstaking research into census information, historical records such as newspapers and diaries, and interviews with families, Dr Wanhalla shows that despite attempts to politicise or disapprove of these unions, above all, they endured as caring and intimate relationships.

“Most of these unions were monogamous relationships based on principles of respect, intimacy and love, and they were, for the most part, enduring,” she says.

“Matters of the Heart” covers the growth of interracial marriages, encompassing common law marriages and Maori customary marriages alongside formal arrangements recognised by church and state. It also runs the gamut of official reactions – from condemnation of interracial immorality or racial treason to a celebration of New Zealand’s unique intermarriage patterns as a sign of us being “one people.”

In fact, the Marsden-funded research in the book challenges this notion of successful biculturalism, pointing out that this was more a Government construct. In reality, interracial unions faced significant hurdles and disapproval from familial and societal quarters during the twentieth century.

Angela Wanhalla (Kāi Tahu) is a senior lecturer in the Department of History and Art History at the University of Otago. She specialises in the histories of gender, race and colonialism in the nineteenth century, the indigenous history of the North American West, and the history of intimacy, particularly interracial relationships and hybridity.

She was the lead investigator for a Fast-Start Marsden Grant project researching ‘Intimate Colonialism, Colonial Intimacies: A History of Interracial Marriage in New Zealand’ and a co-investigator for the Marsden Fund project ‘Mothers’ Darlings: children of indigenous women and World War Two American servicemen in New Zealand and South Pacific societies’.

In 2008, Angela Wanhalla won the University of Otago’s Carl Smith Research Medal and the Rowheath Trust Award - awarded annually to an outstanding early career researcher at the University. In 2009, she won the University of Otago Early Career Research Award.

Her first book, In/visible Sight: The Mixed Descent Families of Southern New Zealand, was published by Bridget Williams Books in 2009. She also has an interest in the history of photography and co-edited a book on the subject with Erika Wolf, Early New Zealand New Photography: Images and Essays (Otago, 2011).

For further information, contact:

Dr Angela Wanhalla
Department of History and Art History
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 4798452

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