Fronting up to the facts

On the health front, my immediate family foundations first began to shake when my older sister Irene died in her early 50s from what started as breast cancer and then moved everywhere else. She had lived overseas for many years, and to be honest, I only felt a slight jolt. We weren’t close.

My brother Barry was a different story. He was mostly based in New Zealand, and when the opportunity arose, I always enjoyed our chats. Barry was a logical man, and in our conversations, I was prone to making flippant remarks which, I think, annoyed him at times, but he was always patient with me.

The problem I found in discussions with Baz was that he could shoot me down badly when I committed myself to a certain line of thinking. That’s when the flippant remark would come out. Rather than admit he was right, I would attempt to laugh my way around it. Embarrassing when I think back on it now.

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When it came to fighting him on a chess board, though, he was much more cutting, and I certainly couldn’t laugh my way around some of the outcomes he delivered. They were always lessons well learned.

Once, on the debating front, we came to grips over the repatriation of toi moko. It was around the time he was envisaging scenes for his movie Te Rua which involved themes on the appropriation of Maori culture.

I stupidly remarked that I didn’t think many Kiwis cared much about a bunch of Maori heads sitting in German museums. As usual, I missed the point. There was a moment of silence, and then he said, “but what if one of them was your grandmother?”

There were two barbs to the point he made. One is the obvious close family connection and the second is a more subtle reference to the majority culture. As he saw it, what did it matter what many or even most people thought? The fact was we belonged to a living people whose ancestors were dishonoured by that display.

Barry was in his late 50s when he suffered his first stroke and died following a series of strokes not long after. He was 63.

Of my three older siblings, Allan was the last to go. By the time his cancer was discovered, it was too late, and I felt truly lost; what were the odds? By this time, and being next in line, I was getting a little bothered, to put it mildly. I was told I shouldn’t read anything into it; it was just bad luck, but it was no comfort.

I don’t know about Irene, I wonder about Barry, but I certainly do know Allan, at one point, made an effort to change his diet to improve his health. Barry once told me our family had hereditary health issues that we probably couldn’t do anything about.

The possibility of a genetic link to health never became important to me until after my own stroke in May 2014. I was 59, about the same age Barry had his first stroke.

By this point, my weight was 102kgs, but I still considered myself fit, and both Catherine and I thought we were eating reasonably healthy meals. How wrong we were. When we look at the way we eat now compared to what we ate then, the difference is significant.

I don’t know where Barry made a genetic connection to our family health, but I have wondered if, in his years of research for the Seeds documentary, he crossed over it. Seeds was his working title for the doco, later named and marketed as The Neglected Miracle, a film Barry believed was suppressed by big business.

An early understanding handed down by my great grandfather, Utika Marumaru, related to friction between Maori and Pakeha because Pakeha doctors and chemists sought payment for health and medicine.

Nepia Taratoa, Chief of the Ngatiraukawa and Utiku Marumaru of the Ngatiapa, both declared that these were like sunshine, air, and rain; they were the gifts of the Wairua Tapu (Holy-Spirit) and could not be sold, the Wairarapa Daily Times reported on March 17, 1937.

Barry’s view was that such knowledge could not and should not be ‘owned’ as such and it was nothing less than “crazy” to ever think so.

Of course, all this leads back to the one key figure in our lives, our mother, Molly Rawea Barclay. She, too, died in her early 50s but not from stroke or cancer. She became addicted to cigarettes and developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD. I believe mum was the link because the news is just as chilling when you review the ancestral health history on her side.

Having looked at it, though, and after living through part of it, I find it hard to absorb the health history and disconnect myself from the historical evidence that gave us “the Maori connection” in the first place. To me, it’s a story that is still shocking, even by today’s standards.

How do you cope with headlines like “Sold to a Maori”, “The Maori With a Car”, or “Woes of a Weak Woman” when you know they are talking about your grandmother? It’s no wonder, in much more recent times, that mainstream media finally conjured up a belated apology over its treatment of Maori.

In my grandmother’s case, they had a field day. In 1923 her story was published throughout the country in almost every newspaper from Auckland to Otago.

To an extent, I believe I’ve reconciled myself with much of it, but it still left the health issue, and on that front, I took evasive action. I stopped eating all animal products and gave up sugar, oil, salt and refined foods.

After four years, the decision has totally changed all my negative bio-markers, my BMI, and maybe my risk of stroke. I’ve never had another stroke (that I’m aware of) but do I think I’m completely clear? Maybe, providing I hold fast and follow the suggested recommendations of the whole food plant-based gurus I regularly write about. At this point, I’ve lived longer than both my older brothers.

My great grandfather died at 48. He suffered from diabetes and a series of strokes. He and his family lived like kings. They were lavish entertainers.

For me, the health history speaks for itself. Brace yourself and check out the links below for the background.

How my mother was conceived
Sold to a Maori

Living the life
A Fashionable Maori Wedding
Sadly Mrs R Marumaru (nee Miss Woon) died a year later in childbirth at the age of 19.

Maintenance is determined
Husband must pay

Great grandfather dies
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