The essentialness of whakapapa and wairua working in social work

This korero is about decolonising who you are, waking up or as I call it ‘coming home’ to the Self. I talk about connection, wairua and whakapapa… the concept of whaia te iti kahurangi…the recognition of the little blue light in all of us, our higher selves that we draw from when working with whanau in need.

How many of you really know what whakapapa is, how to chase a child’s cultural connections or indeed how important whakapapa is to the healing of our people? Really, how do you competently investigate those connections when you don’t value them? When you enter into working with a whānau, you are saying that you are competent in working with them. You understand and value celestial connections to tipuna and atua: all that is, tika, pono, aroha, tapu and noa. Do you even recognise that to sever a child from their whakapapa connections is an act of colonial violence upon that child? You are killing their light potential and interfering with their soul purpose? And No colonisation never stopped, nor did Māori cede sovereignty. Take for example the confiscating and non-return of Waitara lands, what you do to the land you do to the people and on selling our babies to private owners and changing the law to prevent any challenge to have those babies returned. Removing tamariki placement protections from the Act is a direct attack upon whakapapa. The source of our connection, the high wire direct to the atua, and a child’s personal power. This strategy is a racist, ignorant, short sighted plan for the wellbeing of our children. Remove the strategy and remove the advisory panel who conceived it.

Many Maori leaders have stated don’t work with our people until you know yourself. Look your past in order to know where you are going in the future…so we avoid making the same mistakes. Not just our past ‘in this life’ but in other lives lived. In social work, your back-story, is everything. From a Maori perspective, who you are and where you come from is essential to working with us. That is the ONLY shining badge that you flash, not your BSW degree or your SWR card. Think about it, you study 4 years about Western modes of social work whilst barely touching on the historical oppression and genocide of tangata whenua in Aotearoa. White-is-best anything has never worked for tangata whenua…yet they keep on trying to Maorify or Indigenise introduced models that have absolutely no applicability to Māori.

For Indigenous peoples all over the world, you are representative of all your ancestors. For tangata whenua we talk about coming from the love of thousands, we carry their DNA, their blueprints, their resonance (vibration signature) and thus, their memories and lived-experience. Our tipuna exist unseen within the physical spaces we occupy. DNA is its physical storage medium and the human brain is its physical processing device. Knowledge of old, of our eternalness, the secrets of the universe, is held there. Of how creation works which includes neurosciences around molecular change and sound vibration as ways of healing, cleansing and clearing. Hence, the importance of rituals of mindfulness, meditation, and karakia to be able to draw from that storage device and bring it into the physical. This is not an add on, or something that can be quantified or assessed as to, how much you are, or are not. If, you don’t know about this I am saying, you are not qualified to work with our people.

Painful experience is also carried through DNA. When a people experience colonisiation through massive land loss, belief systems, language, self-determination, and stolen generations…what our grand parents and parents experience is passed onto the babies…genetically pre-disposed to the effects of colonisation. We have historical or accumulative trauma showing up in the collective whakapapa. It also builds up in the physical spaces we occupy…it leaves a residue signature that hooks onto the ethos, or it’s held in the molecules of matter, air and water. Toxic psychic waste collects like rubbish in a garbage dump in thoughts, behavior, dwellings and communities. It has to be cleared.

We have extensive Kaupapa Māori research available to us that talks about this science and healing potential. That clearly provides evidence to show that imported white-stream interventions do not achieve significant positive life outcomes for Māori. There are solutions being advocated both nationally and internationally, that are grounded within Māori and Indigenous approaches. Why does the white-stream continue to deny this research in favour of their own? Because they think what we are talking about is a load of hocus pocus, superstitious non-sense, which is why their only solution is to repeat themselves.

Historical trauma like chalk, is not suddenly wiped from a blackboard with empathy, some counseling, or holding the space, or when we’re told to get “over it” It doesn’t go away when you experience the barrage of racism on a daily basis and told your people are to blame for their own demise, because they are violent, criminal, lazy and dumb. Our babies are carrying that self-hatred, passed on even before they are born into this world, and we wonder why suicide is so high globally across colonised peoples. They haven’t had time to heal from the last colonising hit before they get another. We need to practice holistic healing that address historical trauma and non-Maori modes of right now pati-pati round the garden as in child-centered practices do not cut the mustard! No matter how much you want it to. No matter how well intentioned you are.

So what is whakapapa and why is it essential in social work? There are many meanings provided by far more enlightened minds than myself Ranganui Walker, Irehapiti Ramsden, Moana Jackson and Leonie Pihama. But I am sharing my story to act as lights along the runway, to encourage you to OWN your potential and what you bring to the social work table…because none of you have the right to stand in the way of your own greatness and ability to work well with our people.

I grew up in state care. We had to attend Sunday school and I learned about the power of talking to Jesus. So one night I did. The response I remember getting from Jesus was like when you are starving hungry and you finally get to eat that delicious hāngī that has been infiltrating your nostrils all day long. The way the ‘warm full’ feeling rises up from your belly and envelopes your whole being. In that moment for the first time I heard a primal call of “e tū my girl” and so I did. From that time on I never stopped trying to whistle blow about the abuse we were experiencing from those charged with our care. The way an adult hand slides across your mouth stifling the cry, the breath and the voice. There will always be those who do not want you to whistle blow, be truth tellers.

One day my brother Tīpene’s leg was broken. He does not remember it but I do; the crack of the bone pinging the air and my sick gut feeling. He was not attended to straight away and consequently when it was finally set in plaster, his little calf muscle had shrunk and his leg mended shorter than the other. The boy had to wear a built-up shoe so that he could walk without limping. Around this time (1970’s) there was a lot of public focus on Christianity, faith marches and faith healers visiting communities. I remember Tīpene being taken to our church where he was prayed over by a faith healer. I felt the warm full feeling say “e tū girl” so I did and prayed for my brother. My eyes shut tight and face all tensed to show Jesus that I meant business. When all was done, Tīpene a little blonde haired boy limped from the stage because his built-up shoe now made one leg longer than the other. His legs were now the same length. He took off his shoes, stared in wonderment at his feet squarely side by side and then skipped in circles. He didn’t want to put his shoes back on after that. That was wairua weaving its healing magic and showing us that we were not alone.

When I eventually left care, as most kids in care do they head for what ever they know to be home. I headed for the East Coast where my mum’s mum lived. Nanny Ma was already on her way to greet me. Wairua had told her I was coming and upon reaching me wrapped me up in those big arms of hers. I melted into her ample bosom and for the first time in years I felt the deep sobs of my childhood surface. I let it come. I got to know Nanny Ma who shared much with me. This included our extensive whakapapa which goes all the back to Ruawaipu who lived about the same time as Toi. I became immersed in my whakapapa on both my Ngāti Porou and Welsh sides. I also went home to Wales and met my father’s relations. I came from a long line of matriarchal influence and wahine toa.

When I told Nanny Ma about the e tū call she said to me “Listen, your tīpuna speak to you through your thoughts. No one can define your completeness based upon who you are not. You are the sum total of all of your tīpuna before you. E tū, my girl, and reclaim what was taken from you.” Nanny Ma died in 1990. I am forever grateful for the brief time we got to spend together. What Nanny Ma had explained to me started to come from the periphery, into view. The e tū call was the embrace of my tīpuna willing me to stand up, to be resilient and free, so that I could do the job I came into this life to do. But it comes with challenges…

I have found over the last few years that, like the child who tries to whistle blow about her abuse, there are many in social work that intentionally silence Māori voices speaking up against oppressive practice. Called tone policing, we hear that non-Māori (and some Māori too) would listen if we just changed the words or the tone we use. As if the WAY a person talks about the racism they experience is much more important than the ACTUAL racism they experience. It can make monocultural practitioners or colonised minds uncomfortable. They want to deflect the attention away from their racist actions and refocus on how wrong the uppity native Māori is for pointing out racism. We have to have the hard conversations about racism in all of its facets and guise because it decimates whānau. The e tū call is the stepping up of a warrior, who will not be silenced so that others can remain comfortable.

I have come to realise that everything that I have ever done in this lifetime has intentionally prepared me for this work. In essence I chose this journey, this life and my purpose, just as I chose my parents in order to access this life. I speak out because of resilience, purpose, faith and hope…because of the essentialism of whakapapa. Life does not happen to you as in externally…it all happens from within. So you find you Pou’ness, be pou before you work with our whanau, my whanau!

Ko wai ahau? I am not just a social worker. I am not just the physical body I occupy; I am connected to all that is, the sun, the moon, the stars, the awa, the maunga, the whenua. I come from the love of thousands of my tīpuna. I am the reason they lived and to them I will return. We are here in this life by divine choice, divine right; we are divinity itself. That is what whakapapa is and why it is precious for our mokopuna. Quite simply, if you do not ‘get’ the celestial infiniteness of whakapapa and the healing knowledge contained within it, then you are not qualified to work with our people. If, you fear Maori, if you do not feel confident in your ability to work with whanau, the problem is not with them it is within you.

Finally, your purpose in this life is not what you do, to bring home your paycheck. Your purpose is what you were put on this earth to do, with such intensity and passion, that it becomes a spiritual calling. KNOW that a healer is not just someone you go to for a reading or a mirimiri – in the same way social work applies, it’s someone who flips the switch in you, that wakes you up to your own ability to heal yourself, to be free from a colonised mind and in doing so your light transforms others. So it is important to know who you are, why you are here, doing what you do; what ever it is, it is not enough to just do it. When you know your own greatness, and you are able to follow wairua without hesitation “whaia te iti kahurangi” you have all the tools you need to change anything. That is how it works.


Mauri ora koutou

Na Paora Crawford Moyle at


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One thought on “The essentialness of whakapapa and wairua working in social work”

  1. Thank you for sharing . I am just blown away. You are right our whakapapa and connection to Maori bodies of knowledge is in our DNA, and when we oho it all falls into place. I have witnessed this first hand through counselors and practitioners with first-hand experience in AOD. Maori participants articulating Wairua, Whanau, Hinengaro, Tinana after saying “I don’t know anything being Maori”. It’s a powerful experience. As a 3rd year SW student we have been exposed to many indigenous bodies of knowledge from within our class both Maori and non-Maori I have learned more from my classmates on how to engage with other ethnicities including my own being Maori. It is my Maori worldview that has always guided my practice and as I now walk with Moko Kauae it has become more evident to me that this journey is as Pohatu would say “an old friend in a new time”. It’s about application working out how it fits for us individually. Totally agree with what you are saying. Nga mihi

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