By Tayi Tibble
In every child without a relationship with their father exists the melodramatic question.... who am I? In this month’s installment of Māori and the City, Tayi Tibble takes a DNA test.
It’s common knowledge now that it’s not tika, cute or civil, to speak about someone's identity or ethnicity in terms of percentages or blood quantum, and I’m glad. As my friend Jess aka Māori Mermaid pointed out in one of her art pieces, I am not a RTD. It’s obviously dehumanising to talk about someone as if they were a pie, especially considering that at the heart of Te Ao Māori is whakapapa, not 1/16ths of blood.
But in complete opposition to what I know and believe, I decided to do one of those DNA ancestry testing kits because my flatmate wanted to do it, plus she is a Virgo and found the fattest discount available on the internet. I am also the mixed race child of mixed race parents, with a fair bit of um, intergenerational absent fathers up the whakapapa, and the cliche truth is that in every child without a relationship with their father exists the melodramatic question.... who am I? It was time to find out.
Our testing kits arrived and Joy and I spent 15 minutes of our evening registering our details and spitting on a swab. I immediately had my reservations; before your spit gets anywhere near any testing stations, the company wants you to provide as much details about yourself, your parents and great-grandparents as possible. Cheating, I thought, but I can be surprisingly submissive and did it anyway. We sent them off and waited for the results.
These were my scientific predictions; Māori, Coloniser (cos you know, colonisation), Scottish (rumour has it John Logan Campbell is my illegitimate great-great-grandfather) and Dutch. My great-grandad Theodorus moved here from Amsterdam in the 50s following the war, and he was forever feeding me salted licorice and putting me in little red clogs.
I was also curious, but mostly dubious, to see if my family’s claim that we have Peruvian descent had any standing. Recently I had seen that a relative put Māori, Dutch, Peruvian in her Instagram bio and I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow.
I didn’t and don’t know much about my dad’s whakapapa, except his mum is white but he is brown. “His Dad was Māori,” my mum told me, “but he was a poser, and pretended to be Sāmoan.” As a child, I found a book he had left behind and in it he had written his last name as Dinh. “Vietnamese,” my mum had clarified, but I have always had an understanding that my mum probably didn’t know either.
Anyway, we waited possibly six or seven weeks until eventually I got an email saying my results were ready to view. I was surprised—for no reason I was anticipating a dramatic letter in the post. I clicked through, and these were my results; 62.7 percent Polynesian, 21.5 percent Irish, Scottish, Welsh, 12.9 percent Finnish, 2.9 percent Mesoamerican and Andean, but the biggest flex was 0% English.
I shared the good news with my mum and she said, “How?” I told her about my Mesoamerican and Andean results and she said, “You did always like Zorro and Selenas. I used to dream about Incas. Before I had the internet and books, I felt a real link and affinity with the place.”
“And I’ve always thought our people came from Peru via Easter Island... and that's how we got the sweet potato. I wonder if I should do that test too.... I might get a big ole chunk of English lol.”
I was most excited to explore where in Polynesia I might have ancestry; I’ve always felt a bit more Sāmoan than the average Māori, but that might be on account of having a Sāmoan step-dad during my formative years. The Sāmoan man I used to work with back in my retail days used to swear I was Tahitian. What a line.
I went to click through for more details but there were none.That was it; just broadly Polynesian, not even Māori. Then something snapped for me and I thought, okay this is fully stupid.
So overall the experience was mostly stupid. Did I need to pay schmoney to be told I’m mostly Polynesian? No. Did it sew up the hole in my heart the shape of a question mark? No, and there was barely a hole to begin with.
Because identity isn’t blood or percentages or fractions, it’s what you identify with, and whakapapa is our stories; how we came to be. I am the stories and histories I was told and grew up on, not an RTD.
I say this all righteously though, while I’m also stupidly tempted to do another test via a different company and see how my results compare. I also reserve the right to change my mind about the whole process in case my clone shows up on my doorstep 40 years into the future. If that happens then I’ll change my mind, and consider signing away my DNA to a vague offshore company actually worthwhile.