He mea nui ki a tātau ō tātau whakapapa

Our genealogies are important to us

Whakapapa is important to us as it connects us with our tūpuna, whānau, whenua, iwi and marae. It’s how we learn about our family history and trace our genealogy, and it’s knowing who we are and where we’re from. As the core of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), our whakapapa provides us with identity and history, and connects us with our tūpuna and the whenua.

As with most communication, whakapapa was traditionally recalled through kōrero and waiata, as well as shared through carvings and karakia. In each iwi, hapū or whānau, whakapapa experts were responsible for recounting the genealogy of the whole iwi, hapū or whānau. They often held rākau whakapapa, a stick similar to a walking stick – with small ridges running down the length of it, representing ancestors and generations.

Rakau whakapapa

Rākau whakapapa – images from Ahua – New Zealand’s online Māori art gallery

This knowledge was incredibly important in the Native Land Court hearings, as land claims were often based on take tūpuna (ancestral rights), so being able to recount the lineage across a range of people was necessary to demonstrate particular land rights.

When writing was introduced, whakapapa was also documented in books. However, these books were considered tapu and were often buried alongside their owners. This has meant we’ve relied on the passing down of information through kōrero and waiata to trace lineage.

How to trace your whakapapa
Start a discussion with your whānau and begin recording the history and tūpuna you may already know. Each whānau typically has one person who may have a family tree or holds other research into your whānau history, so open the conversation so your whole whānau can learn and connect.

Gather as much information as possible from your whānau and iwi, and begin documenting it. There are a range of online family tree builders where you can not only store all of your family history and genealogy, but link up with other family trees and ancestor information from extended whānau and relatives.

Registering as an NRAIT owner and engaging with the Trust as well as other owners is also a way to learn more about your tūpuna and history which contributes to your whakapapa. Learn more about becoming a registered owner and what it means to be part of NRAIT here.


Taking the time to trace your family’s history and recording your whakapapa helps to preserve this knowledge for future generations, and makes the information more accessible.