The Occasional Journal

Local Knowledge

July 2016

No Stone Unturned

Aliyah Winter, Angela Kilford

The term "Te Ao Marama", based on whakapapa, means "a world of light and opening, and symbolises a rich diversity of life, resources, and biodiversity" and "richness of life".1

Whakapapa could be referred to as a taxonomy, though plant ecologist, Cheri van Schravendijk-Goodman believes that "taxonomy" implies a linearity that narrows our understanding of the scope of whakapapa.

The nature of whakapapa is “horizontal, linear, sideways, around, behind, in front, and it is really about the connection between all of those things”.2

To approach ecology in terms of whakapapa is to highlight the relatedness of all living things to each other, and to remind us of our relationship to Papatuanuku (Earth Mother). In this regard Schravendijk-Goodman’s research on biodiversity aligns with this concept of whakapapa as she discusses how when one branch of the whakapapa is broken, we lose everything that was connected to it, resulting in a loss of diversity.

An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities, and the non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.3

Biodiversity is incredibly complex and yet, in evolutionary terms, explains the close relationship between humans and other living things. A chart can represent the genetic diversity of living species and their relative genetic similarity. For example, how close humans and trees are in genetic terms speaks to an interdependency within nature, like the whakapapa of all living things in the Māori creation narrative.

Discovering that some endemic plants in Aotearoa New Zealand are actually endangered or classified as extinct incites a new focused examination of the plants and animals that live in our city. An upheaval of native habitat is to forfeit diversity, resulting in a loss of adaptability.

A whakapapa born of walking and seeing at Waitangi Park

This whakapapa chart is best viewed on a desktop computer. If you are having trouble viewing and scrolling the chart on this page, right click and select 'Open Image in New Tab'  to view.


The area of Waitangi park on the harbour of Te Whanganui a Tara was once an extensive wetland fed by the Waitangi stream, where the whakapapa took its form in response to the area’s current and preceding flora and fauna. The wetland was once flourishing, being used for harvesting harakeke, food and water gathering, as well as a place to launch waka, until the land was lifted during the 1855 earthquake. The subsequent reclamation, the more recent replanting and return of native species, means that the chart is one form of an arrested whakapapa, which is dialogical by definition, holding potential, and always evolving.

The stories of Parāoa, Pingao and Rongomaui

I. Parāoa

II. Pingao

III. Rongomaui

About the Artists

Angela Kilford (Te Whanau A Kai, Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu) is a Wellington artist. Through performance her practice investigates memory, memorialisation and landscape. Recent projects demonstrate a keen interest in contested memories within specific sites and seek to elevate oral histories as a means of recording the past.  Kilford’s inspiration comes from Māori concepts and knowledge shared amongst whānau (family), which disrupts colonial narratives and questions the way in which we value different types of knowledge.

Aliyah Winter is a Wellington artist whose performative work extends across the media of photography, video and performance. Her work is concerned with representation of bodies, histories, gender and sexuality, through the lens of queerness.

Angela and Aliyah collaborated to present No Stone Unturned in the 2016 Performance Arcade, Wellington, from which this contribution to the Enjoy Occasional Journal has been developed.

  • 1.

    Harmsworth, G.  2004, cited in Garth R Harmsworth & Shaun Awatere, Indigenous Māori Knowledge and Perspectives of Ecosystems. Landcare Research. 2013.

  • 2.

    Cheri van Schravendijk-Goodman, Whakapapa and Biodiversity. University of Waikato. 2014

  • 3.

    Garth R Harmsworth & Shaun Awatere, Indigenous Māori Knowledge and Perspectives of Ecosystems. Landcare Research. 2013.