Te Taha Whānau is part 4 of my 5 part series talking about Te Whare Tapa Whā, a holistic Māori model of health that I LOVE.
They say that blood is thicker than water, and when talking about real blood this is definitely true. Yet when it comes to whānau, our own family, this may be less true for some of us.
Some of us are in places in our lives where we have had to choose our family. For one reason or another, our families let us down or we live far away from them, so we’ve had to create family out of our friends and communities. Or even when we have great relationships with our family, our friend groups are as close as family. For years my best friend Kim would spend every Christmas with my family, she’s my sister from another mister.
Kei te pai, any and all representations of family apply here. Within the Whare Tapa Whā model, taha whānau represents both blood relatives and friends, and describes our capacity to participate and contribute within part of wider social systems. While your GP may not ask you about the state of your social relationships when you go for a check up, these are very much seen as a crucial component of your hauora, your overall wellbeing within this Māori lens.
“Whānau provides us with the strength to be who we are. This is the link to our ancestors, our ties with the past, the present and the future.”
Looking back, I was incredibly lucky to have a close relationship with my parents and siblings. Their unconditional love and support provided a solid foundation for my development. However, like many others, when I hit my teens I started to pull away in search of my own identity. Conflict at home, teamed with my depression left me feeling really isolated, so I sought a new kind of family or belonging in different communities I became involved with. This need to belong probably led to my hasty marriage at age 22. In marrying my boyfriend and embarking on a seemingly never-ending nomadic lifestyle, I could conveniently ignore the unresolved relationship issues within my own family.
Ironically, it was the collapse of my marriage in 2008 that led to the restoration of my relationships with my parents and siblings. It didn’t happen all at once like a miracle transformation, but over the first year of my Te Ataarangi studies and being immersed within te ao Māori, the Māori world, I felt gently nudged in the direction of family restoration. The more I think about it, those 2 years with Te Ataarangi were as much about promoting hauora, holistic health, as about learning to speak te reo Māori. Many of my friends who have learnt te reo Māori also share this experience.
Some of my assignments required me to interview my family to find out my whakapapa, my genealogy, and to deepen my connection with my tūpuna, my ancestors. In learning how to say my own pepeha and really owning it, I started to feel the support and strength of my tūpuna all around me, which bolstered my own sense of wholeness and solidity. I felt less hollow and more connected than ever before.
It was through the humbling and painful process of divorce that I came to know the saying “blood is thicker than water” as truth. My family welcomed me back with open arms, and my Te Ataarangi graduation doubled as a reconciliation ceremony as my family and I collectively shed happy tears in gratitude for our reunion
“Understanding the importance of whānau and how whānau (family) can contribute to illness and assist in curing illness is fundamental to understanding Māori health issues.”
As a Pākehā (European New Zealander) involved in te ao Māori (the Māori world), I’ve been heavily influenced by whakaaro Māori, Māori concepts and worldviews. There is ancient wisdom here available to us, should we choose to take it on. Yet while I had a conceptual understanding about Te Whare Tapa Whā as a Māori health model, I had no idea how to actually apply it to my life.
In 2017 I’d hit rock bottom in almost all areas of my life. I’d burned out from teaching and resigned from my job. My anxiety was at an all time high. I’d broken up with my partner and was in a custody battle over my dog (true story). And I had stomach ulcers. The only area where I was thriving was financially, and as you can see, the cost for this was too great. Something had to shift.
So when my good friend invited me to check out the Landmark Forum I was so ready for a change. And as money wasn’t an issue, I enrolled in the next Landmark Forum.
To be honest, Landmark has its lovers and haters, and it is not for the faint of heart. I’m not going to tell you to do the programmes, and I personally took 4 years to decide to take the courses myself due to my own scepticism. You need to be responsible for your own wellbeing, and be well enough to take the courses in the first place. For some people, counselling or talking therapy is preferable due to trauma or mental illness. Having said that, I’d like to share a few of the breakthroughs I got from doing the courses.
The Landmark Forum is a transformational course. It is three long, intense days of taking a good, hard look at your life. The course was not easy, comfortable or cheap (I thought at the time, now I think it’s great value), but I finally got to see where I hadn’t been responsible in my relationships or my life. Through doing the homework and making the calls, I got ‘complete’ with my family, my ex-husband, my ex-partner, and my friends, and I saw that I’d been blaming my anxiety and failures on everyone else but myself. For example, I’d been blaming my school for my burnout, and this had kept me in a really disempowered state.
And when I saw that I’d been making my ex-partner wrong and blaming him for our breakup, I got to fully apologise for my part, and a new possibility of love and commitment became available. I experienced a feeling of complete vitality, as if something metaphysical or spiritual had been unblocked and I was free. We are now happily engaged and have since worked hard on our communication skills, which definitely contributes to our day to day sense of wellbeing.
Before I did these courses I used to be at the mercy of my relationship dramas, and the stress that went with this kept me bouncing in and out of physical sickness too. These days I rarely get sick, and I am convinced of the connection between social wellbeing and all other aspects of health. I'm grateful for the tools Landmark has given me, to be able to whakatinana, to embody Te Whare Tapa Whā in my hauora, wellness journey.
You may not have stopped to consider the role of your own relationships, healthy or otherwise, in your own health, but hopefully this has been interesting food for thought. While this model of health is particularly important for Māori, I believe that the wisdom of Te Taha Whānau, or social wellbeing can apply to us all, regardless of our cultural background.
Thank you for reading my whakaaro (ideas) and if you ever want to discuss any of the topics raised here, get in touch! I’m always happy to chat.
Landmark Worldwide. (2021). Redefine what’s possible. Retrieved from: https://www.landmarkworldwide.com
Manatū Hauora. (2017). Māori health models – Te Whare Tapa Whā. Retreived from: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/populations/maori-health/maori-health-models/maori-health-models-te-whare-tapa-wha