British Museum collections, £12.99
Length: 103.500 cm
Width: 5.000 cm
Depth: 3.000 cm
Collected by Te
Gift of Sir George Grey, 1854
AOA Oc 1854,1229.22
Genealogy staff, Whakapapa Stick
Aotearoa (New Zealand) 18th century AD
Genealogy staffs were an important tool in asserting and proving the status and power of high-ranking figures among Maori communities in New Zealand.
Maori trace their lines of descent back to the arrival of the first canoes from eastern Polynesia. They also go even further than that and trace their ancestry right back to the gods. Genealogy, or whakapapa as it is known in the Maori language, has always been a crucial element of everyday and ceremonial life. It is particularly important to the institution of chieftainship.
The highest chiefs were considered to be living descendants of the gods and therefore embodied their power. In order to establish this power and their right to leadership, chiefs needed to be able to trace their genealogy. Staffs like this one were used as memory aids for the ritual reciting of lines of descent.
This one is made out of wood and nephrite and counts eighteen successive generations preceding the person for whom it was made.
When Maori chiefs died, their bodies were wrapped, decorated and placed on display, marking the beginning of their transition from living individual to chiefly ancestor.
D.C. Starzecka (ed), Maori: Art and Culture (London, British Museum Press, 1996)
J. Mack, The Museum of the Mind (London, British Museum Press, 2003)