As I walked out of the Te Papa National museum, I couldn't help but think that it's serendipitous moments like these that make me believe in fate and the deterministic tendencies of our universe. Or in other words, life can be really friggin awesome sometimes.
Upon arriving at the Te Papa museum in Wellington, admittedly the stoke factor was low (to me museums do not really compare to sky diving and swimming with dolphins). After meeting our warm and welcoming local tour guide Tina in the lobby, we began our Hikoi (journey) through the museum. Journeying through native plants like the harakeke (flax) and Ponga (the silver fern) that carried with them a rich history in traditional medicine and clothing.Proceeding inside, from the surface we ventured into the underwater world, learning about the marine life that had strong ties to the Maori history. As a huge marine biology nerd my excitement grew larger that the colossal squid that lay before us.
As we entered the history section of the museum my mind drifted off, engrossed by a familiar looking painting on the wall. Sitting there distracted my ears finally rejoined the conversation at the sound of a familiar name, Tamati Waka Nene.
Something that drew me to this program probably differs from most, but a large part of me choosing to come on this program steamed from an elementary school project where I vividly remember learning that I am descended from a Maori Chief. Fascinated and proud of this discovery when the opportunity arose to return to New Zealand to learn about the Maori culture it was one that I did not have to think twice about.
Staring up at the painting once more it dawned on me that the painting perfectly matched the painting of Tamati Waka Nene in my grandparents' kitchen. I was about to open my mouth to say something, when Tina mentioned that she has descended from Tamati's niece! How crazy is it, that after traveling halfway around the world I would randomly find a distant relative?
After talking to Tina over a cup of kawakawa tea she showed me Tamati's grave and shared stories that would have gone really well on that school project of mine.
I decided to get in touch with my grandma for some more specific details about the coincidence and my family history. From her, I learned that I am descended from Tamati's sister (he had no children of his own). His sister married an English man named Lord Russell, and my great grandmother is named Russell Nene Jowitt after her grandparents. That makes Tamati my great great great granduncle, and makes me 1/64th Maori!
Overall, this unexpected moment was just too perfect. I choose to come to New Zealand to see more of my mom's home country (and the country I'm a citizen of), and to learn more about my family history and culture, and to be able to meet a distant relative in that setting accomplished all of my goals for this trip. I'm not sure who was looking out for me way up somewhere in the cosmos that day, but man am I thankful for such a serendipitous moment...