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Tikanga (cultural values and beliefs)

The impact of our own cultural values and beliefs has a strong influence on the way we relate to each other. This can cause complications for doctors, nurses and midwives as it is particularly important to be aware of these issues when relating to patients who are often vulnerable.

Behaviour and practices that are not consistent with Maori beliefs, values and concepts, can distress Maori and result in a lack of confidence and lack of participation in health care services.


Karakia is “Incantation –particularly the ancient rites proper to every important matter in the life of the Maori”. Is a “normal” part of Tikanga Maori. Karakia may briefly precede assessment or healing or it may be an integral and ongoing part of the healing process, associated with other rituals like wai tapu (blessed water). Karakia is appropriate in preparation for, during and following birth.

Karakia helps whanau:

  • To be focused
  • To achieve their goal
  • To maintain values
  • To protect everyone

Pregnancy and prenatal care (haputanga)

Pregnancy and prenatal care (haputanga) is a very special time for all. Maori believe that mothers and babies should be comfortable and relaxed throughout the pregnancy and birth. They feel that a baby is fully aware of what is going on in his or her environment and having a mum as calm and relaxed as possible for the entire pregnancy is of great benefit to the baby.

Haputanga is a traditional Maori approach that utilises a combination of gentle belly massage, body alignment and pressure points.

Some benefits of haputanga for the whaea (mother)

It eases discomfort during the pregnancy such as; back pains, strains, muscle aches, bladder and organ discomfort, tiredness and depression and stress relief. It also tends to shorten the length of labour and facilitates an easier birth.

Some benefits of haputanga for the peepi (baby)

It helps keep the baby relaxed and calm, provides more room for the womb to expand so that the baby can move and grow comfortably and aids with keeping the amniotic fluid well balanced.

Nga matua (fathers)

In the Maori culture fathers to be are taught how to do the Maori pregnancy massage and are advised to do it as often as possible, which helps create a more comfortable pregnancy for both whaea (mother) and peepi (baby). Sharing this form of intimacy helps form a close bond between the matua, whaea me te peepi, (father, mother and baby).

Postpartum care for whaea (mums)

Repositioning of internal organs and realignment of the body after birth by haputanga is thought to help with postpartum depression.

Care for peepi and tamariki (babies and children)

Infant/child chiropractic and cranial-sacral therapy. Energetic removal of birth trauma by these methods it is believed help with sleep disturbances; (reoccurring nightmares); colic; allergies; anger and depression.

Te whare tangata whenua (placenta), pito (umbilical cord)

Each of the terms below relates to different stages of the procreation – creation process and each state is seen as tapu.

The female genital is regarded as tapu “Te Whare Tangata” or the “house of people and is where the procreation begins.

Whenua relates to the placenta and to the land.

The whenua (afterbirth) is returned to the whenua (land) and with the pito (umbilical cord) bond the link between the newborn and papatuanuku(mother earth). With this affinity established, each individual fulfils the role of curator, for papatuanuku (mother earth), which remains life long.

Whanau relates to giving birth and to the family.

Hapu relates to being pregnant and is also a sub-tribe of the Iwi (people) Koiwi (bones).

  • Hapu – pregnant
  • Hapu – to conceive or being pregnant

A wahine (woman) is in a state of tapu when she is with peepi (baby/child). She is the bearer of the iwi (generations to come) and should be protected and guarded with respect.

A Maori Health Worker and/or Maori minister are offered should they want karakia (blessing) on the return of the afterbirth.

See also:
www.matatini.co.nz website of the Maori mental health workforce development
www.ngamaia.co.nz website of Nga Maia, a national organisation representing and fostering Maori midwifery.

There have been very few studies of postnatal depression in Maori women but it appears to be at least, perhaps more, common than in pakeha women.


Tupara, H. & Ihimaera, L. (2004) In the Context of midwifery Practice Recognition and management of Mental Health. Published by Te Rau Matatini.

Webster, M., Thompson, J. Mitchell, E., & Werry, J. (1994). Postnatal depression in a community cohort. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 28(1); 42-49.

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