Pongia learns about feared ancestor and absent father

Sportsman and television presenter Brendon Pongia never knew his Maori heritage.

He grew up on the West Coast of the South Island and his Maori father walked out on the family when he was very young.

"We were pretty much the only Maori kids walking around," Pongia remembers.

Pongia has carried a lot of resentment against the father who never called and was never around to witness his son's achievements.

It also meant he never knew about his tribal background and where he fitted in.

"It's important to me to know, so I can pass this down to my own children - so they've got a record or account of it, because I feel I didn't get that opportunity," Pongia explains.

This emotional investigation into an unknown past brings Pongia (pictured here with Danny Pohipi) face to face with family he never knew he had and engenders forgiveness for the father who deserted him.

And he discovers a blood- line linkage with one of the most feared 19th-century fighting chiefs, the infamous Hongi Hika.

Hongi Hika was the urbane and feared Ngapuhi chief who went to London during the 1830s and brought firearms back to New Zealand.

This action began the so-called "musket wars" which decimated the Maori population in the years immediately after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

To this day there are those who describe Hongi Hika as "the Hitler of the South Pacific".

Others see Hongi Hika as a very complex man - a fighter, a father, a lover and a pimp - who brought the first Christian missionaries to New Zealand and sold land to Anglican missionary Samuel Marsden.

The more Brendon uncovers about this remarkable chief, the more he feels that some of the same personality traits have been passed down to him in his DNA.

"His drive, his single-mindedness, it can sometimes get you into trouble," Pongia explains. "But I like the picture I see.

"He's organised, highly organised, and the love of his family and his people.

"They mean so much to him.

"And I think, to me, I'm very similar.

"So I see a lot of his attributes and traits in myself." Not everyone Pongia met shared the presenter's feelings about his famous ancestor.

Travelling to Rotorua and the East Coast, he catches up with members of the Te Arawa and Ngati Porou tribes with long memories of the massacres unleashed by Hongi Hika and his muskets five generations ago.

"I've heard a lot of stuff about Hongi Hika and this journey - good and bad.

"But my feelings for my ancestor haven't changed.

"I still think he was a great man whose aim was to make sure his whanau and hapu were well looked after.

"I really don't see too much wrong with that."

But, ironically, in discovering the truth about his famous musket-toting ancestor, saved from death by armour allegedly provided by the King of England, Brendon managed to find out about his own father.

"I need to go back to my dad's urepa [grave] and forgive him."

• The Missing Piece - Brendon Pongia, Sunday at 10pm, TV One.


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