Story: Whakapapa – genealogy

Page 3. Whakapapa with links to Polynesia

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Atua – the gods and links to Polynesia

There is a similarity in the whakapapa of Māori gods and that of other Polynesian gods. Most Māori had Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother) as their primal gods, although there were tribal variations. Polynesian traditions also have an origin linking earth and sky. While the names of the sky god differ, names for the earth god – in Samoa Papa‘ele, in Tonga Papakele, in Tahiti Papatu‘oi, in Hawaii Papa and in Rarotonga Paparoa-i-te-itinga – all began with Papa. The Māori gods Tāne, Tū, Rongo and Tangaroa are also found throughout Polynesia – Kāne, Kū and Kanaloa are important in Hawaii.

Culture hero sequences

Culture hero whakapapa are dominated by cycles centred on Māui and Tāwhwki. Genealogical sequences vary widely. They can appear either early or later in the genealogy, depending on the composer and their intent. Positions varied between tribes. The most frequently occurring set of names is that of Kaitangata–Whaitiri–Hema–Tāwhaki which is consistent throughout East Polynesia.

Some genealogical subsets are known throughout Polynesia and parts of Melanesia and Micronesia. Culture hero sequences are subject to contraction and expansion. These figures play an important role in connecting back to creation genealogies from which all things began. Many of the traditions associated with them describe the bringing of benefits to humankind, for example slowing down the sun so there was time for work, making fire and hauling land up from the sea.

Polynesian ancestors

Māori whakapapa often trace lines of ancestors back to the most recent canoe on which settlers arrived in New Zealand. Further back, descent lines often include ancient ancestral sequences, including the names of well known Polynesian forebears in recurring genealogical subsets or ancestral traces. The positions of ancestors often vary between tribes and informants, and one or more of these names are often expanded into euphonic sequences (word play).

One of the most typical of these sequences is Whiro–Toi–Whātonga–Rakeiora–Tahatiti found in most tribal genealogies. Whiro is the most widely known of all East Polynesian navigating figures, known as Hilo in Hawaii, Hiro in Tahiti and Tuamotu, and ‘Iro in Rarotonga. Whiro’s name appears in the genealogies of most tribes; however, only Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu and other East Coast and some Bay of Plenty tribes retain traditional narratives about him. Toi and Whātonga are New Zealand-located ancestors, Rakeiora is known in both New Zealand and East Polynesia, and Tahatiti is Tangihia, a well known ancestor in Rarotonga.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Whakapapa – genealogy - Whakapapa with links to Polynesia', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 July 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Jul 2015