Te Whare Tapa Whā

If you’re ever to ask me what the best life insurance policy is, I will tell you the truth.

A healthy lifestyle.

But what does that mean? Because health doesn’t just mean the absence of sickness.  It means that we’re thriving, both physically and mentally. The wider effects this has on our vital organs, mental wellness and social relationships is incredible.

The Māori worldview (Te Ao Māori) acknowledges the interconnectedness and relationship of all living and non-living things.  Maintaining balance and harmony in key aspects of our lives and roles has always been of utmost importance for Māori. In 1984, Sir Mason Durie released his model of wellbeing named Te Whare Tapa Whā, which explains the pillars of hauora (health).

Based on the concept of a wharenui (meeting house), Te Whare Tapa Whā explains five key areas of wellness:

  1. Whenua (Land, Roots):

Your turangawaewae – where you stand or feel at home.  This also relates to your connection to the land as a source of life, nourishment, and wellbeing.  Māori have a strong connection to land, as they believe that she is one of their ātua (gods) – Papatuānuku.  This is also reflected in the kupu (words) for land and placenta being the same – whenua.  Having a place to call home is comforting and provides security, shelter, and sustenance.

  1. Tīnana (Body, Physical Health):

Looking after yourself physically is a common starting place when pursuing a health overhaul.  We go on some new diet, take up Zumba, or rub some miracle cream into our skin.  There are times where our body isn’t where we’d like it to be, like when we’re sick or injured for example.  What’s important is that we do what we can – eat well, move a little, and care for this little “earth-side costume” we inhabit whether we like it or not.

  1. Hinengaro (Mental health and emotional wellbeing)

How you feel, how you think and how you communicate – emotions such as feeling low, worried, angry, sad – addictions – all have a profound impact on how we perceive the world around us and our own worth.  Learning about, and improving self-talk, is key to achieving calmness in your mind, and hauora hinengaro (mental health).  This can also relate to growing our capabilities through commitment to being a life long learner in both formal or self-directed higher education.

  1. Whānau (Family, Friends)

Taha whanau is about what makes you feel like you belong. Whom is it around you that provides support systems for you to flourish? While the kupu “whanau” is often translated as “family”, it can mean any relationship that you care about – colleagues, friends, community.  Having support from trusted people when you need it is extremely important – humans are social creatures by design.

  1. Wairua (Spirit, Soul)

Ah – my favourite!  Māori have a deep connection with nature, and water (wai) features heavily in topics of belonging.  For example, to ask someone where they are from in Te Reo Māori you would say, “Ko wai koe?” which translates to “who’s waters are you from?”.   This can be interpreted literally as amneotic fluid in the womb, but as with everything in te ao Māori there is a proverbial translation too.

A wonderful woman called Dr Rose Pere explained this so beautifully.  She described masculine and feminine energies as two waters or rivers, and the point at which they meet was where our souls or spirits were created.  Wai = water; rua = two; wairua = soul or spirit.

Nourishing your wairua may be involvement in your church or temple, following the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar), or self-meditation.  It’s all about finding something bigger than yourself, and letting it ground you.

In Sir Durie’s model, it’s impossible to achieve hauora or wellness without all four walls and foundations being balanced and intact.  One is not favoured or forgotten unless you want the roof – or the world – to come crashing in on top of you.

“Next time you’re feeling in a funk, try working through the four walls and see if one needs a coat of paint or a bit of aroha/love.”

Karakia for wellness

Pou hihiri

Pou rarama

Pou o te whakāro

Pou o te tangata

Pou o te aroha

Te pou e here nei i a tatou

Mauri ora ki a tatou

Haumi e, hui e, taiki e.

May clarity be yours

May understanding be yours

Through reflection

Through personal endeavour

Through respect

The virtues which bind us as one

May we be filled with wellbeing

Haumi e, hui e, taiki e.