Whakapapa is a distinctly Māori way of organising and understanding the world through genealogies. It is enacted daily as Māori people cite whakapapa to acknowledge relationships with the land and each other. There are examples of the use of kōrero tuku iho/genealogical narratives or narratives derived from whakapapa, to explain a range of phenomena including the origin of the first family, humanity, knowledge, fire and death (see for example (Mikaere 2003
)). Although whakapapa is a powerful analytical tool it is more common today for explanations about new phenomena to be drawn from core cultural concepts. Well-known examples include Professor Sir Mason Durie’s te whare tapa whā (1994)1
and Rangimarie Rose Pere’s te wheke2
(1991) conceptualisations of Māori health. However, explanations drawn from cultural concepts are limited. Therefore, this paper provides an example of using whakapapa sequences in association with genealogical narratives to understand environmental management in Aotearoa New Zealand. The intent is to demonstrate the power of whakapapa for understanding trends and contemporary issues and determining future pathways, to encourage others to use Māori ways of knowing such as whakapapa.
1. Explanatory Tools for Understanding the World
Te Ahukāramu Charles Royal
(1998, p. 2
) points out that whakapapa was used in the past to “generate explanations for many things in the phenomenal world”, the world that we experience through our senses like natural resources, seasons, and fire to name just a few. He argues that whakapapa is a methodology for creating mātauranga Māori, knowledge derived from a Māori view of the world, from ancestral knowledge and practices to regulate human behaviour. Whakapapa could also be a useful and relevant methodology for explaining contemporary situations and experiences (Royal 1998
). Several Māori scholars agree. Joe Te Rito explored the more frequently understood expression of whakapapa as genealogy and genealogical narrative demonstrating the continued relevance of whakapapa as the basis of tracing Māori views of reality and for informing contemporary identity and wellbeing (Te Rito 2007
). James Graham
) acknowledged that whakapapa is the “most fundamental aspect of the way Māori think about and come to know the world” (p. 2) and is a “means and way to acquire new knowledge” (p. 2). Through his research on the connection between Māori advancement and Māori boarding schools (Graham 2009b
) he demonstrated how whakapapa can be deployed as a research framework to legitimise Māori approaches to research and create a Māori knowledge base. In this context, whakapapa is used to guide, contest and validate the research process.
Probably the most common way that whakapapa is deployed in research is through whakapapa/genealogical narratives. This approach maps the origin and nature of phenomena by reviewing Māori sources of information such as whakapapa, pūrākau/narratives, whakataukī/sayings, waiata/songs and mātauranga/knowledge. These sources are reconstituted in relation to Māori lived experiences and Māori political agendas to create new understandings and tikanga/actions. A well-known example is Linda Tuhiwai Smith
) critique of Western research and the emergence of kaupapa Māori research as a means of disrupting Western control over indigenous peoples, our culture, knowledge and futures. Her work provides a genealogical narrative of marginalisation, resistance and empowerment through reaffirmation of indigenous knowledge, ways of knowing and associated practices.
In the environmental field, whakapapa is widely acknowledged as a template for establishing environmental order and acknowledging place-specific relationships (Haami and Roberts 2002
). For example, as a form of taxonomy or classification system, whakapapa can map origin and relationships (Haami and Roberts 2002
). Whakapapa is closely linked to genealogical narratives that can be used to guide interactions with specific natural resources and ecosystems such as the cultivation of kumara (Haami and Roberts 2002
). In contemporary contexts whakapapa and genealogical narratives are being used to determine core values to guide natural resource use and management (Kawharu 2000
; Roberts et al. 1995
), monitor environmental health (Awatere and Harmsworth 2014
; Tipa and Teirney 2003
) and address pressing environmental issues such as environmental degradation (Morgan 2004
) and climate change (Carter 2019
; King et al. 2018
Despite the presence and considerable influence of these works, there are very few examples of whakapapa sequences that explain contemporary phenomena. Whakapapa sequences are the visual representations of whakapapa as depicted in Figure 1
where a relationship between entity A and B creates a new entity C.
Hone Sadler’s work is one exception. He created several whakapapa sequences for analysing the impact of Te Tiriti o Waitangi3
on what he refers to as “Māori social and cultural fabric” (Sadler 2007, p. 40
) including the impact of alcohol (p. 42) and the emergence of social issues such as unemployment, family violence and abuse, and mental health issues (pp. 43–44). Sadler’s work is one of the few published examples of the creation of whakapapa sequences for understanding and analysing contemporary phenomena.
The use of genealogy to explain social phenomena is not unique to Māori. One tradition that complements the analysis provided in this paper is the Foucauldian genealogy approach to governmentality (Bevir 2010
; Rose et al. 2006
). Governmentality critiques are concerned with political power, truths and governance with a strong focus on investigating possibilities of thinking and acting in new ways. In relation to environmental policy in Aotearoa New Zealand, such a critique involves mapping the emergence of specific ways of thinking about the environment, and considering why and how these truths impact on environmental management and, in particular, Māori environmental agendas. Elsewhere, I have used a genealogy approach to governmentality to create a series of environmental histories that show why and how a Māori environmental agenda has struggled to emerge beside the dominant exploitative economy agenda that prioritises the primary industries (Forster 2013b
). However, continued contests from Māori to disrupt this status quo has created new ways of thinking and acting by embedding kaitiakitanga, or a Māori environmental ethic that prioritises sustainable resource use into the Aotearoa New Zealand environmental management space (Forster 2012
). This paper builds on this work by converting these environmental narratives into whakapapa sequences to demonstrate how whakapapa could be used to explain the phenomena of environmental management. The utility of this approach is tested through application to specific environmental practices associated with wetland drainage and restoration.
This approach to understanding the social phenomena of environmental management is attractive for several reasons. Firstly, it privileges Māori ways of knowing and acting such as an emphasis on whakapapa in the form of relationships and interactions. Secondly, it enables a focus on power and indigenous rights and in particular Māori activism to realise a range of Māori political agendas. Finally, whakapapa is able to collate, process and represent small to vast amounts of information. This versatility is advantageous for exploring both specific and series of events.
Whakapapa, therefore, is more than a way of mapping kinship relationships. It is a system of thought based on an interrelatedness that establishes connections with ancestors and the environment and creates culturally appropriate ways of acting. These actions are codified through a set of inherited obligations and responsibilities to ancestors, place and future generations:
In te ao Māori, all of the myriad elements of creation—the living and the dead, the animate and inanimate—are seen as alive and inter-related. All are infused with mauri (that is, a living essence or spirit) and all are related through whakapapa... The people of a place are related to its mountains, rivers and species of plant and animal, and regard them in personal terms. Every species, every place, every type of rock and stone, every person (living or dead), every god, and every other element of creation is united through this web of common descent…
This system of thought provides intricate descriptions of the many parts of the environment and how they relate to each other. It asserts hierarchies of right and obligation among them... These rights and obligations are encompassed in another core value—kaitiakitanga. Kaitiakitanga is the obligation, arising from the kin relationship, to nurture or care for a person or thing. It has a spiritual aspect, encompassing not only an obligation to care for and nurture not only physical well-being but also mauri [life force]…
In the human realm, those who have mana [authority]… must exercise it in accordance with the values of kaitiakitanga—to act unselfishly, with right mind and heart, and with proper procedure. Mana and kaitiakitanga go together as right and responsibility, and that kaitiakitanga responsibility can be understood not only as a cultural principle but as a system of law.
Enacting whakapapa or performing kinship obligations and responsibilities is intricately linked to tribal sovereignty. Conversely, when whakapapa is absent within day-to-day activities then connections to ancestors and the environment weaken. When this notion is applied to understanding social phenomena whakapapa can be used to trace and critique origin, complex connections and interactions—although is much more than just a chronological history of events. It can make explicit dominant imperatives whilst also making visible those imperatives that have failed to gain traction at specific junctures of time thereby inviting consideration of whether we can think or act differently.
3. Discussion and Conclusions
Whakapapa is a powerful tool that was used to explain new phenomena. Today, however, the use and application of whakapapa in this context is arguably less prevalent and limited to recording genealogy. The intent of this paper is to demonstrate how new whakapapa sequences can be created and challenge others to use whakapapa sequences to critique new issues.
Whakapapa sequences to explain the environmental histories of Aotearoa New Zealand were created. Unlike conventional whakapapa that identify people or natural resources the whakapapa sequences created also reference ideologies, events and activities to demonstrate the interconnectedness of thinking and acting in specific ways.
Three whakapapa sequences were created—Te Ao Māori (Figure 5
), Te Ao Hurihuri (Figure 6
) and Te Ao Tautohe (Figure 7
). Te Ao Māori whakapapa sequence brings together elements of the physical world (te ao tūroa), the intellectual (Te Pō-Te Kore-Te Ao Mārama) and the cultural (mana atua, mana whenua, mana tupuna) to explain how Māori conceptualise the world and develop practices for regulating interactions with the environment (tikanga tiaki). Te Ao Hurihuri marks the introduction of a new environmental thinking to Aotearoa New Zealand through the British Colonial Project. This new intellectual tradition introduced extensive change to the landscape (environmental changes) and disruption to Te Ao Māori. Te Ao Tautohe whakapapa sequence emphasises contests between Te Ao Māori and the British Colonial Project. In this whakapapa sequence, kaitiakitanga emerges as a modern, contemporary environmental ethic that has been used to leverage global support for environmental sustainability to secure Māori environmental agenda and aspirations.
The whakapapa sequences condense vast amounts of information. One of the strengths of this approach for the narration of histories is that each element of the whakapapa sequences can be collapsed to summarise or expanded to explore in more depth. As an example, a wetland story is provided that connects to the whakapapa elements entitled environmental transformations (Figure 6
), kaitiakitanga and environmental sustainability (Figure 7
). This wetland story is much more than a mere history also providing a commentary of relationships, power, aspirations and agency. These whakapapa sequences, therefore, provide a holistic and relational understanding of the phenomena of environmental management. An understanding that is not restricted to the grand narrative or the past as whakapapa is never-ending, dynamic, fluid and future-focused.
Understanding the past is critical for determining a future that is sustainable and equitable. Aotearoa New Zealand’s environmental histories acknowledge a legacy of resource depletion and environmental degradation. It also, however, provides a pathway forward through the performance of kaitiakitanga and environmental sustainability; manaaki whenua, manaaki tangata, haere whakamua/our future depends on caring for the land and people.