Rangahau | Research

January 2020

Wairua and Birthing

Nan, Hori, Wiremu and Tawatihitihi o te Rawhitiroa

Pregnancy and birth are key times in the lives of mothers, babies and their whānau. Some whānau have the resources and life contexts that enable them to understand and experience pregnancy and birth using Māori concepts, frameworks and practices.

Other Māori experience pregnancy and birth within a largely Western or mainstream biomedical system of processes and practices, without recourse to Māori knowledge or support. Most likely, many more have experiences that sit somewhere along a continuum between these different systems of knowledge, theory and practice.

Even when pregnancy and birth pathways appear well aligned with mainstream practices, we should not assume whānau experiences are devoid of what it means to be Māori; a key aspect of this is wairua.

Wairua is experienced and enacted in all situations, explicitly and implicitly, and with profound impacts on how whānau navigate services and experience this critical life stage.

Simmonds, 2014


A Wairua Approach provides a powerful way of understanding experiences, practices and relationships in the context of Māori pregnancy and birthing, with significant implications for the health and wellbeing of mothers, babies and whānau. By openly choosing to discuss and examine wairua in research, we can reclaim, rediscover and reimagine what it is to be Māori and consider the transformative potential to whānau wellbeing of wairua as it is experienced and expressed within maternity contexts.

This year I want to explore more about what a Wairua Approach means in the area of maternal health. I have been awarded seeding funding from Ngā Pae o te Maramatanga, which will begin in March to support a 6-month project within Te Rōpū Whāriki, College of Health, Massey University. I will be working alongside Dr Naomi Simmonds who is a senior lecturer and researcher with Te Awanuiarangi. I will also be receiving guidance from Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes.

This research is about building capacity and capability towards developing a Wairua Approach to Māori understandings, experiences, practices and relationships involved in pregnancy and birthing.

The focus is to develop and inform research through literature, engagement and collaboration with Māori experts, practitioners and communities in the field of Māori, pregnancy and birthing, and explore current initiative and developments within diverse maternity spaces.

A Wairua Approach is fundamentally about reclaiming what is important to us as Māori, and as Māori researchers who no longer agree (explicitly or implicitly) with ‘leaving wairua at the door’ of the academy, or in fact the hospital or any other part of our lives.


May 2020

Raranga, raranga taku takapau: hapū ora for tamariki

Our research project’s name, Raranga, raranga taku takapau: hapū ora for tamariki, comes from an ancient karakia used during the birth of Tūhuruhuru the son of Hineteiwaiwa (the atua of childbirth and te whare pora – the house of weaving).

It refers to the weaving of a ceremonial whariki (mat) for birth and serves to provide us with a framework for understanding the weaving of ancestral knowledge in contemporary spaces to create safe and healthy environments that promote the best start for our tamariki.

It honours Hineteiwaiwa and, not only provides us with practical exemplars of the role that the maternal figure had in society, but also embraces the male and female essences and asserts the need to enhance mana tangata, and importantly mana whānau, grounded in Māori concepts and approaches.

Nanny cutting Tawatihitihi iho/cord with tūhua from home – Whakaari

I am a part of an amazing and important research project that aims to address inequities in maternal health services for Māori by using Māori knowledge and tikanga to empower Māori families.

The research project is funded by ‘A Better Start E Tipu e Rea’ National Science Challenge, which will receive nearly $1 million over two years.

Māori communities, particularly rural ones, are currently underserved and overlooked in maternal health services and funding initiatives. Many mothers and families have limited choices in the care they receive and need, and the health system has not prioritised Māori worldviews in the type of services offered.

Our research will take place across three sites in Tāmaki Makaurau, Waikato and Bay of Plenty, and takes a co-design approach to understand how Māori communities support maternal wellbeing within a mātauranga Māori worldview.

While the traditional medical model has a vital place in maternity care, it is well known that colonialisation and racism has led to inequitable health outcomes and disconnections from Māori knowledge of wellbeing and maternal care. These outcomes for Māori still play a big part in the maternity experience of Māori families.

“The services are just not available for Māori and many simply don’t turn up because the traditional model doesn’t make sense or fit with them, and that model has not served our people as well as it could do.”

“What these projects are attempting to do is move closer to our own Māori knowledge and Māori based approach, because we will engage more when Māori knowledge is incorporated into the model.”

The project team includes: Dr Waitoki, Dr Kahu McClintock, Dr Naomi Simmonds, Prof Helen Moewaka Barnes, Dr Teah Carlson, Dr Fiona Cram, and Dr David Tipene-Leach.

The project has three project sites:

  1. Ngā Māmā o Ngāti Hauā – Wellbeing of mothers and whānau in Ngāti Hauā (Dr Kahu McKlintock, Te Rau Ora)
  2. Ngā wai ora o Rāhui Pokeka: Creating communities for hapū ora in Huntly (Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki)
  3. Te Whare Pora: Wairua and wellbeing in hapū ora (Dr Naomi Simmonds, Te Awananuiarangi, Whakatane).

Project 1 is a community-based research collaboration with Te Rau Ora, a Māori workforce and development service in Hamilton, who will be working with Ngati Haua iwi health services to investigate the current use of maternity services in the Cambridge, Matamata and Morrinsville areas.

Project 2 is also a community and iwi based collaboration to design maternity wellbeing initiatives in Huntly, Rahui Pokeka. Taking its name from the many lakes in Huntly, the project will work to co-design a wellbeing programme.

Project 3 is located in South Auckland and Te Whare Pora in Flaxmere, which is a hauora ‘clinic’ for pregnant women staffed by weavers, rather than health professionals.

Sites like Huntly currently had little access to good maternity services for Māori. There was no 24-hour medical centre and although it was only a 30-minute drive to Waikato Hospital, it had been overlooked.

Data will be collected from mothers and their whānau as well as stakeholders. Methods will include in-depth interviews, pūrākau as method (a form of narrative storytelling) and visual data collection. Data will be analysed appropriate to the methods used, including thematic and discursive analysis and narrative creation. Kaupapa Māori worldviews
will provide a grounding and framework for analysis, including paying attention to Māori conceptual approaches such as wairua.

Participants identified earlier (e.g. site partners and initiative participants) will contribute to interpretation and analysis to co-create knowledge and the ways in which their knowledge is presented and represented. Site wānanga and project team wānanga will be important vehicles for these processes and will involve wider challenge members and working with stakeholders in developing transformative actions and plans going forward.

This kaupapa is about bringing Māori world view back to how we’re managing maternity services because when you bring that world view back it provides an underlying foundation, a connection back to our unique culture and a shared understanding and base to grow our families from.

Also posted on Scoop

My first woven kakaku that hold our birthing taonga

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