Mahi a Atua: A Māori approach to mental health

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This paper was written in 2019

The story of Mataora and Niwareka

Mataora was a paramount chief of the physical world. He fell in love and married Niwareka, a beautiful princess from the spiritual realm. Their story is one of changing attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour. It is the story of many firsts; first account of intimate abuse, first account of nursing, and of how Moko (Māori tattoo) originated. On their spiritual journey Mataora and Niwareka pursued a more peaceful way of being by bringing the arts (including moko and raranga whatu/weave and stitch) into the physical world where they grew and flourished (until colonisation). Mataora promised to forever strive to be good. This story of promise is held in the whakatauki (below) shared with Mataora by Uetonga, Niwareka's father and Ruaumoko's (the youngest child of sky and earth) grandson:

“Whaia Nga Mahi o Rarohenga” | “Strive to be better than average”

Mataora (change agents)

Practitioners who specialise in Mahi a Atua. Mataora develop their own pukenga (skills) by embedding the Mahi a Atua principles in their lives. Mataora prioritise oranga whakapapa (bringing our stories to life) and reconnect whānau to their own stories by sharing pūrākau.

Setting up Te Kuwatawata in your Community

First Step!

Tēnei te Po, Nau Mai te Ao

So you have decided that your number one priority is to address Māori inequity. Te Kurahuna, using the Mahi a Atua framework, can work with you to improve the quality of your organisation.

Being informed of the evidence is the first step to improve services. We all struggle to keep up with all of the information available to us, be it articles, evidence reviews, blogs, tweets or messages. The easiest way to keep up with best practice in your area of interest is to use a source you can trust. Our guidance is that source. 

Second Step!

Ka mā te Ariki Ka mā te Tauira

Anyone can take a lead. To lead is to take action and show others that change is possible. The best place to start when making change is to consider how you can change your own way of working. Take the initiative and then share what you find out with your colleagues. 

Use our guidance to get conversations started. Having this guidance gives you authority when explaining the changes you want others to make.

In some organisations you might be part of a team responsible for putting guidance into practice or improving quality. Or you might be working across many organisations and sectors and have the opportunity to connect people and share the knowledge you have gained from our guidance. If you have the vision and can clearly communicate it, you can make a difference.

Third Step!

Hongihongi te Wheiwheiā

Before you start planning changes to services or implementing new guidance, you need to understand how the service works at the moment. This is your baseline and can be used to measure the effect of any changes you make.

You might do this as part of a team or you can start by looking at your own area of responsibility or experience.

You can find out about how the service works in lots of different ways. Informal discussions, online questionnaires, wānanga or a review of local policies and procedures could help. Remember to look outside of your organisation and see how your service fits into the wider community.

Important questions...

  • Exactly what happens now?
  • Where does it happen?
  • What resources are being used?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What do people say about their experience?
  • What impact does it have on them?
  • What outcomes are you measuring?
  • Are these outcomes important to whānau or people using services? 

One of our whānau was moved by her Mahi a Atua experience and wrote this kōrero tairitenga:

Innate shapeshifting
Mai Hawaaiki, from hawaaiki we unfurl
Ki Hawaaiki, to all the way back there again
And again
And again
So I’m out here driving my ancestral superhighway
Without a driver’s license
Helm of my own waka
Beneath the stars
Beacons of cultural navigation that traverse ions of time
But I’m not yet confident to read
Or maybe it’s trust
Or maybe a type of spiritual dyslexia
That I feel connection
As sure as my pulse
I am my ancestors
Mahi a Atua is a refuge
A space to make sense of the murkiness
A place where we shapeshift between rehutaitanga and hukuataitanga
And then harness the confidence to take it out for a spin.

By Dayle Takitimu 14.06.2017


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