Whakapapa in anthropological research on tuberculosis in the Pacific

Julie Park, Judith Littleton


As a theory of knowledge encompassing ecological and cosmological frameworks, Maori whakapapa of non-human species bring a diverse array of emergent entities into kinship relations over time and space. Whakapapa narratives explain the coming into being of those relationships and their moral foundations in utu (reciprocity). In this paper, the authors demonstrate that the ‘mind map’ (Roberts 2010) of whakapapa can provide a coordinating framework for social theories of complexity used in medical anthropology. A whakapapa approach also responds effectively to the challenge posed by Gillett (2009:98): ‘How exactly should we position indigenous knowledges in a discussion of policy in post-colonial society? We conclude that the principle of utu provides both a workable local social theory and a moral framework that can be used to assess policies which shape peoples’ lives, in this case, the lives of Tuvaluans who are contending with tuberculosis in our shared transnational space.


transnational health, Tuvalu, whakapapa, New Zealand, syndemics

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/sites-vol8iss2id180