Whakapapa is the ancestral link which binds all Ngāi Tahu whānau. Ngāi Tahu means “people of Tahu” and all registered tribal members can trace their ancestry back to this man, the tribe’s founder Tahu Pōtiki.
Whakapapa speaks to more than our relationships with each other; it links us with the land, the sea, the environment, our world and our universe. It permeates all things Ngāi Tahu, helping us understand who we are and where we come from. It lies at the core of Ngāi Tahu knowledge and understanding – it provides an unbroken link and chain of descent between the spiritual and the material, the inanimate and the animate.
The descendants of Tahu Pōtiki, who was originally from the eastern coast of the North Island, successively moved southward and eventually established manawhenua or pre-eminence in Te Waipounamu through integrating with Ngāti Māmoe and Waitaha iwi. Over successive generations sub-tribes formed allegiances to particular ancestors and settled in distinct areas and today are represented by 18 Papatipu Rūnanga that Ngāi Tahu use to exercise tribal representation.
The ability for Ngāi Tahu to accurately trace their whakapapa owes much to systems dating back to the late 1800s when whakapapa and traditions were formally recorded to progress tribal land claims. The Crown carried out census in 1848 and 1853 as a prelude to the land purchases and in 1879 a Royal Commission and a subsequent Middle Island Native Census were attempts to create a register. But it was in 1925 and 1929 that Ngāi Tahu Census Committees brought together this work and created the Blue Book containing all the names of those Ngāi Tahu kaumātua alive in 1848 and 1853.
Today more than 53,000 registered Ngāi Tahu trace their whakapapa back to at least one of these kaumātua. The organisation takes particular care in ensuring the upkeep of our whakapapa records, and has a programme to digitize all of our genealogical records to ensure their protection and preservation.
Every day new names are added to the whakapapa database as the legacy of Tahu Pōtiki continues in Te Waipounamu and the world.