Vaevae Manava: context and perception of food security for Tongan mothers and health workers

'Ahio, Litiuingi Lose
Rush, Elaine
Smith, John F
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Master of Public Health
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Auckland University of Technology

Food security refers to the “ability of individuals, households and communities to acquire appropriate and nutritious food on a regular and reliable basis by socially acceptable means”. In 2000, interviews with the first cohort of South Auckland mothers of new born babies going into the Pacific Island Families (PIF) longitudinal study, 43.6% of 1376 Pacific Island mothers (n=607) reported that their families’ either ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ ran out of food. Factors associated with this state of food insecurity included “lack of money”, being of Tongan and Niuean ethinicities and having two or more children in the family. This high prevalence of food insecurity was derived from an interviewer-led questionnaire, and was the starting point for my wanting to know more about and gaining a better understanding of Pacific -and specifically Tongan- perspectives and lived experiences of food security. This study explored the perceptions and context of food security for seven Tongan health workers and seven Tongan mothers living in South Auckland today. Initial discussions revealed that there were misinterpretations about the meaning of the English words “food security” and the Tongan translation of “fakalato – having enough” and that the indicative questions used had to be shaped and presented in a way that avoided misinterpretation. A blend of Delphi and Talanoa ways of communicating was integrated into two rounds of interviews. The interviews were in Tongan and English, transcribed in Tongan and English, entered into the NVivo8 software system and thematically analysed. This thesis also contains English back translations for the Tongan transcriptions. Three main themes relating to food security emerged. These were knowledge and understanding, family income, and the influence of acculturation. The experiential examples elicited highlighted that Tongan socio-cultural ways of being were a key factor underlining causes of food security and ways of dealing with food insecurity for the Tongan mothers. The overarching finding was that these mothers gave priority to sharing food immediately required within the community, rather than focusing on individual family needs and responsibilities and the future. For example “The importance of satisfying our appetites is to be able to have energy to complete our various duties in our Tongan way of life. If we can’t fulfill our obligations then we are feeling sick.”Mother By way of contrast, the health workers recognized the need for planning ahead rather than reacting to immediate demands “I’m sharing this about my own family, we each contribute $10 per week and keep it as our donation money for the family and church obligations or even if we want to go eat out at a nice restaurant. People think that we are rich, but we are not!! It is possible to plan for the future no matter how much money you have.” Health worker In addition, mothers and health workers recognised that money was not the answer but changes in policy and physical environment such as local gardening projects could be one way forward. The similarities and differences in perceptions of mothers and health workers demonstrate the conflict that can occur with differing levels of acculturation and changes in the environment. From the information gained a culturally specific interpretive framework based on the concept of vaevae manava or the sharing of resources was developed. The proverb of how Tongan fishermen share the resource from the sea symbolizes the Tongan ways of being in relation to the notion of sharing and food security. The concept of vaevae manava (in relation to the sharing of food) should be considered in any intervention to address the effects of food insecurity. Specific recommendations are that a whole of community approach is required and that communications use language that has shared understanding. Given the current socio-economic situation in New Zealand, it is likely that food insecurity for Tongan will increase. The sharing nature of Tongan cultures offers a strength that could be a major driver of change to enhance food security for Tongans in New Zealand.

Food insecurity , Delphi-Talanoa inquiry , Tongan mothers and health workers , Vaevae manava , Concepts of sharing , Pacific Island Families study , Food security
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