“We have to remember that we are all citizens of Aotearoa, we have no other home, no other turangawaewae (place to stand)” (King, 1985, p177, Being Pakeha. Auckland:Hoder & Stoughton Ltd)
New Zealand is a country of immigrants, so it is vitally important to know your whakapapa (genealogy) or where you are from. In Maori society 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 writing, and to storing electronically.
“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
– Timoti Karetu, “Language and Protocol of the Marae [meeting place], in Te Ao Hurihuri, ed Michael King, 1975, Longman Paul, Auckland.
“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.
So here is our whakapapa – the McEtten Family History Project