Tūpuna Kori Tinana: An Ancestral Māori Approach to Physical Activity
Rangi, Te Miri
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“Taku uaua ko te Rangi e tū nei, Taku uaua ko Papa e takoto nei, Whiri kaha, toro kaha te uaua” (My sinew is like the sky above, My sinew is like the earth below, Let my sinews gather strength and exert strength.) The purpose of this study was to explore the traditional beliefs and values of Māori (the Indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand) towards physical activity in order to provide insights into the mechanisms that motivate Māori to be physically active. This study also aimed to highlight the role of traditional Māori beliefs and values in addressing the increasing rates of physical inactivity among Māori. Physical inactivity is one of the leading modifiable risk factors of morbidity and mortality in Aotearoa New Zealand, yet physical activity initiatives often do not reflect the holistic worldview of Māori. Underpinned by kaupapa Māori theory, I develop and apply a whakapapa-based methodology to explore the traditional beliefs and values of Māori. Data collected through semi-structured interviews with key informants, and traditional data sources such as pūrākau (myths, ancient legends, stories) and whakatauākī (proverbs, significant sayings) are analysed to determine the fundamental beliefs and values of Māori towards physical activity. Four key themes of traditional Māori physical activity were identified in this study. The theme He Māori te noho identified the characteristics of traditional Māori society as a time when Māori defined beliefs, values and practices were dominant. He Māori te āhua was another theme which identified that a Māori paradigm and worldview meant that traditional physical activity was a part of a broader holistic system of wellbeing. The theme He māori te taiao describes the innate relationship Māori held with nature. Lastly, the theme He Māori i tāmi demonstrated the significant and ongoing impacts of colonisation on traditional Māori physical activity. In general, traditional Māori physical activity was characterised by; Māori having tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty, autonomy) and mana motuhake (authority, mana through self-determination) over their lives; an underpinning of mātauranga (Māori knowledge) and Māori values; and wairuatanga (spirituality) that connects the physical practice to a spiritual experience. The findings also demonstrate that a Māori definition of traditional Māori physical activity is dynamic and draws various meanings owing to mātauranga that recognises whakapapa (genealogy) to atua (ancestors with continuing influence, supernatural beings, gods). The mana (spiritual power), tapu (sacredness) and mauri (life principle) of atua informs the tikanga (customs) and cultural protocols essential for mediating the appropriate standards of behaviour within physical activity. These include the communally agreed traditional Māori values of whanaungatanga (kinship relationships), manaakitanga (respect, hospitality), kaitiakitanga (guardianship), and rangatiratanga (chieftainship). In addition, recognising the socio-cultural context in which Māori live as a result of the experience and ongoing impacts of colonisation, applying kaupapa Māori principles to modern Māori physical activity initiatives further accepts Māori ways of being, responds to the colonial experience; and aims to emancipate Māori communities to be self-determining. Overall, this study strengthens the position that mātauranga and Māori cultural values remain important for informing modern approaches to Māori physical activity. The findings of this research will be of interest to; Māori whānau, hapū (kinship group), iwi (extended kinship group) and other Indigenous nations; health promoters; physical activity specialists; public sector departments and agencies, and; the general public in Aotearoa New Zealand.