Zach is the great-great grandson of World War I veteran Robert Ngapo, who served with the first contingent in Europe.
Originally from Aitutaki, Ngapo was a member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, 3rd Rarotongans, and embarked from Auckland in early 1916, bound for Egypt.
Wounded in June 1917, Ngapo was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal, and eventually passed away from pneumonia in 1921, just a few years after the war ended.
“He survived the war, but died from pneumonia, which I believe was from the war,” says Zach, who has been drumming for six years now.
“It’s pretty important to me to be playing, because it’s both respecting him and showing that I’m related to my poppa Ngapo – honouring him I guess.”
Zach, who lived in Rarotonga for a year when he was five but now lives in New Zealand, says he is looking forward to drumming for his poppa tomorrow, but adds that there is one thing that doesn’t quite sit right with him.
“It’s my passport: in my old one they stamped it because I’m related to my poppa Ngapo, but they renewed it a couple of years ago and now they won’t stamp it again, because they don’t believe that I’m related to him, which I think is quite wrong.
“It seems a little bit unfair. I can kind of understand, but if I know this much information about him, I probably can’t be lying. Plus, especially the fact that he fought in World War I, it’d be a bit disrespectful if I was lying.”
Zach’s dad Blair Knill explains that his wife Cindy struggled for years to establish her bloodline. “My wife’s mother knew of her heritage, but it was trying to find the lineage back,” he says.
They had his war medals and his paybook, but it was a photo of Ngapo in uniform that turned out to be the key.
“Maori Television interviewed Cindy about 10 years ago, when we were living here,” says Blair.
“And then what happened was, (RSA president) Henry Wichman had a photograph of a soldier – but they didn’t know who it was.
“Then Henry contacted us and said, ‘Here’s a photo, is this the guy you’re looking for?’ And Cindy said, ‘That’s the photo’.”
Regarding his son’s lack of a Cook Islands passport stamp, Blair says it is an “absolutely awful” situation.
“We find it hugely disrespectful,” he says. “Because it’s almost like the government – I would go so far as to say that my wife and my son are very fair in their complexion, and even though we showed them all the lineage and the birth and death certificates, they now refuse to stamp the passport.
“For Zach it’s quite upsetting, because he’s got his great-great grandfather on the (honours) board here (at Cook Islands RSA), he’s got his great-great grandfather on the board at the RSA in Aitutaki.
“All the family acknowledge that they’re family, but the government refuses to restamp the passports.”