Rōpū Whānau: A whakawhiti kōrero research methodology

Keywords: Rōpū Whānau, audience, kapa haka, whakawhiti kōrero, Indigenous research methodologies


Kapa haka is not simply the song and dance of Aotearoa’s Indigenous people; it is deeply steeped in mātauranga Māori, and a way of simultaneously exemplifying Māori history, present, and future. Meanwhile, this ever-expanding archive and cartography tool is also a community-focused cultural practice, methodology, pedagogy, and way of life. Contemporary kapa haka - both competitive and for entertainment - fosters, develops, validates, and celebrates the Māori world, the language, and our ‘ways’; arguably the fundamental building blocks of Māori identity and what the West might consider ‘popular culture’. Kia Rite! Kapa haka for screens, is a Marsden funded project from which this article is but a tiny thread. It will focus on the influence and impact of screen production on the art’s ebbs and flows, and the conflicts between maintaining ‘traditions’ and exploring innovation in and towards the Indigenous-led creative academic future. Over the last century, kapa haka has evolved exponentially, and as the wider project will explore, in large part, as a response to the advancement of screen technologies. 


An important strand in Kia Rite! will investigate the kapa haka audience, employing a refined iteration of Rōpū Whānau (Wilson, 2013), a conversation/discussion facilitation methodology initially designed for whakapapa related groups who were asked to respond to screen materials. For Kia Rite! Rōpū Whānau will view archival to contemporary kapa haka as a whānau, whilst also framing a multi-generational audience study that extends to include tamariki (children and youth). The inclusion of tamariki veers sharply from most human ethics practices in research, and thus presenting this as an idea may be a vanguard, and is undeniably experimental considering the sharp contrast from common research praxes. Exploring such responses to screened kapa haka in this way demands a kaupapa Māori/a-iwi design that is familiar to the whānau and has their best interests at heart. This article contends the best practice for such interaction is a whakawhiti kōrero (crossing over of stories, narratives, talks) methodology to reflect and embody the whakataukī (proverbial saying) “he aha te kai o ngā rangatira? He kōrero” which literally translates “what is the food of chiefs? It is talk”. This is an important aphorism since in te ao Māori ‘chiefliness’ isn’t what goes into someone’s mouth, but what comes out. Although related because it sits in the research paradigm, the distinction between focus groups and Rōpū Whānau is stark in many ways, as the latter were developed specifically to move beyond ‘safety in numbers’ methodologies (Kitzinger, 1994) to a ‘safety within the whānau’ format, as will be delineated in this article. Encouraging participants from the same whānau and including tamariki effectively invites the duty of care to protect tamariki mokopuna and other vulnerable parties, and in actuality provides an extra layer of ethics to alleviate some of the institutional anxiety about dealing with young people. This critical article brings forward the fundamental elements of Rōpū Whānau and for the most part have provided a platform for experimentation, both a nod to previous research methods and at crucial times, sharply diverge from them, and centrally pushing the boundaries of what group research is and what it can be. 

Author Biography

Jani Wilson, Independent researcher

Jani WIlson's research sits firstly in Māori screen studies, secondly, in Indigenous academic excellence in tertiary education. She had developed mahi-toi which allows scholars to bring their creative bents into the academic environment, to engage rangatahi (youth) into academia.



Once Were Warriors 1994, dir. Lee Tamahori

The Seekers (a.k.a. Land of Fury) 1953, dir. Ken Annakin


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