What Is Whakapapa? 4 Powerful Reasons You Need To Embrace It In Your Classroom

What is whakapapa? Learner centred teaching,

Whakapapa… What does it refer to?

Whakapapa is a central concept in Māori culture, referring to genealogy, lineage, and ancestry. It is a fundamental aspect of Māori identity and is seen as an important link to the past, connecting individuals to their ancestors, their land, and their cultural heritage.

Whakapapa is not just a record of biological relationships, but encompasses cultural, spiritual, and environmental connections as well. It is seen as a living entity, constantly evolving and growing, and is passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition, storytelling, and genealogical charts.

For Māori, whakapapa is a way of understanding their place in the world and their relationship to others, to their environment, and to their ancestors. It is seen as a source of strength, providing a sense of identity, purpose, and belonging, and helping to preserve Māori cultural heritage and knowledge.

It’s all about connections

Whakapapa refers to genealogy, history, stages of development, or layers. Knowledge about who you are (identity) and where you come (background) from are integral to Māori approaches to education.

But whakapapa helps connect people to knowledge about the world through stories. Also, everything has a whakapapa, not just people. Everything comes from somewhere. The story of where something or someone comes from is whakapapa.

It helps you create a more learner-centred teaching environment

In terms of a learner-centred teaching environment, especially for Māori and many others, whakapapa is always the starting place. Whakapapa means that the learners are central to the learning from the beginning.

Whakapapa is also both a noun and a verb. This means that as well as describing someone’s background or genealogy, it’s also something you have to actively do.

Furthermore, in adult education, the concept of “whakapapa” can be used as a framework for promoting cultural understanding and respect. By exploring their own personal and cultural history, learners can develop a deeper understanding of their identity, heritage, and values, and gain a sense of connection to their community and wider world.

The process of exploring whakapapa can also help to increase empathy and understanding between individuals from different cultures, as they learn about each other’s histories and experiences. In this way, whakapapa can serve as a tool for building bridges between different cultures, promoting respect, and fostering intercultural understanding.

In adult education, the use of whakapapa can also help to promote a sense of belonging and engagement among learners, as they connect with their own personal and cultural histories and experiences. This can lead to increased motivation and engagement in learning, as learners see the relevance and importance of the material being covered.

By incorporating the concept of whakapapa into adult education, educators can create an inclusive and culturally responsive learning environment, where learners feel valued, respected, and connected to their own cultural heritage and the wider world.

It opens up opportunities for stories

Learners’ cultures are important. This extends beyond Māori and Pakeha as well. Learning to whakapapa your own and other histories opens you up as a whole person and helps create relationship and connections. You can use whakapapa as an education tool to help others:

  • Make connections to people, the environment, and things.
  • Understand history and human relationships
  • Explore different viewpoints and ways of understanding.

It’s a “WH” word too

We often use the “Wh” words (Who, What, When, Where, Why) as a quick way of teaching the basics of an inquiry process for learning. Whakapapa is another “Wh” word that we could add to this set.

In fact, whakapapa sums up all of these words and provides a great tool for framing any learning.

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 and to investigate the relationships between the parts and the whole.

What’s your starting point with a new group of learners?

  1. How do you whakapapa with your learners in your teaching context?
  2. What’s something that you teach, that would be interesting to whakapapa?

What are some things that adult educators can do to use “whakapapa” in their own adult teaching contexts and environments?

Here are some practical steps that adult educators can take to incorporate the concept of “whakapapa” into their teaching:

  1. Encourage learners to share their personal and cultural histories: Create opportunities for learners to share their own whakapapa and experiences with the group, such as through storytelling or group discussions.
  2. Incorporate cultural elements into course content: When appropriate, include content that relates to the cultural heritage of learners, such as traditional Māori stories, values, and practices.
  3. Foster intercultural understanding: Encourage learners to learn about each other’s whakapapa, experiences, and cultures, and to develop a greater appreciation and respect for cultural differences.
  4. Use whakapapa to connect course content to learners’ personal lives: Help learners to see the relevance of course content to their own lives and experiences, by connecting it to their whakapapa and cultural heritage.
  5. Support learners in exploring their own whakapapa: Provide resources, such as books, websites, or community organizations, that can help learners to explore their own whakapapa and cultural heritage.
  6. Recognize and respect cultural differences: Create an inclusive learning environment that recognizes and respects cultural differences and diversity.
  7. Celebrate cultural heritage: Organize cultural events or activities that celebrate and promote cultural heritage, such as traditional Māori games or performances.

By taking these steps, adult educators can incorporate the concept of whakapapa into their teaching, creating an inclusive and culturally responsive learning environment that promotes intercultural understanding and cultural heritage.

What’s the difference between pepeha and whakapapa?

Pepeha and whakapapa are both cultural concepts in Māori culture but they have different meanings and purposes.

Pepeha is a traditional Māori introduction that includes a person’s genealogy, place of origin, and cultural identity. It serves as a way for a person to connect with their cultural heritage and provide insight into their background and affiliations.

Whakapapa, on the other hand, refers to genealogy and the tracing of descent from a common ancestor. It is considered to be the foundation of Māori culture and is an important aspect of a person’s identity and connection to their ancestral heritage. Whakapapa provides a framework for understanding relationships, rights and responsibilities, and the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and traditions.

In summary, pepeha provides a quick introduction of a person’s identity and affiliations, while whakapapa provides a deeper understanding of a person’s ancestral heritage, cultural connections, and identity.

How can you use whakapapa to create learner success?



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6 thoughts

  1. Tena Kotau, Tena Kotau, Tena Kotau Ka toa, to whom it may concern. Thank you for your explanation about Whakapapa. Actually, the whole article is very humbling and interesting as I read through it. Simplified and articulated for me to understand clearly how it works in the bigger scheme of things for me.

    I find Māori unique as a people, culture and tradition of its spiritual connection, is strong, authentic and powerful when used in the proper manner. Meaningful in their art, carvings and tattooing that tell their story of their ancestors long passed to the next generation and so forth.

    I find myself writing a presentation not on Māori as such but, a piece about being spiritually connected. As an empath whose energy frequency and vibration is being activated and as such have felt a real call to active duty as a HUAMNITARIAN and currently researching this area of interest.

    Project Blueprint is about my humanitarian efforts as we see the current crisis that is unfolding here in New Zealand and globally. I am in training to unlearn history (his-story) education built on manipulation of a system designed to overshadow the truth, yet Māori principles stands alone above all this drama and once you know, you know.

    From primary, Intermediate to college, Māori was a big part. of my schooling. Sadly, my experience wasn’t good. What I took from my classes resonated back then, unfamiliar. Lost over time because corrupted by urban life, but fast forward to today, I.ve come full circle to research into ancient Māori and its mystical elements have been lost.

    Anyway, I won’t go into too much detail but to say that I’m creating a business model that aims to training a number of people hired to follow a business plan and its core values from a business culture perspective. This Project KORU & WHAKAPAPA aim is to become the building blocks as the foundation for those we feel will be inspired as a team, united and as close net whanau be aware of other cultures and as such treated with dignity and respect.

    Thank you for this article.

    Harry T

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