The tohunga of old were responsible for keeping the whakapapa and stories of their own hapu. They were trained in the whare wananga to memorise everything as their sacred duty. Starting at about twelve, these young men who were judged to have the ability, became the next generation of holders of the lore. They were corrected until perfect and retained the knowledge all their lives.
The first Europeans were amazed at how much the tohunga were able to recite, even up to 80 generations for Taonui who could name 4,000 ancestors, and be able to inter-relate the many lines that existed through marriage.
But the missionaries saw the tohunga as an obstacle to the work of the Christian teachings, and British settlers regarded those old ways as just another example of barbarism. A few educated European appreciated the traditional culture and were entrusted with whakapapa and stories from the past. But generally the work of the tohunga was rediculed and the result was a general withdrawal and lack of succession.
The very strength of the system required stringent discipline to memorise everything. The weakness was the very small number who were trained fully. Whare wananga do not seem to have survived after the 1840’s, e.g. the Rawheoro at Uawa held it’s last session in 1836.
The kaupapa of this website is to represent in one place as much whakapapa as possible. To correct inconsistencies we wish to include the most knowledgeable advisors available in each part of the country. Past scholars—both European and Māori—must be thanked for their efforts around 1900 to publish through the Polynesian Society Journal (JPS) and also the later authors of tribal histories.
We acknowledge all those who have helped save the past, and now we rely upon the computer to make the records available to all.