Story: Papatūānuku – the land

Page 8. Whakapapa and kaupapa

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Papa – the land and its derivations

The root of the word Papatūānuku is papa, which means base and foundation. Two closely related words are whakapapa and kaupapa. Popularly, whakapapa is used to mean genealogy, but it literally means to create a base or foundation. Whakapapa is the recitation of genealogies or stories which create a base or foundation of meaning for people. As whakapapa can include genealogies or stories about the entire world, whakapapa are ways by which people come into relationship with the world, with people, and with life.

Kaupapa means principles and ideas which act as a base or foundation for action. A kaupapa is a set of values, principles and plans which people have agreed on as a foundation for their actions.

A grand fabric of knowledge

Traditional Māori knowledge includes elaborate genealogies about the world. There are various classifications of species of flora and fauna, rocks, fish and so on. These interlink to form a grand fabric, in which all things are interrelated, and all are descended from the children of Ranginui and Papatūānuku.

A framework for traditions

The genealogies form a framework which is ‘clothed’ in a vast array of stories and traditions. These explain the essential character and features of those in the genealogies. For example, a genealogy of relationships between bird species included stories about the birds themselves. One such story tells how the legendary hero Māui was turned into a kererū (New Zealand pigeon) while holding his mother’s colourful clothes. Genealogies and stories together make up whakapapa, a body of knowledge about the nature of the world.

Whakapapa as layering

‘Whakapapa’ describes the actions of creating a foundation, and layering and adding to that foundation. This is done by reciting genealogies (tātai) and stories, and through ritual. Whakapapa allows people to locate themselves in the world, both figuratively and in relation to their human ancestors. It links them to ancestors whose dramas played out on the land and invested it with meaning. By recalling these events, people layer meaning and experience onto the land.

Kaupapa – the land within

Kaupapa is a plan, a set of principles and ideas that inform behaviour and customs. Mana whenua (authority in the land) is achieved when a person’s inward kaupapa is aligned with the outward land. When the relationship with the land is lost, people’s inner sense of security and foundation may be lost too.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Papatūānuku – the land - Whakapapa and kaupapa', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 24 Sep 2007