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Indigenous Theory is Theory: Whakapapa for Archaeologists

Yvonne Marshall

2021 Aotearoa New Zealand

Drawn by their foundation in fundamentally ‘otherwise’ posthuman ethical and moral worlds, archaeologists have in recent years employed a number of indigenous theories to interpret archaeological materials. In this paper I consider the potential of New Zealand Maori whakapapa, loosely and reductively translatable as genealogy or ancestry, to become a strand of general theory in archaeology. The qualities of whakapapa which I feel have particular potential are its moral and ethical embeddedness and its insistence on multiple forms of relating. Importantly, whakapapa has an accessible indigenous voice. There is an extensive published literature, both Maori and non-Maori, academic and general, discussing, interpreting and applying Maori social theory, including whakapapa. In addition, whakapapa remains today fundamental to everyday and ceremonial Maori life. It is lived. Employing whakapapa as archaeological theory does not, then, depend on a having a specific authoritative interpreter. Here I have taken recent work by installation artist Maureen Lander as a forum to outline the key principles of whakapapa and to inform my discussion of whakapapa as archaeological theory.