Tuesday, January 17, 2006


whakapapa - n & v. n - a genealogy, not restricted Maori or biological descent... v - to trace a lineage (A Dictionary of Maori words in New Zealand English)

Remember wh = f so it's pronounced faka-papa

I came across this quote today and wanted to share it as it really spoke to me...

Who am I? Do I matter? Does the whakapapa really matter?

Yes. Oh yes! Because it gives me unison with the universe. It tells me that I am not alone or ever will be. It weaves me into a pattern of life that began at word's creation and will be here till world's end. I am the people who came before me and I am the people who will come after me. Although I will die, the pattern will not be broken. There is no such thing as time passing because I have always been here and will always be here.

from ' The New Net Goes Fishing' by Witi Ihimaera

It's written by the guy who wrote 'Whale Rider' yet it sounds so much like something from Richard Bach's 'There's No Such Place As Far Away' - not quite as accessible as his classic Jonathan Livingston Seagull but still well worth a read.

Being from a decidedly nomadic family and spending almost all my life living in places where 'belonging' was such an inherent part of the local culture my whakapapa has always been important to me. I never quite 'belonged' to anywhere I lived in Britain and answering the question here 'where are you from' usually elicits the answer 'well I've been living in Edinburgh/Scotland for the last 12 years, but I grew up in Yorkshire.' Yet locals of neither place would consider me to be one of them. So belonging to a people rather than a place became my point of reference, how I saw my identity.

Several of us have been working on and off over the years on the various branches of the family tree. Needless to say I've concentrated on who is out here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and found myself far more interested in who discovering who is still alive, who has descended from our common ancestry than who has gone before us. Lets face it those in Oxford cemetery aren't going to give me a bed for the night! Altho' Oxford cemetery (that's the Oxford on the South Island Canterbury Plains, not the one in England) is the only place I know of where there are three generations of my family buried in the one place - commonly considered the Yorkshire yardstick for whether you are a local or not (especially if you had the audacity to be born elsewhere).

But my whakapapa embraces not just my genealogical family tree but also my Quaker ancestry. It was the common bond we had at WGYF, for all our differences in tradition and theology we could all link our Quaker heritage back to George Fox, Margaret Fell, the Valiant Sixty et al, back to the mid 1600's. At Summer Gathering last week Charlotte, Frances, Jonathan and I shared our experiences of WGYF, and having a longer time slot that we've had on previous occassions we played to the gathering the audio recording of the Aotearoa New Zealand YM presentation and a snippet of Deborah Saunders' first talk.

I'm so glad we got the opportunity to share those recordings. So many people said to me how proud they had been to hear Jonathan, Charlotte & Leith talk about Quakers in Aotearoa, about the whakapapa of the YM, from the first Quaker to arrive here with Captain Cook through to 'Quaker Acres' at Whanganui. To hear Jonathan's fluent Maori and them speak of the importance of the bi-cultural heritage of this country and the link between the people and the land. I may be a recent addition to this Quaker community but I feel such a strong sense of connection to it, to being part of something that has gone before me and will continue after me. I can help shape it and help it grow.

Deborah spoke of us as children of god, and challenged us - do you know who you are? Sure I need to know who I am as an individual, who I am inside, what my own truth is, but I also need to have a context, to know my whakapapa, to know how I fit into the greater scheme of things and how best I can be who I am. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer points out it is far better to want to be who you are than want to be someone you aren't. Do I know who I am? I'm still not entirely sure, but I think I'm getting a much clearer picture... maybe it's the quality of the light here, of all descriptions.

If I am comfortable with where I am in the present and confident with where I'll be in the future, it is only because I am standing on the shoulders of the past.
(Maori proverb)


Julian said...

When I returned to Quakers, Christchurch Meeting, and Summer Gathering after eight or so years away in my mid twenties a very interesting thing happened. People hardly seemed to have noticed I had been gone. It wasn't that they ignored me, it was that they just accepted me right back in, without making a fuss, just like a family would. No big fanfare, no criticism for having been away. It was at this time that I really recognised that I had a Quaker 'whakapapa'. The love, respect, and closeness of the Quaker community seems very akin to that I experience in my extended family and I value it very highly.

The sense of having a Quaker 'ancestory' in those that founded Quakerism in the 1600s is important to me too. Because I'm descended from people who left England as a conscious break from the past and a seeking for something new, it's actually quite hard to trace my geneology. Having a theological and spiritual 'geneology' I can call my own seems to give me something of a sense of 'unison with the universe' as Witi Ihimaera describes it.

Sebastian said...

The universality of who I am gets a lot of criticism from people claiming that I am trying or pretending to be different from what I am myself when I am who I am by reaching out for that. Individualism plays a great role of who I am and how I am able to relate to other individuals so I've come to realize that I've no fear of being myself which as I said has brought a lot of conflict to those surrounding me accusing me of trying to be different and yet this I reckon is what makes me different in equality. I have felt very close to my humanity in those moments in which i am able to talk with people from far away and feel a sense of common union.

Liz Opp said...

Hmm. This post gives me something to chew on, and resonates with something I wrote recently, about understanding the gestalt of Quakerism by having a "multigenerational" relationship with it, as well as by having a broad relationship with it through a variety of experiences.

It seems to me that whakapapa speaks to this quality of a holistic gestalt that is both foundation and building block to one's inherent identity.

I've added you to my list of Quaker bloggers on The Good Raised Up and have enjoyed your recent posts.

Liz, The Good Raised Up