SPAIN is a country which is used to receiving visitors from different parts of the world who are looking for their roots. Almost all of them come from Latin America, but not all.
These days a group of Maori is visiting Valverde del Majano, a small Spanish town in the province of Segovia. It’s where the common ancestor of the Paniora clan, made up of around 16,000 members, was born.
“The first thing I’ve done was to kiss the soil of our ancestor”, says John Manuel, one of the leaders of the Paniora group. He is referring to Manuel Jose de Frutos Huerta, who was born in this town in 1811 and emigrated to New Zealand in 1835.
Manuel Jose de Frutos Huerta worked as a whaler when he arrived in New Zealand, and married five women of the Ngati Porou tribe — starting its Paniora (Spanish in Maori) lineage.
Mr Manuel is from East Cape, and has mixed feelings about this adventure.
“I’m happy because some of us were able to come but I feel sad for those who weren’t able because they already passed away,” he says.
Devi Ann Hall is another Paniora visiting this Castilian town. She is from Manukau City and anyone can tell she is moved by her glassy eyes.
“We immediately felt the wairua (spirit) of the family, and the presence of Manuel Jose,” she says.
“You could feel his spirit, a happy one, happy because we are here.”
In her opinion, “you have to know the genealogy of your family before putting a stake in the ground”.
Frutos Huerta had two siblings.
Santiago Ayuso, a descendant of the pioneer’s sister, is excited about the meeting with his “distant cousins”.
“Their spiritual strength and belief is contagious, now I care a lot more about the genealogy of the family,” he says.
Valverde, around 100 kilometres from Madrid, has little more than 1000 inhabitants. Santiago is one of them and is in charge of showing the most symbolic places of the village to his Maori relatives.
Among these places is an olive tree standing where the ancestor’s house used to be.
The group arrived in Valverde on Friday evening. On Saturday they spent the whole day walking around and meeting local people. They also visited the local church and sites related to the history of the village.
Most of the Paniora will stay in Valverde until August 16. A lot of activities are scheduled, including typical Spanish meals and trips to surrounding cities in the province of Segovia and the Castilla y Leon region.
Flying to Spain was not an easy decision for many of the visitors. The flight from Auckland to Madrid is one of the longest possible. The Paniora group travelled more than 19,500 kilometres, almost half the circumference of the Earth.
The Paniora clan of the Ngati Porou iwi was aware of their Spanish roots, but not accurately. It wasn’t until 2006 when a documentary by journalist Diana Burns revealed that their common European ancestor had come from Valverde del Majano. Both the Spanish and Maori lineages of the Huerta Frutos family then got in touch.
In 2007 a small group of Maori arrived in Valverde to break the ice. A delegation from Valverde went to Gisborne in 2010, and a sister city agreement was signed.
This encouraged more people to visit the corner stone of the Frutos Huerta family. The voyage appears as a turning point in the lives of those who came to Valverde.
Ron McGrannachan is from Napier and his smile speaks for itself. However, he wants to put it his own way: “It’s overwhelming, I’ve always known that I had Spanish blood in my veins, now I can feel it.” — APNZ