Whakapapa is a “Wh” Word


We often use the “Wh” words as a quick way of teaching the basics of a research or inquiry process. These five words give you a quick and easy formula for getting the basics of a story, a report, or getting your head around some subject.

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?

Sometimes we add a sixth word to the sequence:

  • “How”

I’d like to suggest that there is another “Wh” word that we could add to round off this set which possibly sums up all of the words and actually provides a great framing tool. This word comes from Maori, one of the official languages of New Zealand. Here it is:

  • Whakapapa.

Whakapapa refers to history, background, and genealogy. However, it is so much more than that.

Exploring the whakapapa of something, e.g. a subject, a discipline, an object, a person, a group of people, an organisation, or your own genealogy allows you to actually deal with all of the “Wh” words mentioned above and to investigate the relationships between the parts and the whole.

I’m just thinking out loud here, but I think that by adding whakapapa to the traditional list of “Wh” words we could add another dimension to the kinds of conversations and teaching we typically do around this.

What do you think…?

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

4 thoughts

  1. You’re on to something and it’s all good. Actually, looking at it like this makes me think of a sociocultural lens. You look at the history of the society, culture, and institution to help ‘place’ and ‘track’ it as it changes.

    I think it’s great, what a good idea.

  2. You are so right Graeme. Now when you use the word ‘whakapapa’ it is not only the genealogy, but all the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ that go with it and you would probably get all the information that you require. Never stopped to think about writing in that sense.

    1. Thanks Michelle…! I think it makes the approach much more organic… and thinking of it like this makes the 5 Wh approach seem less like an old school newspaper reporter…

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