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Whakapapa as a Maori Mental Construct: Some Implications for the Debate over Genetic Modification of Organisms

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Title: Whakapapa as a Maori Mental Construct: Some Implications for the Debate over Genetic Modification of Organisms
Authors: Roberts, Mere
Haami, Brad
Benton, Richard
Satterfield, Terre
Finucane, Melissa L.
show 2 moreHenare, Mark
Henare, Manuka

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Keywords: whakapapa
folk taxonomy
Maori narratives
genetically modified organisms
show 1 morekumara (sweet potato)
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LC Subject Headings: Oceania -- Periodicals.
Issue Date: 2004
Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
Citation: Roberts, M., B. Haami, R. Benton, T. Satterfield, M. L. Finucane, M. Henare, and M. Henare. 2004. Manuka Whakapapa as a Maori Mental Construct: Some Implications for the Debate over Genetic Modification of Organisms. The Contemporary Pacific 16 (1): 1-28.
Abstract: The use of whakapapa by New Zealand Mäori is most commonly understood in
reference to human descent lines and relationships, where it functions as a family
tree or genealogy. But it also refers to an epistemological framework in which
perceived patterns and relationships in nature are located. These nonhuman whakapapa
contain information concerning an organism’s theorized origins from
supernatural beings, inferred descent lines, and morphological and ecological
relationships. In this context whakapapa appear to function at one level as a “folk
taxonomy,” in which morphology, utility, and cultural considerations all play an
important role. Such whakapapa also function as ecosystem maps of culturally
important resources. More information and meaning is provided by accompanying
narratives, which contain explanations for why things came to be the way
they are, as well as moral guidelines for correct conduct.
Renewed interest in the whakapapa of plants and animals has arisen from concerns
raised by Mäori in regard to genetic modification, particularly the transfer
of genes between different species, as this concept is frequently invoked by those
who oppose transgenic biotechnology. Informed dialogue on this subject requires
an understanding of the structure and function of nonhuman as well as human
whakapapa and their underlying rationale, as well as the nature of the relationships
among the things included in nonhuman whakapapa. Of additional interest
and relevance is the relationship of whakapapa to modern scientific concepts
of taxonomy based on phylogeny and the species concept.
In this paper we describe and interpret the whakapapa of an important food
plant, the sweet potato or kümara, in terms of its apparent functions and underlying
rationale. We also discuss how the whakapapa and its associated narratives
might contribute to the current debate on genetically modified organisms in New
ISSN: 1043-898X
Appears in Collections:TCP [The Contemporary Pacific ], 2004 - Volume 16, Number 1

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