Whakapapa Maori

Structure, Terminology and Usage







The Oral Arts of the Maori
Structure and Terminology
More Whakapapa Pages




"Papa" is anything broad, flat and hard such as a flat rock, a slab or a board. "Whakapapa" is to place in layers, lay one upon another. Hence the term Whakapapa is used to describe both the recitation in proper order of genealogies, and also to name the genealogies. The visualisation is of building layer by layer upon the past towards the present, and on into the future. The whakapapa include not just the genealogies but the many spiritual, mythological and human stories that flesh out the genealogical backbone. Due to the modern practice of writing whakapapa from the top of the page to the bottom the visualisation seems to be slowly changing to that of European genealogy, of "descending" from our ancestors. The Maori term for descendant is uri, but its more precise meaning in terms of Maori mental processes is offspring or issue.

The term "Te Here Tangata", literally The Rope of Mankind, is also used to describe genealogy. I visualise myself with my hand on this rope which stretches into the past for the fifty or so generations that I can see, back from there to the instant of Creation, and on into the future for at least as long. In this modern world of short term political, social, economic and business perspectives, and instant consumer gratification, Te Here Tangata is a humbling concept.


The Oral Arts of the Maori


"Before the coming of the Pakeha [European] to New Zealand with his superior technology, all literature in Maori was oral. Its transmission to succeeding generations was also oral and a great body of literature, which includes haka [dance], waiata [song], tauparapara [chant], karanga [chant], poroporoaki [farewell], paki waitara [stories], whakapapa [genealogy], whakatauki [proverbs] and pepeha [tribal sayings], was retained and learnt by each new generation."

- Timoti Karetu, "Language and Protocol of the Marae [meeting place], in Te Ao Hurihuri, ed Michael King, 1975, Longman Paul, Auckland.


 The recitation of whakapapa is a high art form as well as being a prodigious feat of memory. The art is still practised but the genealogies and the histories that flesh out the genealogies are nowadays also committed to paper, and to computer. Since the early colonial contact period Maori have committed their literature to paper and a large body of literature survives in manuscript form. Most of them remain with Maori families but there are large unpublished collections in three of the largest libraries in New Zealand, in Auckland Public Library, in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, and in the Hocken Library in Dunedin. These collections are said to comprise the largest body of indigenous literature in Polynesia. They contain much tribal genealogy.

The first step for anyone researching their Maori genealogy should however be the family. In almost every Maori family there will be at least one expert who has collected all the genealogies. This page seeks therefore to provide a guide to resources outside the family and tribe. There are very few, if any, online resources available.



Structure and Terminology


Whakapapa includes not just human genealogies, but is also used as a metaphor for the act of Creation and for the evolution of the Universe and all living creatures within it. The diligent researcher will therefore be able to quite easily trace his or her ancestry back through the 800 to 1000 years of human occupation to the first settlers and to their waka (canoe), on from there to the gods, and thence to the very act of creation. The recorded human genealogies reach back for 30 generations and more.

Te Korekore            First state of creation (energy or potential)
Te Po                  Second state (form)
Te Ao Marama           Third state (emergence)
Aho                    Strand of learning
Te Aho Tuatahi         Cosmic genealogies
Te Aho Tuarua          Epochal genealogies
Te Aho Tuatoru         Evolutionary genealogies
Te Aho Tuawha          Human genealogies
Whenua                 Umbilical link to Papatuanuku (Earth Mother)
Aho Makawerau          Topknot link to Ranginui (Sky Father)
Tahuhu                 Main genealogical line
Kawai                  Descent lines from Tahuhu
Roroa                  Descent lines from Tahuhu
Kauheke                Ancestors
Rarangi                Genealogical list of ancestors
Whakamoe               Multilinear listing of ancestors
Taotahi                Reciting in a single line of descent
Tararere               Female lines
Whakapiripiri          Establishing genealogical links between the
                       home people and visitors
Ara poaka              Lengthening of genealogy to gain seniority
Tatai hikohiko         Truncating genealogy to show only
                       illustrious ancestors
Kauwhau                Tracing genealogies