Atua Wāhine - Mana Wāhine: Tracing the whakapapa of physical activity among Māori women in contemporary Aotearoa

Deborah Heke - IIRC20
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

We, as Māori, are the embodiment of the successes and learnings of our tupuna (ancestors). We exist as who and how we are due to our whakapapa (lineage) and the ongoing influences of atua (environments).

What if we could learn about how tupuna and atua have influenced us through our contemporary success stories? What if what we learned about physical activity and wāhine Māori from those who live it? What if those stories were the ones that resonated when we heard about Māori women and physical activity? What if the narrative was (re)claimed? With an aim to draw connections between the traits of physically active wāhine Māori and characteristics associated with Atua Wāhine, this research seeks to address those “what ifs?”.

Informed by the broader concept of whakapapa with Mana Wahine as an overarching lens from which to view and consider its implications, this research intersects many domains. Inspired by the ongoing and pervasive deficit narrative of Māori, especially among health statistics, this research aims to provide an alternative narrative. By identifying wāhine successful in maintaining a physically active lifestyle, a known protective health behaviour, this research intends to enhance the mana of wāhine involved and their whānau, hapū, iwi, and wider communities.

As part of this PhD research, 19 wāhine Māori who identified themselves as physically active, were interviewed from Kaitaia to Ōtautahi, Taranaki to Te Mata. A uniquely styled interview process involved the researcher engaging in (or in some cases observing) a physical activity session with the research participant in their chosen environment. This practical session allowed advantages not likely to be afforded within a conventional interview process alone. Advantages included rapport building, a shift in the power relationship, and an opportunity to observe a sense of physicality within the context of participants’ chosen activity.

Data from semi structured interviews and practical observations were thematically analysed using whakapapa as a frame, with a process adapted from the Atua Matua Māori Health Framework. The initial findings are presented as metaphoric themes or Huahuatau. Ko au te taiao, ko te taiao ko au describes the connections and exchanges wāhine had with(in) different environments. Ngā taonga tuku iho relates to the importance placed on knowledge transmission/translation. Rakanga waewae illustrates the ability to skilfully navigate and balance roles, worlds, and ways of being. Ahuwhenua references the traits of purposeful, resourceful, and creative cultivation of success. And finally, Ka Puāwaitia reflects the concept of potentiality and the importance placed on fulfilling the potential of themselves and others. 9th Biennial International Indigenous Research Conference 2020

Eventually, these themes and those characteristics of relevant Atua Wāhine will be woven together to explore and celebrate their ‘whakapapa’. By exploring and celebrating the narratives of successfully active wāhine, this research extends mātauranga wāhine and contributes to filling a gap in the research where mana wāhine should stand.

This presentation will outline the research to date, summarise initial findings and propose the potential implications for contemporary mātauranga Māori.