Embodied Knowledge

Exploring the Influence of Whakapapa and Maadtoe jah Maahtoe

Photo by Emily Parr. Waha kura by Tanya White.

For this issue of The Vessel, editors Jasmine Te Hira, Zoe Black and Carola Grahn explore ideas of whakapapa and maadtoe jah maahtoe within different material customs, describing the connections between Indigenious knowledge systems from Saepmie and across Te Moana nui a Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean. Through the work of jewellers, weavers, fibre artists, artists and duojárat from Saepmie and Aotearoa New Zealand, this issue describes whakapapa and maadtoe jah maahtoe as important value systems and energy that draw together and bind Indigenous creative practice.

The third issue of The Vessel grew from a series of online discussions held in 2020. Stories of Making: Across the Ocean, over the Mountain was a project collaboratively initiated by Objectspace and Norwegian Crafts to create opportunities for dialogue between Indigenous making practitioners in Saepmie1 and Aotearoa New Zealand. The conversations sparked in these initial discussions were fruitful and showed incredible connections between how we make on our respective sides of the world.

For this issue, Jasmine Te Hira, Zoe Black and Carola Grahn have drawn together responses from Aotearoa and Saepmie that tease out these connections and offer space to explore how our worldviews can influence making practices on a global stage.

We have framed this issue around the ideas of whakapapa and maadtoe jah maahtoe


We have framed this issue around the ideas of whakapapa and maadtoe jah maahtoe. These concepts describe the beginning point of relationship building and an essential way in which we locate ourselves in relation to others. For Māori, whakapapa is a framework that places us within the world. It encompasses how we relate and connect with the whenua (land), to the moana (sea), to Atua (ancestors of significance), to our tūpuna (direct ancestors), and to those around us.

For Sami people, maadtoe similarly has an expansive meaning, relating to origin, ancestors, lineage, and descent. In the South Sami language there are different words for knowledge. Maahtoe is related to the kind of knowledge that sits in your body, and which finds expression in art, language, and creative practice, while daajroe is something you know because you have studied it – it is more tied to science.

These terms are an expression of Indigenous time and a way of ordering the world which we belong to. They ensure that we acknowledge the responsibility we have to each other and the importance of relationships in the world.

For The Vessel, we are thinking of how these worldviews link and connect who we are, what we do and how we approach making practices. We have commissioned articles that explore ideas of whakapapa and maadtoe jah maahtoe as important value systems and energy that draw together and bind Indigenous creative practice.

Whakapapa is a vital concept within te ao Māori (the Māori world) and the principles evoked are relevant within Saepmie too. This relationship is discussed in a text by ​​Johan Sandberg McGuinne which explores ideas of whakapapa in relation to maadtoe jah maahtoe from a Sami perspective. It is a text written as if to a dear cousin, pointing out the great loss of naming practices and kinship terms in our communities due to colonialism, at the same time lovingly encouraging us to learn again.

Editors Carola Grahn, Jasmine Te Hira (photo by David St George) and Zoe Black

We approached three practitioners from Aotearoa, Dorothy Waetford, Areta Wilkinson and Raukura Turei, to describe the whakapapa of their practice through images, creating a visual map to reference the different layers weaved into practice. Their contributions show the rich texture of how they make and the connections to the whenua (land) that guide their making.

Two practitioners have considered the gaps within their whakapapa as a source for creative exploration. The work of Jasmine Togo-Brisby acknowledges the loss of making practices as a result of the forced migration of her ancestors. Ioana Gordon-Smith discusses how Togo-Brisby, as a South-Sea Islander, is defining new material customs within these whakapapa gaps.

A new body of work by Katarina Spik Skum similarly incorporates research into her genealogy to regain lost ways of making. This project began by uncovering connections through records kept within the Institute for Racial Biology and strengthening her understanding of personal history and family connections through making.

The whakapapa of material understanding in Saepmie and Aotearoa is explored through two texts focussing on the first instances where we learn as infants. Tanya White, Fredrik Prost and Inga-Wiktoria Påve share knowledge on the connection between the giettka (a Sami cradle for babies) and wahakura (a Māori woven bassinet), important vessels that carry whānau (family) relationships and express matrilineal love for new generations through making. Fredrik Prost and Inga-Wiktoria Påve also point out how this object is not only a collaboration between an expecting couple, but rather a family project that sometimes continues over several generations.

The power of aroha (love) extends into Sarah Hudson’s beautiful kōrero (discussion) on the joy of Ron Te Kawa’s practice. She shares her thoughts on the importance of playing with mistakes and focussing on the happiness of making.

Lova Isabelle Lundberg explains the work of making a baarkadahlke, a South Sami hair piece that was originally a practical item for women at work. It then fell somewhat into oblivion but is now beginning to be seen again as somewhat an extravagant piece of jewellery worn at Sami festivities. Lova describes how wearing it makes her feel empowered, as well as connected to her history, her culture, and her heritage.

In 'The Landscapes Within' we meet editor Carola Grahn in conversation with Monika Svonni. Through the text we are introduced to Svonni’s work, as well as to her outlook on life and art. In her work with textile collages, wood carvings, and sculpture she incorporates elements from Sami duodji, like pewter thread and reindeer hide, while maintaining a unique expression which is entirely her own.

We have found an immense amount of joy in bringing this issue together. The opportunity to centre Indigenous world views has been hugely exciting and we extend a heartfelt thanks to all of the contributors for offering their ideas so generously. It is a privilege to share this knowledge with an international audience and we hope the ideas presented here show the importance of relationships and our responsibility to understand those relationships within all that we do.

New Stories of Making
by Hege Henriksen, director of Norwegian Crafts and Kim Paton, director of Objectspace
Dehtie Maadtoste, Maadtome – From This Land, These Ancestors of Mine
an essay on South Saami naming practices and sjeavods maahtoe, silent tacit knowledge, by Johan Sandberg McGuinne
Keeping the Flame of Ancestral Tradition Burning
on the restoration of two Sami cradles, by Inga-Wiktoria Påve and Fredrik Prost
Re-routing Whakapapa
an article on artist Jasmine Togo-Brisby by curator Ioana Gordon-Smith
Texture of Practice: Dorothy Waetford
a presentation of inspiration and making practice by artist Dorothy Waetford
Baarkaldahke – A Living Cultural Legacy
Lova Isabelle Lundberg introduces us to the South Sami hair tie tradition baarkaldahke
Texture of Practice: Raukura Turei
a presentation of inspiration and making practice by artist Raukura Turei
The Landscapes Within: Monika Svonni
an conversation with artist Monika Svonni and editor Carola Grahn
Love as a Rebellious Act
an article by Sarah Hudson on textile artist Ron Te Kawa
Texture of Practice: Areta Wilkinson
a presentation of inspiration and making practice by artist Areta Wilkinson
Reconstructing Gábde Based on Racial Biology Archives
an article by artist and duodjár Katarina Spik Skum