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Spiritual care

Diverse spiritual faiths and practices

"Wairuatanga brings together the metaphysical (spiritual realm) and the physical realm. "

Whānau manaaki (family who provide care to an adult or a kaumātua) who took part in the Pae Herenga study spoke about spirituality in different ways depending on their faith and beliefs. These whānau drew from their own communities to provide the spiritual care that was needed to support the kaumātua and whānau. Some people we interviewed expressed their belief and practice in wairuatanga which is a traditional tribal belief system passed down by tūpuna (grandparents and ancestors). Wairuatanga encompasses a deep, vast holistic spiritual system that deserves a more in-depth examination than we can provide here. For the purposes of this resource we describe wairuatanga as encompassing absolutely everything including whakapapa (genealogy), cosmology, philosophy, history, land (earth, sea, water, sky) and every living thing on the planet.

Belief and participation in wairuatanga (spirituality) means that kaumātua and whānau manaaki can trace their whakapapa (genealogical connections) to Atua (supreme God and Divine beings) who have influence over particular domains such as the sea, forests, plants, water systems and everything that exists above the Earth). Atua are invisible to most people but they can take particular forms and can send signs and communicate in various ways (dreams, signs, and symbolic appearances); tūpuna can also provide guidance through dreams and visitations. Tohunga (spiritual practitioners) and matakite (people who can see through the ārai (veil) to those who have passed on) provide healing support by passing on important information or messages to kaumātua and Whānau Manaaki.

In the Pae Herenga interview Matua Tau talked about wairua maters, and he explained the meaning and difference between ‘matakite’ [seer, visionary] and ‘tohunga’ [spiritual healer/expert]:

In my own navigating through wairua, if I could say that, I’m always trying to work out what was matakite and what is tohungatanga, and the difference, and where the overlaps and stuff are. And my thinking around matakite, you know just from my perception and the things that I do, that there are people that they pick things up. They’re really sensitive, they can pick up maybe voices, they can see faces. They can apply healing, work with energy. You know? That, that sort of thing. And I think one is about “knowing” and the other one is about “knowing why”.

And I think the tohunga is about “knowing why”. And what I mean by that is that when ah, something goes wrong they know how to intervene. Where, where sometimes the matakite knows the, the large stuff, or they can be a kai mirimiri, they could be, you know, could be making rongoā. So, they feel the wairua. They, they know it. But the only thing negative that, that they don’t know how to intervene to change a course. And I think a tohunga knows why and what I mean by that, that if something goes wrong then they know interventions to redirect it, or to bring it away. And when I say that, I mean I talk about mākutu [supernatural, bewitching] and stuff, they know how to intervene. That’s how to break that up.

Observing spirituality is very important in the work GP S. does with Māori whānau. She shared her definition of wairuatanga:

You know the other side [is], the ability to perceive energy from those that aren’t living. But I think you can also perceive that energy from those who are living. Yeah… I believe that there is a Higher Power, but it’s not necessarily God. It is an Atua. But I don’t know what that is, I don’t envision that, I just know that there’s an energy that is greater than all of us.

Tohunga (spiritual practitioner) and matakite (seer, visionary) provide comfort and healing through karakia (prayers, chants and incantations). Their knowledge of spiritual processes provides a channel to clear and cleanse mamae (emotional hurt), and they can help to remove or lessen pain and other symptoms. Rongoā practitioners work with healing energy to bring spiritual healing. This ancient cultural spiritual worldview informs how Māori understand the world and everything it. When we live in natural harmony with nature life is understood, and lived, and left, in accordance with the rhythm of the universe. Life is viewed as a cycle of birth and death with the past, present and future occurring within the same moment.

When asked for a definition of wairuatanga, Kuia K offered the following description:

The wairuatanga, I find, is that in each of us, in everyone on this earth… at birth… we’re born with a spirit… and that gives us our wairuatanga. That gives us that, that feeling to do good. And sometimes we listen, and sometimes we ignore it. Now, I don’t know whether I’m, ex-explaining it right… I give you another example, [a] practical one. If I want to go to the marae… I believe I need to get into the right wairua for the marae. Ah because you got your wairua, but your wairua operates in different ways depending where you are, what you want. So, if I want to go to the marae, if I’m going to a tangi for instance, I prepare at home. I dress accordingly, I put on my pango [black] clothes for the marae. When I put on my pango clothes… I also say my prayers. And the prayers I say again is the whakawātea [clearing prayer]. That’s all part of spirituality.

Spirituality is not- I don’t believe there’s one word for it. We’re not Pākehās. But, you can, you can explain it… in your actions… it starts from dressing and preparation. You say your karakia, ‘whakawātea ia koe, ka haere koe'. Because when you go to the marae it’s not about the living only; it’s about [the] living and those that have passed on. And so, you have to, I believe, prepare yourself for that… to accept what you’re going into and how you’re going to operate… and usually… I operate… as a kaikaranga. Or even if I’m not… you’re still… in that ‘realm’ I call it. And, and then when you are operating it, then you know your whole outlook is one of (and I’m talking about myself, not of others), is that you’re aware of the spirituality; you’re in there [that wairua space] and for me the spirituality is about my Māoritanga. And so, I remain in that role while I’m there. It’s the Māoritanga, and I come back to - my values; respect, manaakitangata [caring for people], tiaki (protecting), whakawhanaungatanga (connecting), those sort of things. That’s what I can tell you about wairua. It’s not one word…

A male Māori Chaplin gave his definition of wairuatanga:

[T]he definition in English. Oh, I think ‘wairuatanga’ is just spirituality for me. Yeah, it’s a bit different, it’s a wairua. When we speak in Māori, I know that wairua would be, you know, two-way water. So, I take it back to just to make this clear. When we, from my understanding, from our tribal wānanga is that when I meet someone the first question I’ll say, ‘Nō hea koe? Where are you from?’ And then I say, ‘Ko wai koe? Who are you?’ Well the ‘wai’ in there is relating to the wairua, which is you have two waters that run through you, one is female, one is male. Ko wai koe? Where do your sacred waters run from? One’s from your father’s side, one’s from your mother’s side. So wairua. And my sense is wairua [is] a binary concept of that we are all a product, everything is a product, everything is a whakapapa, and everything has a product. Part of that whakapapa for us as Māori is that it’s divine, that we come from our ancestors and from the creation. So, I can’t explain that in one word, but to me that’s what wairua is.

In the interview, Whaea Rihi and Matua Ned discussed the meaning of wairua and how they go about explaining it to health professionals:

Rihi: Oh yeah there’s ‘wai’ and ‘rua’. I mean it depends on your upbringing.

Ned: For non-Māori it’s deep for them to understand.

Rihi: Yeah, well the coming together of the two waters is the wairua which is about the life force and how we’re made. I mean that’s one teaching I’ve been taught. You know we are water, like cousin [name] said ‘we’re made from water’ so wairua can mean that, in that sense. [For] some people it’s, it’s about a spirituality for want of a better word.

Ned: Oh yeah, I say to them, ‘you know the kindred spirit?’ They go, ‘yeah’ – ‘Wairua’.

Rihi: [We] try and help our staff understand… from our perspective what it means in their terms.

Ned: Because they are- they have a spirit, you know.

Rihi: They have a spirit, they have a wairua.

Ned: We [say to the health professionals’] ‘We call it a "wairua", you’ve got a spirit. Some people have got a bad spirit, you know eh?’ And they go 'oh yeah.’

Rihi: And they do know.

Ned: So, they get that, so we have a bit of fun with it. We don’t make it too heavy… We actually laugh about it and have jokes about it, but they actually understand it by the end of the day.

In her pūrākau Whaea Marilyn shares how her family gathered around her mother-in-law and brought their aroha (love, care, compassion) and manaakitanga (Kindness, support, hosting responsibilities) to support the kuia to transition peacefully through the ārai (veil) on the day she died:

Reflecting on the value of ‘whanaungatanga’, Marilyn’s story ‘Oma’ highlights how the connections whānau have with their kaumātua at the end of life is essential to good end of life care.

‘Oma’ by Marilyn Vreede

Click here to read transcript if preferred

‘Christian beliefs’

Many whānau manaaki who took part in the Pae Herenga study identified themselves as ‘Christian’. There was a lot of spiritual diversity as many kaumātua and their family’s spiritual beliefs and practices included a mix of both Wairuatanga and Christianity. No matter what form of religion they followed, their strength and guidance came from God and Jesus Christ.

Spiritual strength came from different sources

Kaumātua with a life limiting illness drew from a number of different sources to give them spiritual strength. They found te reo Māori (the Māori language) familiar and comforting. Listening, and being embraced by a woman’s karanga (traditional call), whaikōrero (speechmaking), and karakia (including ancient Māori prayers), New Age prayers, Christian prayers, and waiata (singing) all provided spiritual sustenance. Some kaumātua with a life limiting illness used a range of different spiritual approaches to help with pain and symptom management and to bring emotional and spiritual comfort including karakia, rongoā healing, crystal healing and healing approaches from other cultures and places (such as Pranic healing).

Reflecting on the value of ‘Wairuatanga’, Heather and John’s pūrākau, ‘Listening’ describes how they provide spiritual care to kaumātua at the end of their lives by listening to people and helping them to fulfil their wishes and complete their affairs before they leave.

‘Listening’ by Heather and John Flavell

Click here to read transcript if preferred

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