William L. McNatty
Graduate  Student
Department of Psychology
University of Waikato
October 2001


This  paper in its original form was written as an assignment  for a Psychology Department, University of Waikato, graduate paper, Kaupapa Māori and Psychology, co-ordinated by Linda Waimarie Nikora.  The set question is included because it establishes both the audience and the context the paper was written. Because this paper challenges an incompleteness noted of other authorities, it invites response in a similar vein.

Set Question

Whanaungatanga has taken on a new meaning in the modern milieu. It is sometimes seen as a process of getting to know each other (whakawhanaungatanga). Sometimes it is used as the foundation of a selection interview (whanau interviews). It is sometimes used to describe the camaraderie between fellow rugby players, or to describe the ‘glue’ that connects people to each other. Sometimes it is held up as the essential component that makes a program or intervention operate.  Define what whanaungatanga is (both traditional and contemporary definitions) and describe how the concept has (or could be) been mobilised in the provision of services, interventions or training programs. How does it work and why? When doesn’t it work?

He Kupu Whakataki:

He pätai täku ki tëtehi o aku akonga Päkehä, kua atawhaingia e ähau i roto i ngäna mahi, nö mua noa atu o täku whakaae kia noho mai ia i raro o aku parirau.  ‘Ina tukua ki a koe Päkehä, ko tëtehi höhonutanga o ngä tikanga whakaaro, kua pëwheatia e koe?  Kua rawekengia ränei kua atawhaingia ränei.’  Waihoki tana matatau ki ngä whakaritenga o te Whare Wananga, kei reira katoa.  Heoi anö täku he wero i öna tikanga ake!  Nö tana hokinga mai ki ähau me te pepa nei, ka puta te whakaaro, ka pëwhea mai te Ao Mäori ki ä tätou, ngä pouako Mäori e tuku nei i ä tätou märamatanga ki te Päkehä.  He pätai nui tërä ki a Ngäi Täua!  Kei riro i a Tauiwi te mana o ngö tätou märamatanga.  Nö reira te tänga o te pepa nei.  Hei titiro mä te kaipänui, hei whakaarotanga mäna, hei whakamätau anö i a tätou me ä tätou mahi i roto i ngä wharekura ao Päkehä.  He tono anö rä.  Tukua mai koa ko ä koutou na whakaaro mö ngä mahi a te Päkehä nei …

Heoi anö rä mö te tono ki ngä kaipänui, he pätai anö rä äku e toru noa iho i tënei wä - ki taku tangata, ana ko taua ahua anö rä, he whakaohooho hinengaro – töku ake, tö taku tangata, tö te kaipänui mai anöki.

·        Kua pëwhea mai to möhio ki taku reo Mäori.  Ka taea e tëtehi reo ënei tikanga te whakawhitiwhiti whakaaro, ëngari, mä töna reo ake pea tënei mea te whanaungatanga e körerorerotia höhonutia ake?

·        He pëwhea rä tana möhio ki tënei mea te wä, inärä, tërä pea ngä möhiotanga o ngä tängata nei o Metge mä he höhonu kë ake i ngä whakakitenga mai – he wä anö pea mo te whakapuaki ake?

·        He pëwhea rä nöki tana möhio ki tënei mea te wähi.  He wähi whakawhitiwhiti whakaaro anö ä mua, he wähi anö ä muri – he wähi anö ngä huihuinga Mäori, he wähi anö ngä huihuinga Päkehä.  Terä pea he aukatinga anö o ä mua, o ngä huihuinga Päkehä?

Näku noa
Tom Roa
Senior Lecturer
Tari Mäori
School of Maori and Pacific Development


This paper will introduce definitions of whanaungatanga  from various contemporary and traditional sources and note the approaches of those sources whom the author has identified as traditional with those identified from the academic source of social anthropology.   Difficulties arise when evaluating the matching of service provision to the community needs when that community may have a different philosophical base from that of the social policy determinator and perhaps the social policy provider. This paper will argue that the significance to Māori of the interrelationship of subjective value processing and values within whānau, is why the issue of whanaungatanga has importance to Maori and why it is most often misunderstood by those people who have embraced a western academic philosophical approach.

A consideration of how issues, values, and the inter-relationships of value processes sourced from within a Māori way, can have a semblance of ‘fit’ to Pākehā ways of governance is also explored.    .

Definition from a traditional contemporary source.

The many meanings offered by a wide range of authors are simplified in a treatise of Māori wisdom (Barrett-Aranui, 1999). This modern counsellor from a traditional Maniapoto background, describes whanaungatanga as the concept of inter-relationships. She writes as influenced by her ‘…femaleness, age, [64 years] and subtribal (hapu) responsibilities.’ (p. 4.) However within the prompts coming from the cues of her ancestral house, Te Tokanganui-ä-noho, located in the King Country township of Te Kuiti, she describes a web of inter-relational aspects of life processes governed from within the four sub-tribal areas of Maniapoto, and incorporating all the protocols, histories, whakapapa, role responsibilities and duties, and spiritual essence and physical placement of objects and aspects, among many other cues to consider.  Implicit in her descriptions are the many subjective experiences of process that are for Tuti Aranui, the holistic concept of inter-relationship that is whanaungatanga.

Short definitions by association.

Durie (1998) associated the term haputanga with whanaungatanga as structures to be useful in his discussion on developmental processes utilised by Māori,  Rangihau  (1992) associates the concepts within whanaungatanga as being fundamental components of identity within Māori. Moeke-Pickering (1996) includes traditional (kinship) whānau, contemporary  (kinship  as the consequence of urbanisation) whānau, and a structure of whānau as a ‘management framework’, all as dynamics in functions of Māori identity.   Bishop (1996) associates the term whakawhanaungatanga with establishing collaboration processes in research. When considering processes, the rituals of encounter both formal and informal (Salmond, 1975) are the means where the commonalities and differences in relationships in the Māori world are both acknowledged and tested.

Definition by default.

An intriguing lack of reference is that whanaungatanga does not occur as a concept worthy of explanation in Barlow’s (1991) glossary of key concepts in Māori culture. There are several possible explanations for such an omission.

One possibility is that the term was not generally used in traditional Māori society to describe the principle of inter-relationships that is often given as a thematic meaning of modern society.  Other possible explanations originate from the fact that Barlow is male and sources much of his material from the Te Hikutū hapu of the Hokianga district of Tai Tokerau. There are two important notes with this comment; material sourced from one particular Māori experience (Te Hikutū in this instance) is not readily able to be generalised to other Māori whānau, hapu, or iwi; and a statement from a male of a Māori community does not necessarily reflect the totality of the thought and experience of that community. (Ngā kōrero wāhine me ngā kōrero rangatahi (female narratives and young people’s narratives) can be often omitted from male discourses.)

 However a view consistent with the pragmatic principle of useful explanation is that whanaungatanga is so much part of the processes of being Māori that its principles were assumed to be known and understood by Māori and therefore did not need explanation.  – In a rhetorical vein, as Barlow presented his material in both te reo Māori and English, might one consider whanaungatanga  a concept already well understood by a bilingual audience?

Definitions from te reo Māori.

Williams (1992), Dictionary of the Māori Language, one of the substantive dictionary references of the Māori language also does not specifically define (whaka)whanaungatanga nor is there given an example of usage, however there are several definitions and grammatical uses given for the constructive roots of the word and within those constructs it is possible to ‘create’ a range of possible interpretive uses and find examples of various contemporary contextual usage. This dictionary has the following usages noted that appear to have contextual association with the many meanings discussed elsewhere in the literature.


1.      v. i. Be born….
2.      Be in childbed….
3.      n. Offspring, family group….
4.      Family. (mod.)…
5.      A familiar term of address to a number of people….


1.      v.i. Go.
2.      Lean, incline, bend down.

Whanaunga, n. Relative, blood relation ….

(Williams, 1992, p. 487.)

Whaka- (ii), causative prefix; probably connected with the previous word.

1.      Combined with an intransitive verb, an adjective or participle to form an intransitive verb, it signifies a beginning of, or approach to, the action or condition indicated….
2.      Combined with a noun to form an intransitive verb, it signifies the assumption of the character or form expressed by the noun….
3.      As a strict causative it may combine with a verb, adjective, participle or noun to form a transitive verb….. Other varieties and shades of meaning will be found under the word to which whaka is prefixed in each case.

(Williams, 1992, p. 486.)

-tanga is discussed by Williams as a suffix  that may fit into the following conditions:

passive termination, tanga,  which is sometimes added to a verb or to an adverb qualifying a passive verb, and apparently indicates a rapid sequence of events….

A noun denoting the fact, circumstance, time or place or action of a verb may be formed by adding one of the suffixes nga, anga, hanga, kanga, manga, ranga, tanga, inga,…

Similar nouns may be formed from nouns, adjectives, or participles and denote the fact, etc., of being, or of becoming, the thing or of the quality or the condition indicated by the original word.

                                                                        (Williams, 1992, p. xxxvi).

The diversity within the grammatical usage of the suffix  –tanga   alone  illustrates some of the problems identifying single defining characteristics  of whanaungatanga.  Of curious note is that within the descriptions for whānau and whanaunga, Williams does not ascribe any principle of value in a way that other authorities do. 

Salmond (1978) in a lexical study of sets of values and value relationships demonstrates that the Māori language has many cues that may demonstrate simultaneously both opposing concepts and concepts of connectivity.  There is also a contention of ‘chaining’ of meaning where the qualities from one meaning of a word are grouped as qualities associated with that word in all its forms of meaning (and in some examples with the quality of the paired opposite).  There are no direct references to whanaungatanga as a concept, but there are many references to values that others incorporate as necessary inclusions of the value processes within whānau and within whanaungatanga

Definition from non-Māori academics

Ritchie (1992), introduces whanaungatanga as part of an interrelated grid of value processes, including wairuatanga (as an overall governing principle), manaakitanga, kotahitanga, and rangatiratanga.  He argues that none of the terms have a simple translation and that use of any one concept draws on a host of meanings linked to the other values in the grid. According to Ritchie, wairuatanga has themes associated with spirituality; manaakitanga has themes associated with responsibility to hospitality, reciprocity and caring; rangatiratanga has themes associated with hierarchy, structure and authority within the group; and kotahitanga has themes associated with the collective unity of the group.

 With out giving references, Ritchie sources the meaning of whanaungatanga from whānau, ‘family…or body of close kin, whether linked by blood, adoption or fostering.’ngā as a generalised extension of whānau; and tanga as an indication of ‘a process concept concerned with everything about relationships between kin’.  From within these collective concepts Ritchie describes whanaungatanga as the ‘basic cement that holds things Māori together.’ (Richie 1992, p. 67).

Metge (1995) allocates the meaning of whanaunga from traditional usage as restricted to ‘…relatives …connected by descent and sometimes by marriage.’(p.52). She specifically denies that the term is rooted from the Māori word whānau both in birth or family usages, but (citing Williams 1971) claims the term derives from the Māori word whanau, to lean together.  This paper challenges Metge’s position  of citing source from a single meaning  as she then draws on the five other definitions originating from the word whānau according to Williams when describing current usage.

But following from Te Rangihiroa (1925) that :

“Much error already has been handed on in ethnological writings through inexact translations of Māori words. In cases where the European and Māori look at a question from an entirely different viewpoint, the use of particular English words often gives to the general European reader the impression that the Māori shares the view that the word conveys to him; when in reality their views may be as divergent as the poles.”  (p.101.)

The argument of this paper promotes an extension of Te Rangihiroa’s argument that it is necessary to incorporate a knowledge of the context of the Māori word usage in order to include the nuances of meaning associated with transitive and intransitive, and active and passive forms of the grammar. Associated with this argument is the context where some Māori themselves are now taking an out-of-original-context English translation as the meaning of a word or phrase and thus perpetuating errors of meaning.

Following from Te Rangihiroa’s argument, Metge (1995) arguably falls into errors of ‘category’ when she describes the five separate meanings of whānau in contemporary usage as consistent with pre European Māori usage.  These anthropological categories are derived from descent, and common goals and activities. From Williams (1971) all of these five meanings are available from the grammatical syntax.  Metge further compounds her distinction of categories error by adding a further “host of new meanings”  (p.54.) in five broad categories, covering parent and immediate children to metaphorical groups gathered for a common purpose. (Also contextually covered in Williams (1971). This paper does not deny that the many forms of meaning noted by Metge are in current usage but argues that the forms of meaning come from the one root: whānau, and all of the meanings separated by Metge are available in the contextual grammar of the Māori language.

A summary of meaning

Drawing on all of the above contributions to meaning this paper would describe whanaungatanga as a default set of value processes invoked in inter-relationship considerations dependent on an issue. The inter-relational sets of values including: 1. take/kaupapa (principles associated with the dependent issue), 2.  whakapapa (principles associated with descent). 3. wairuatanga (principles associated with a spiritual embodiment), 4. manaakitanga (principles  associated with duties and expectations of care and reciprocity),  5. kotahitanga (principles associated with a collective unity) and 6. rangatiratanga (principles associated with governance,  leadership and the hierarchal nature of traditional Māori society)  this paper expects would all be embraced in a successful whanaungatanga model. The difficulty must be acknowledged that none of the sets of themes can be analysed without incurring a need for input to the other adjacent themes. 

 The whanaungatanga concept as a model has immediate potential conflict with western models in the areas of wairuatanga. This conflict is not new in that since the time of the philosopher Descartes, western science has denied the inclusion of any spiritual notion in things that are analysed in an academic or scientific way  (Foster, 1991). This paper would argue that the inclusion of a spiritual dimension is a valid ‘other’ way of analysis, and from a tikanga Māori perspective is an absolutely  necessary dimension which demands inclusion.

How whanaungatanga works as a model of analysis, intervention  and strategy.

The governing criteria for whanaungatanga are the associated values and value processes.

In the Māori cosmology there is a relationship between the spiritual realm and the physical world.  (As above so below.) The inter-relationships of the cosmological whānau (Walker, 1990) from primary principal Io and  between secondary principals Ranginui (sky father) and Paptüänuku (earth mother) and their various offspring in the Māori creation mythologies, for Māori, set many of the bases for the spiritual,  psychological, emotional and physical ways of being. Further into Māori mythologies are traditions of what Walker (1990) calls the Maui/Täwhaki cycle which although not common to all Māori traditions, all of the traditions have aspects of demi-god cycles where mana, (power and authority emanating from the Gods) has consequence in the relationships within the whānau of tuakana -  teina, tūpuna - mokopuna, tāne -  wahine, tungāne - tuahine  among the responsibilities and obligations of reciprocity to and within the whānau, and among the responsibilities and obligations of care and protection, aroha, whangai and manaakitanga.

The descriptions of values within the principles of whānau from Metge (1995) are sets of whakaaro nui (great ideas), as values that have a specific quality within the whānau context. (Metge uses the term whakaaro nui, but perhaps ‘mātua whakaaro – foundation concepts’  would have been used had the author a deeper comprehension of te reo). Metge also notes there is a whānau of principle reference (a default whānau). The reader is not to assume that one value takes precedence over another (which may or may not be the fact depending on the issue and the participants and consideration of all of the value consequences of the interactions.). It should also be noted that this paper concedes a usefulness in Metge’s descriptions of values, but tends more towards the position of Marsden (1975) in being highly critical of knowledge of Māori thinking that originates from the discourse of social anthropology.

The factors that have continuity through all the contemporary and traditional meanings of whānau are the noted associated values and associated value processes and it is the application and continuity of these values and processes that give validity to whanaungatanga as an appropriate model of analysis.

Whether the whānau is issue-orientated (take/kaupapa) or descent orientated (whakapapa) the values have a consistency of application, resonating through all usages of meaning.  Whanaungatanga as a model fails to have a synonymous application within the academic spheres and culture of western science, and therein lies the main failing. A scientific model is an intellectual construction, and whanaungatanga is a collection of inter-related subjective experiences.  The colonised position of a ‘cultural superiority of science’ (which is where most interventions and applications are resourced from in Aotearoa New Zealand) is uncomfortable with processes that originate within principles of collective subjectivity, and specifically denies (to its cost) the existence of any spiritual causality.

An example of whanaungatanga as an evaluation process.

An examination of Bishop’s (1996) analysis’ of Tū Mai KiaAke  (The imact of the Taha Māori  program on Otago and Southland schools) and Mahi Tū Tonu ( a compendium of resources for the Taha Māori program in Otago and Southland Schools) projects gives validity to a successful and appropriate use of whanaungatanga  as a structure of analysis and also identification of where the processes of whanaungatanga were used, but the analysis also apparently accounted only for the requirements of an academic text and in so doing all of the processes and the issues being researched were not accorded full attention.

The background.

Taha Māori was a program initiated by the Department of Education  in the 1980s in answer to requests from both Māori and non- Māori educators to acknowledge the status of tangata whenua in Aotearoa  New Zealand. Huata Holmes commenced his evaluation of the Taha Māori program as put into practice in Otago and Southland in 1992 .There were several issues at stake but from a Māori-interest perspective the Taha Māori program had suffered criticism by reason of the following .

 •        Lack of goals, guidelines and resources to implement the program.
 •       A severe loss of Southern Māori tikanga argued due to colonisation processes.
 •         Pakeha capture of Māori knowledge
       Resources being shifted from meeting the needs of Māori children to meeting the needs of       non-Māori.
       What resources that used were not necessarily applicable to the local iwi but were       generically acceptable to the non-Māori so in effect were forcing a non tangata whenua view       of things Māori on the local iwi.

There had also been two significant intervening government policy implementations that had a critical effect on the Taha Māori program:  The ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ policy with its devolution of power to local Boards of Trustees; and the bringing of the Treaty of Waitangi into the school processes.

The principal reseacher

Huata Holmes is a kaitiaki of the Southern Māori tikanga being  acknowledged as a kaumätua of Kai Tahu, Käti Mämoe, and Waitaha. He also held positions of advisement to the Education Department at the University of Otago, and the research group te Röpu Rangahau Tikanga Rua

The processes of research.

Invitation to participate.

The contact was initiated first by a courtesy phone call from Huata Holmes, then a letter following outlining what was hoped be achieved and perhaps who should be met with.  The decision of who and what the agenda was to be, was then left to the school to decide.


Holmes formalised the hui as a member of a small group (ope whakaeke),  always with a woman’s voice present,  and  always as a visitor (manuhiri), and with the school as the host. In the protocols of encounter Holmes establishes his connections “…between himself, the landscape, the schools, the local communities and the teachers.”. (Bishop, 1995, p.83.). Bishop omits the detail of karakia invoking spiritual connectedness and correctness of purpose, (all functionalised under the broad speak of the pōwhiri  (ritualised welcome).  The purpose is addressed until there is an integrity of quality able to be tested (in its own right) The term pono fits well in this application of value

The approach of the researcher to the participants – whakarongo, titiro, kōrero

The principle of whakarongo (being attentive and listening), then titiro (making observations) and only then kōrero (speaking and questioning), enhanced his standing. Holmes’ demeanour was to not challenge or belittle his informants.

Sharing the concern

The participants allowed the researcher to share their experience and for he to share his experience with them. The principles involved here are that of kotahitanga ( a collective oneness) and manaakitanga (reciprocity).

As the research proceeded, there was demonstrated, a functional need for resources from the tikanga of Southern Māori. This resource development became the second of the co-joint projects (Mahi Tū Tonu). The tapu of those resources (taonga) is being protected by keeping the stories in the Southern  Māori dialect, available for all but also only available to those whose desire for the information  has been tested as worthy by dint of them achieving competence in the Southern Māori reo,

The resultant projects become bound into the tikanga by the processes of whakawhanaungatanga.  The tikanga demonstrates the whanaungatanga, and the whanaungatanga demonstrates the tikanga.

How whanaungatanga may fail as process.

From Marsden (1975) in the Māori way of thinking, all things (every person, animal, plant, rock and thought) have a mauri, an essential essence, a potential, a life force.  By Holmes conforming to the kawa of the tikanga then from a traditional Māori way of thinking the processes addressed the mauri of the project.  Bishop omits discussion of this aspect in his analysis, and in the opinion of this paper by this omission belittles the mauri of the project.  If any aspect of the inter-relational processes are prevented from being, then the inter-relationship fails.  This would include any part of the process prevented from occurring by way of having to conform to another ideology., (for example a methodology base in a discourse of western science.)  Bishop quoting Holmes discusses where this ‘other’ thought can be included into a Māori philosophy and then become part of the inter-relationship. However Marsden (1975) doubts that a Māori way can be included or even known by experience in a Pākehā way of thinking.


This essay has shown there are many meanings of whanaungatanga and although meanings are defined separately in the western experience, tikanga Māori and te reo Māori have many meanings from a common resonant source. By utilising the principles within the subjective value processes it is possible to have very effective interventions. The intervention itself becomes part of the value process.  When parts of the value process of the intervention are denied either structurally or philosophically according to Māori principles then the process of whanaungatanga is damaged (from a Māori way of thought) and the intervention may not succeed.

It is the hope of the authors of this paper that Pākehā will start to grasp an understanding of te whai ao, - te ao mārama ō te Māori

He Tauparapara

Tihei Mauriora
Ki te whai ao ki te ao mārama
E manawa mai te putanga a te Ariki
E manawa mai hoki te putanga he tauira
He tauira putanga Ariki no runga
Ki te whai ao ki te ao mārama
Whano whano
Hara mai te toki
Hui e,
Haumi e,
Taeki e.


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