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Session Detail (parallel)

Panel 13: Genealogical methods: Kinship as practical ontology

Coordinator(s)

Anne Salmond, Amiria Salmond, Billie Jane Lythberg, Dan Hikuroa, Conal McCarthy, Albert Refiti

Session presentation

Ontological debates in anthropology derive considerable momentum from the (now not so-) New Melanesian Ethnography, especially the work of Marilyn Strathern and Roy Wagner. The notion of theories of relatedness built from materials that are themselves relationally constituted traces a recursive arc throughout these discussions, from which anthropology emerges as a field of activity constituted by its own distinctive relational practices and concepts. In the Pacific as elsewhere, these inflect how kinship is spoken of, thought about, and practised well beyond the academy, but do not replace other modes of reckoning and generating relations. Ways of relating distinct to Oceania continue to be mobilized to think through difference and sameness as well as to produce new connections and detachments, not least (but not only) by Pacific peoples themselves. Kinship is used to analyse unpredictable situations, experimentally test different theories of action and strategically investigate, negotiate, and intervene in complex legal, philosophical and political predicaments. Approaching kinship as philosophy, empirical analysis and political action—as practical ontology—allows us to explore ways of relating in which e.g. rivers, mountains, the ocean and other more-than-human actors play increasingly prominent roles in intellectual and political projects and environmental negotiations in Pacific settings.


Paper submissions are closed



Accepted papers


‘The genealogical method applied to the early history of New Zealand’: Ontological experiments in Māori history and ‘practical anthropology’ 1890-1930



Conal McCarthy (Victoria University of Wellington)

Amiria Salmond (University of Auckland)


Pacific ways of relating have long been instrumental in transforming the anthropological study of “kinship.” At the same time, ethnographic comparisons have given rise to relational experiments that in turn open novel ontological possibilities. Here we explore the active mobilisations of ethnography pioneered in the 1920s by Māori scholar and politician Āpirana Ngata, together with colleagues including the anthropologist Te Rangihiroa (Peter Buck) and with fellow tribal leaders. Ngata’s “genealogical method,” grounded in his own expertise and embeddedness in the workings of whakapapa, involved the deliberate use of ethnographic methods as tools in a wide-ranging program to improve conditions for Māori in areas as diverse as healthcare, legal reform, agricultural development, artistic and cultural revitalisation. Tracing the genealogy of this ‘practical anthropology’ back into tribal initiatives in the 1890s, we focus in on the remarkable activities of Tūnuiārangi (Major Brown) and others at Pāpāwai marae in the Wairarapa, in connection with the Polynesian Society and the Dominion Museum, who articulated the modern notion of Māoritanga (roughly, Māoriness). The paper considers the ways in which the theory and methods of anthropology, heritage and history were nudged away from official objectives and towards tribal ends, and in doing so how new possibilities for being Māori emerged from innovative configurations of these together with elements of whakapapa, tikanga and taonga.

Fractiverses and practical ontologies of kinship



Fiona Cameron (Western Sydney University)


This presentation focuses on the activities of the Polynesian Society and the work of ethnographer Elsdon Best and surveyor, ethnologist Stephenson Percy Smith on their collecting excursions up Whanganui River in 1895 prior to the Dominion Museum expeditions from 1919-1922. The Society established in 1892 sought to preserve the history, traditions, manners, customs of the Oceanic races. With a Pacific wide mandate, its concerns were scientific – the preservation of such material according to disciplinary specialisms in anthropology, ethnology, philology and history.

I analyse how kinship is invoked, thought about and recorded through their ethnographical observations and encounters with tangata whenua. My concern here is with their approach to alterity. In doing so I develop a novel ontological method drawing on the work of Henare et al, Holbraad, Law’s notion of fractiverse and others to interrogate how Best and Percy Smith directed their attention to certain “things” in the field, framed the relatedness between language, genealogy, histories, legends, theories of Maori origin, human bodies and the natural world for their purposes and how these conceptions related to, folded into and/or clashed with Maori notions of kinship and relatedness as relations between different entities, ancestors, whakapapa, rivers and more-than-human actors.

Landscape traditions of photography in Te Ika-a-Maui



Billie Jane Lythberg (University of Auckland)

Natalie Robertson


Natalie Robertson (Ngāti Porou, Clan Donnachaidh) and Billie Lythberg. In Te Ao Māori, the complex networks of whakapapa (roughly, genealogy) that shape the patterns of relations between different life forms may be embodied in relation to landscapes, including mountains, harbours and rivers. These relations may be enacted in stories, song, aphorisms and art works, including photographs and films. In this paper we parallel two rivers in the Te Ika-a-Maui-North Island of Aotearoa-New Zealand, the Waiapū on the east coast and Whanganui on the west, and photographic responses to these in the early 20th century. Our primary focus is on photographs created during the Dominion Museum Expeditions to these rivers in 1921 and 1923 and the role some have come to play in contemporary intellectual and political projects and environmental negotiations. We will also consider how traditions of landscape and portrait photography from the late 19th century onwards have been employed and explored in these locales by local Māori and their invited guests.


Shifting Genealogies in Oceania: Anthropology and Pacific Islanders Regenerated



Ty Tengan (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa)


In 1975, the Oceanian anthropologist, writer, and philosopher Epeli Hau‘ofa published “Anthropology and Pacific Islanders,” a critical reflection on the gulf between disciplinary practices and Indigenous projects in the postcolonial Pacific. “Anthropology and Pacific Islanders” was later included as the first chapter of We are the Ocean (2008), a collection of Hau‘ofa’s academic and creative works. By then Hau‘ofa had become known for his visionary writings on Oceania as a place of expansive possibility, which he articulated precisely as he was shedding his identity as an anthropologist (and an “outsider”). This essay seeks to pay homage to Hau‘ofa by reassessing the shifting relations between Oceanians and anthropology with particular focus on the ways that a new generation of Indigenous anthropologists are wrestling with multiple intellectual, cultural, and political genealogies in an effort to unsettle any stable notions of a “we” in Oceanian anthropology. How are the pasts and the lived genealogical relationships to such pasts generative for us? How are they not? Under whose terms and what conditions do “we” come to claim affinity or assert alterity? How do we also navigate other histories that divide as much as unite our Oceanian peoples? This paper explores the ways that genealogical practice may engage the intersections and divergences among anthropological and Native Pacific pasts to enact decolonial and Indigenous futurities.

Moehau - a mountain too far.



Paora Tapsell (University of otago)


This paper explores the tensions between two philosophical world views: legally defined boundaries of ownership (Descartes) versus kinship negotiated boundaries of belonging (whakapapa) and the crown's duplicity (passive interference) in exploiting Maori kin tensions (divide and rule) by promoting legal instruments (kawanatanga: NLC judgements and more recently Treaty framed legislation) to promote/benefit "legally qualified" individuals/groups beyond formal marae-framed kin accountability (rangatiratanga). Case study Te Moehau o Tamatekapua and three cross claim exclusions 1876-2017.

He alo a he alo: face-to-face Hawaiian family gatherings as a genealogical method



Lelemia Irvine (University of Hawaii at Manoa)


Leunion (Family reunions), Halawai (meetings), and Huakai (journies) are a practical ontological, decolonial method by Ohana Kanaka Oiwi (Indigenous Hawaiian families) to explore our relationships with kinships and aina (land) and wahi pana (sacred land). Leuniona and Halawai are formal or informal face-to-face gatherings, respectively, that can be big or small, and last a few hours, days or more intended to keep the family together in a particular place. Huakai are journeys where families visit sacred places to us and bond with the aina. The purpose of these family gatherings and field trips are a form of reflection to strengthen the connectivity of past, present and future generations the transference of knowledge and stories about, of and with ancestors and ancestral lands. In this presentation, I reflect upon my various experiences as a haumana (student) of becoming mea paa kuauhau (a person versed in genealogy) by my own ohana (family). I argue that this practice is well-documented and practiced beyond the academy. From the lens of practitioners, leuniona creates a means to mobilize ohana to recognize our inter-connectivity and attachment to our ancestral homelands in the Hawaiian Islands as Kanaka Oiwi. This process of family reunion making and creation of genealogy books is a de-colonial empirical and qualitative analytic approach only accessible to ohana. When Hawaiian elders recite our genealogy and stories at leuniona, halawai and on huakai in our homeland, this exp

Spatial exposition and structural implication of mavae and tofiga in Samoan ethnography



Albert Refiti (Auckland University of Technology)


The formal and spatial manifestation of the Samoan cosmogony within the structure of the landscape and Samoan polity is examined by linking creation to the concepts of mavae and tofiga. These are embedded in the Samoan notion of the person and shows the potential of mavae as unfolding lines and pathways linking individuals to other aiga clans. In this way, people become equivalences to gifts and objects like fine mats that pass between families becoming roadways or ala. In certain scales, ala becomes a conglomeration of people and places that ultimately gives rise to stability and centrality or tofi – the appointment of positions and stations, which shapes the meaning and characteristics of fua’iala (villages).

The paper will first explore the notion of personhood as an interconnected matrix that structures the geography of the Samoan landscape and relations forming passages, pathways, traits, lines, loops, brocades, knots and branches within the Samoan kinship system. In the manner of a spatial exposition, the paper will provide a clear diagram of this relationship using fa’alupega or genealogy from the village of Fasito’outa in Upolu as an example. Secondly, I will look at the transformation of this fa’alupega in Aotearoa New Zealand.

David Schneider, Kinship, and Ontology in Oceania



Richard Feinberg (Kent State University)


David Schneider revolutionized our understanding of kinship by shunning standard anthropological assumptions and allowing his analyses to flow from his interlocutors’ assertions. Kinship, he observed, may be based less on genealogy than on a code for conduct involving “diffuse, enduring solidarity.” Consequently, people sometimes apply kin terms quite literally to others who are not biological relatives, and occasionally even to non-human beings. Drawing on that perspective, Schneider’s student, Gary Witherspoon, explained Navajo application of shimá ‘my mother’ to sheep herds and agricultural land on the principle that shimá is based on “nurturance” as much as giving birth. Anthropologists working in Oceania have adopted similar perspectives. Bradd Shore, for example, reported that Samoans ground kinship in ‘service’ (tino e tasi) as well as ‘blood connections’ (toto e tasi), and I have argued that Anutan kinship is as much a function of aropa ‘empathy’ as genealogy. Here I will explore Schneider’s influence on the study of Pacific kinship systems—largely through the work of his students, including Shore, Roy Wagner, and Vern Carroll—and the way in which he opened the concept of “kinship” to include a variety of extra-genealogical connections.

Te Awaroa - Voice of the River



Dan Hikuroa (University of Auckland)


In a Māori worldview we exist in a kinship-based-relationship with Te Taiao – the Earth, Universe and everything within it. What is described as ‘the universe’ in scientific theory is conceptualised in mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) as ‘process’, constructed around a whakapapa or kinship framework. Thus kinship as practical ontology lies at the very core of Māori thinking, knowledge and practice. What role could such thinking, knowing and being play in contemporary issues facing Oceania?
Across New Zealand, many rivers are no longer safe for fishing and swimming, and Kiwis are seriously concerned about declining river health. The ‘bottom line’ regulatory approach of the government's freshwater reforms is anthropocentrically framed, and we argue, flawed. Inspired by and drawing from mātauranga Māori, Te Awaroa is a national movement of Kiwis taking action to care for their waterways. A critical strand of this effort is to reframe the issue from the perspective of the river – what would the river say? What is it saying? We seek to articulate and then empower the voice of the river, and anticipate our findings could make contributions to issues across Oceania where similar kinship-based relationships with the land and sea exist

Alternative facts and uncommon truths



Anne Salmond (University of Auckland)


This paper focuses on current debates about rivers, whakapapa and the law in New Zealand, beginning with the passage of Te Awa Tupua Act that for the first time in the world, recognises a river (the Whanganui or Te Awa Tupua) as a legal person.

It argues that this legislation represents an ontological compromise, still limited by possessive individualism, while seeking to recognise the Treaty rights of Maori kin groups to uphold existential links between rivers, people and other life forms.

It explores the possibilities for a wider reconciliation between ideas of kai-tiakitanga (roughly, guardianship) and public trusteeship; and mauri ora (life force) and ecological health in legal and other frameworks for waterways in New Zealand.