Maori Spirituality: A Wairua on Auto-Pilot?

Maori Jesus, St. Faith’s Church, Rotorua

The following is an article I submitted to ‘Craccum’ (Craccum is the University of Auckland’s Magazine) for publication in their Maori Language Week edition of the magazine. At the time of posting this entry the magazine had not yet gone to print. The posting of the article here is in response to numerous requests from various people to obtain a copy. In all honesty it was put together in haste, but I believe everything I wrote and I hope one day to do more research and study in this area in the hope of producing a useful study/resource that will encourage and indeed empower Maori people everywhere.

For Māori, spirituality is such an important part of our lives and our identity that quite often it can seem as if it is ingrained into the core of our very being. Indeed spirituality is so important that ‘Taha Wairua’ (Spirituality) makes up one of the components of Dr. Mason Durie’s ‘Whare Tapa Wha,’ four things necessary to live a well balanced life based on Tikanga and Whakaaro Māori. But apart from a few rote learnt prayers and perhaps praying before we eat, it seems as if any sense of deliberate spirituality is becoming less and less prominent amongst our people. This then begs the question, is spirituality still a fundamental part of who we are as Māori or has it simply become habit and void of any meaning at all?

It is important first and foremost to recognise that spirituality is not a synonym for Christianity. Although more often than not the spiritual context on our marae and at our hui is a Christian one, it is necessary to recognise that the religious spectrum of Māori is so much broader than just Christianity alone. Likewise it is important to remember that Māori spirituality is more than just praying or setting aside times to be ‘spiritual.’ Māori spirituality permeates everything we do and affects all facets of our lives; it is for this reason that perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the key to Māori spirituality lies in its application.

Too often we rest on our tradition as a way of manifesting our own spirituality, this can look as if we are simply putting our Wairua on Auto-Pilot, not too worried about what the outcome may be. But in this space and time, as we attempt to make sense of the world that surrounds us, a world full of destruction and pain, a world where the poor continue to be oppressed, the marginalised remain voiceless and our Tamariki (Children) are still going to school hungry, a Wairua on Auto-Pilot is a dangerous thing.

Although the thought of a conscious spirituality may not be a priority to many young people, it is vital to the future of our people, our whanau (Families), and our very being. It is not enough to exercise a passive spirituality that bubbles to the service when we all of a sudden need a karakia (Prayer) to open a meeting or to bless food. We need to cultivate a deliberate spirituality amongst our people, something that is sadly lacking in too many of our whanau. This doesn’t mean that we karakia day and night in an attempt to become more spiritually awake, rather it means that we need to become more aware of our Taha Wairua and its intrinsic link to our very identity as Māori. By doing this we create a foundation strong enough to stand up to the worst the world has to offer but also sensitive enough to see and appreciate the wonders that surround us every day.  This provides us with a much needed lens with which to see and indeed, respond to issues of marginalisation, oppression and injustice with concern and love.

Our culture is enormously spiritual, from Tangi (Funeral Rites) to Powhiri (Ceremony of Welcome) to Hura Kohatu (Unveiling of a Headstone), Taha Wairua is the key to our culture. The risk we run if we approach our spirituality in a passive manner is that we reduce these most intimate of times into little more than a role play, a performance with no substance. The substance to everything we do as Māori relies on a foundation built from a spiritually deliberate base. This means that we have an obligation as Māori to become more spiritually aware. Just as we have an obligation to ensure the survival of our Reo (Language), we must also ensure the survival and growth of our Taha Wairua. This is what we are called to remember in the words of Sir Apirana Ngata : “E tipu e rea, mo nga ra o to ao. Ko to ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha, hei ora mo to tinana. Ko to ngakau ki nga taonga a o tipuna, hei tikitiki mo to mahunga. Ko to wairua ki te Atua, nana nei nga mea katoa.”

Right here and now we as Maori have the opportunity to make this happen, to remember the words of our Tipuna and Ta Apirana, and to turn those words into action. If we do so now, we save our children and our mokopuna the harsh and painful experience of having to search needlessly for the Taha Wairua that we lost.

Translation of Sir Apirana Ngata’s Proverb: Grow up and thrive for the days destined to you. Your hands to the tools of the Pakeha to provide physical sustenance, your heart to the treasures of your Māori ancestors as a diadem for your brow, Your soul to your God, to whom all things belong.

About Christopher Huriwai
I am a twenty-something, husband, student, minister, Anglican, Maori, son, brother, uncle.

4 Responses to Maori Spirituality: A Wairua on Auto-Pilot?

  1. This is very apposite, Chris. I enjoyed reading it!! What more have you got on your mind? Well done!! We need more people like you thinking these issues through!!!

    I have a couple of thoughts that I would like to raise. The first is the use of the term ‘Taha Wairua’ which is in common use to mean ‘spirituality’. My thought on this is that it perpetuates the Judeo-Greek/Euro-Western concept of the human being consisting of three elements: physical, spiritual and psychological. To this Mason has added ‘Taha Whanau’ and changes the concept slightly but not enough to make it sufficiently Maori to me. Compartmentalising the ontological being of people is all about control and management by a person/scientist who observes others as objects of interest rather than human beings – positivism.

    Second, what then is a Maori understanding of ontology? We talk of being holistic, so what does this mean? In the medical field we have argued that treating the Taha Tinana is not sufficient, that the whole being of a person needs to be addressed/cared for. Yet Maori continue to follow the Judeo-Greek/Euro-Western approach as mentioned above. Have we Maori been so inculturated that we don’t consciously and subconsciously recognise what has happened to us? This has significant implications for where Maori are at today.

    • Thanks for your comments, ArchD!

      To be honest, I have thought about the Whare Tapa Wha model in the way you speak of it before, but nowhere near as developed as your korero!

      It would be really good to talk about these types of things further and with a variety of different people…it will certainly be more fulfilling than talking about the finer points of Collects!

  2. Maraea Irimana says:

    THANKS & PRAISES TO OUR HEAVENLY FATHER: In the beginning GOD….. RULES….. and In th End…. GOD RULES!

    The foundation & new revelation is …GOD, who… IS THE SAME, YESTERDAY, TODAY & TOMORROW…

    He maketh th sun to shine on the good & bad… for HE OWNS THEM ALL!

    Taha Wairua, Ture Wairua, GOD’s Law – It was finished SALVATION ‘before’ he designed the existence of the world…

    “Oti rawa, oti rawa, koia tenei hari hou – Ae ra e nga Ariki, no koutou te aroha


  3. Paddy Noble says:

    Kia ora Christopher, nga mihi mo ou whakaaro. You are right in all you have said about Maori and our spirituality. Spirituality is the heart and core of what makes us who we are. I eat and breathe it everyday. It is also part of my imagination at times when I think of better days ahead in times of despair.

    For me when I meet someone my wairua tells me a lot about this person. I have a very close transgender friend and when I met her is was her wairua (although shes Pakeha) but her wairua that brought us closer together. I told her on the first day I met her that I loved her wairua. And she said the same to me.

    When I’m with whanau at times we have our disputes but our wairua is what makes us a whanau.

    I think even when there are cases of child abuse among Maori it is a clear indication that Wairua is not part of the whanau. Something is missing.

    thank you for writing about this. Nga mihi.

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