Kaumātua and whānau manaaki will be able to sense your care intentions. They will either consciously or unconsciously assess your interest in them by the way you care for and interact with them. They will read your mauri (life force, vital essence) for signs of calmness, openness and loving expansion. Māori health and social care professionals are aware of the importance of this.

Connecting with the energy of whānau is a way in which Kahu (health professional) knows what whānau need. Kahu explains:

Well I think everyone is different, but from what I [‘ve] seen is people-… because I work… on my vibration, feelings, I can’t tell until I see the person [what they want] … I think definitely though you can suss out what, what different whānau want you know… I’m really good at micro, micro expressions. So, I can see if somebody really detests something straight away. You know. Or if they are- it’s like a second look. Everything slows down, like real slow to me. And I can see it and I’m like, ‘Oh they didn’t like that. Okay maybe I won’t, ah I’d better just tone that down or you know,’ Ah yeah, just certain things, or I can feel that’s not going right or yeah they need to be upfront, they need to be treated softly, they need to be - yeah, whatever.

You [Māori] know when someone’s going to hurt you real quick because you can see it in a flick of their eye. And you can tell if someone’s genuinely kind too, because there’s that flicker too. Yeah.

All living beings have their own energy frequency; positive and negative energy forces are easily felt by kaumātua and their whānau. A happy person need not say or do anything, but we can feel a calm energy when we are around them. Angry or stressed-out people need not say or do anything specifically, but we can feel their negative energy. These feelings will be evident in the way you deliver your care, in both verbal and non-verbal communication, and in your physical actions and behaviours. When you carry out your work within the health care environment in a calm, caring, respectful and skilful manner – everyone will benefit from your presence. Working with a sincere heart (ngākau pono) is noticeable and beneficial.

Matua Hugh discussed the ways in which he approaches Māori and non-Māori homes as part of his voluntary work for hospice. He also noted different approaches to entering different homes, how he provides advice to his co-workers about entering Māori homes and how he takes his cues from his Pākehā work colleagues when entering the homes of Pākehā families:

Though mind you, with the Māori there’s a tendency to be a little bit more observant… That’s something I tell my, my fellow[non-Māori] drivers, “You go to a house, a Māori house… though no words will pass between you, there are certain things that are required of you and if you don’t observe them, then they could very well tell you to get on your bike...” Because it’s a period in their space that’s very, very important to them and they want to be in that space without being too much involved with it, but how do we get that, that message across?

Because yeah, I must say that when we go to a Pākehā house… I wouldn’t say it’s not so important, it is important, but it hasn’t got that… cultural thing behind it… I tend to take the lead from my Pākehā brothers.

Matilda (community health care assistant) talked about using her former nursing assessment skills to quickly evaluate what is needed when she walks into a home, and that her observance and attention to detail helps to bring comfort to the ill person and it also helps to reassure the whānau:

Yeah, my eyes are doing the walking around the room and among the people, and the ears and listening. And then I would go to the client yeah…it’s just something when I come in there… I can’t be sure what it is I say, but maybe it’s like [I notice] the position of the [ill] person you know… looks a little bit comatosed, [I tell the whānau]’Maybe we raise the head of the bed a little bit here’ or we talk. I don’t know what it is, but it just brings a [bit of peace].

GP K. understands whānau and knows when something is wrong from their body language and āhua (appearance, condition):

I guess my [strength is my] ability to read the whānau. So, I can, you know, just reading body language, knowing when something’s just not quite right, or when it’s really right… Yeah, I can. I definitely… I can sense the āhua of the room and, and, you know, and when to… I think working here for 10 years and knowing where you can step in, and where you just need to be quiet and gentle and calm and careful. You know so it’s a- I don’t think it’s like a sixth sense… what I’m talking about more is the ability to understand and read a situation, the room, who’s who, and knowing how to approach that.

Recommendations

For health and palliative care professionals, we recommend:

  • Reflecting on and respecting your own identity, values, beliefs and cultural ethnicity as this will help to foster a respect of other cultures and their ways of doing things.
  • Using a humble yet professional approach to reveal your māhakitanga (humility) as a helpful way to reduce the fear some kaumātua and whānau may have towards engaging with the health system and health professionals, particularly at end of life when things can feel very uncertain.
  • Cultivating a sense of calmness by engaging in practices that help you to find a way to be present, to centre yourself, and to clear or stabilise your energy before entering into, and out of, the therapeutic caring relationship and space. This may include rongoā practices, meditation, mindfulness, prayer, walking or other pursuits you find helpful.

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