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Ki tā te whakaaro Māori – A Māori-centred approach

Te Kupenga uses a Māori-centred approach based on theories developed within Aotearoa New Zealand. Over the past 20 years, at least three separate but related schools of thought have emerged that support a Māori-centred approach to analysing and understanding Māori realities.

Mātauranga Māori theory is an extension of Māori language and cultural studies. This approach was led by Te Kapunga Koro Dewes and Hirini Moko Mead at Victoria University, Timoti Karetu and others at the University of Waikato, and Ranginui Walker and others at the University of Auckland in the late 1980s. One of the modern leaders in this field is Dr Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal (Royal, 1995).

Hauora or Māori well-being school of thought was led by Professor Sir Mason Durie (Durie, 2003, 2006). This approach grew out of Durie’s work in the mental health and wider health fields. It is now central to modern health practice with Māori in New Zealand.

Kaupapa Māori theory was led by Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith (Smith, 1992). This theory grew out of the experience of Māori within the education sector, particularly within the kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori school movements. It is now widely used by Māori across disciplines in New Zealand universities.

The common ground these theories share forms the basis of the Māori-centred approach. This approach includes:

  • valuing Māori language and culture as it is
  • valuing Māori voices and perspectives, including their diversity
  • looking to the culture and the people for ways for improving the well-being of Māori
  • ensuring that research gives back to the people and culture, for the benefit of future generations.

This paper identifies some common elements in the three approaches that statistics can measure. We are not able to address all the information needs raised by these different approaches. However, by addressing those needs we can measure, we are being responsive to Māori and developing a link between Statistics NZ and researchers committed to Māori-centred approaches.

Using a Māori-centred approach to whānau and whānau well-being, Te Kupenga:

  • acknowledges that whānau can live across multiple households
  • lets Māori define their own whānau
  • recognises that whānau well-being is experienced by the individual as much as the collective
  • lets Māori individuals provide their perception of the well-being of their whānau.

We discuss the Te Kupenga approach towards exploring whānau and whānau well-being more in chapters four and five.

He mea nui te whānau – a Māori perspective

The whānau unit is the fundamental building block of Māori society. Not only does whānau mean ‘to be born’ or ‘give life’, but it refers to the kinship group that includes mokopuna (grandchildren), tamariki (children), mātua (parents), kaumātua (grandparents), and whanaunga (relatives).

The whānau is a key source of Māori well-being and connectedness. A common Māori expression uses the harakeke, or flax bush, as a metaphor to describe the whānau. ‘Kua tupu te pa harakeke’ can be translated as ‘the harakeke is growing’. The centre shoot, or ‘te rito’, is protected by the wider flax bush. The centre shoot represents children, and the bush represents adult whānau members.

The pa harakeke metaphor assumes that individual and whānau security, protection, and well-being are interdependent. Each person supports others and secures their position in the whānau (Munford and Sanders, 1999).

According to Metge (1995):

  There is the duty to care for each other, expressed in the words ahu (tend, foster), atawhai (show kindness to, foster), awhi (embrace, foster, cherish), manaaki (show respect or kindness to), taurima (treat with care, tend) and whāngai (feed, nourish, bring up). All these words imply meeting not only the physical needs of others but also their need to be nurtured mentally and spiritually… This duty of care for each other includes the responsibility laid upon older generations to teach the young right ways and to hand on knowledge that belongs to and will benefit the whānau as a whole. 


Given its central importance to Māori, whānau is recognised by government as vital to the economic and social well-being of all Māori (Ministry of Health, 2002; Families Commission 2011).

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