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Whakairia ki runga: The many dimensions of wairua.

A growing body of empirical literature attests to the positive association between spirituality and well-being. Across a variety of countries and cultural contexts, many people indicate having had at least one 'spiritual experience' in their life, and endorse spirituality as personally valuable. For Maori, indigenous people of Aotearoa, wairua (spirituality) has always been acknowledged as a necessity of their health and wellbeing. However, what do Maori mean when they talk about wairua? Utilising a qualitative research approach, this article explores some ways through which Maori talk about wairua. Four themes were noted and are discussed. Wairua is fundamental to Maori existence and therefore, important to Maori health and wellbeing.
   "He maha nga peka o te wairua ... te wairua a te tangata,
   te wairua o te whenua, te wairua o te korero, te wairua
      o te tamaiti,
   te wairua o tena whakatipuranga o tena whakatipuranga;
   te wairua o tatou matua tipuna, te wairua whakahaere
      te tangata
      kia tau te wairua."
   "There are many different dimensions of wairua ... wairua
      of the people,
   wairua of the land, wairua of the spoken word, wairua
      of the child,
   wairua of different generations; wairua of our ancestors,
      the wairua that directs
      and inspires a person to engage."

      (Valentine, 2009, p.60)

Currently lacking definitional consensus, the term spirituality is used in a multitude of ways (Gall, Malette, & Guirguis-Younger, 2011). From a Western perspective, it most typically describes an intrinsic, autonomous, and subjective sense of transcendence or connection with a sacred dimension of reality, which provides meaning, purpose, connection and balance (Benjamin & Looby, 1998; Gall et al., 2011; Gallagher, Rocco, & Landorf, 2007; Midlarsky, Mullin, & Barkin 2012; Pargament, 2007; Sperry & Shafranske, 2005). In other places, it has been described as "an internal connection to the universe" (United Nations, 2009, p. 60). For Maori however, spirituality is culturally defined and best captured by the term wairua.

Spirituality and Psychology

A growing body of empirical literature attests to the positive association between spirituality and well-being (e.g., Cohen & Koenig, 2004; Cotton, Levine, Fitzpatrick, Dold, & Targ, 1999; Miller & Thoresen, 2003). Across a variety of countries and cultural contexts, many people indicate having had at least one 'spiritual experience' in their life (Landolt, Wittwer, Wyss, Unterassner, Fach, et al., 2014), and endorse spirituality as personally valuable (Kohls & Walach, 2006). Although historical figures concerned themselves with matters of the spirit (Hood, 2012), and there has been increasing interest in the psychology of religion and spirituality in recent decades (Miller, 2012), the contemporary discipline of psychology still largely ignores the fundamental value of spirituality to lived experience. Guided by a reductionist, materialist philosophy emphasising dominant scientific principles (i.e., objectivity, positivism, empirical verification), it is often at odds with more subjective, experiential, and transpersonal ways of understanding the world. Indeed, the Western scientific enterprise, which has spread around the globe and is assumed rational, logical, superior, and universal in its application of laws and principles, underscores much of what is considered to be the contemporary discipline of "psychology" (Levy & Waitoki, 2016). In reality, while useful and beneficial in its own right, this discipline is only a particular type of psychology--Western academic scientific psychology--that reflects the worldviews, values, and perspectives of certain cultural groups (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, & Dasen, 2002).

Arguably complicit in the ongoing process of colonization through its influence on core societal institutions (i.e., education, politics, employment, among others) (Berry et al., 2002), this type of psychology has rarely valued or accepted as legitimate, the indigenous worldview. Regarded with superstition and scepticism, indigenous spirituality has been one of the greatest victims, with its importance often being undermined, under-acknowledged, and misunderstood (United Nations, 2009). Indeed, an indigenous perspective on spirituality may not be easy to reconcile with adherents to this type of psychology, who "while perhaps holding spiritual beliefs, may not hold spiritual realities in at least the same esteem as scientific realities" (Love, 2008, p.27). Although indigenous spirituality may pose challenges to the philosophical foundations of Western psychology, its importance and value can no longer be diminished or ignored (Nelson & Slife, 2012), particularly in light of the increasing pool of Western academic literature suggesting spirituality is a substantial constituent of holistic well-being (Myers & Williard, 2003).

The growth of indigenous psychology has been instrumental in raising awareness that alternative realities exist for individuals depending on their cultural affiliation, and that spirituality may be a particularly salient reality for many indigenous peoples. Defined as "the scientific study of human behavior or mind that is native; that is not transported from other regions, and that is designed for its people" (Kim & Berry, 1993, p.2), one of the objectives of indigenous psychology is to question the (assumed) universality of current psychological theory. By promoting theories, methods and practices that are inherently native and culturally relevant (Nikora, 1997), indigenous psychology challenges the underlying epistemologies embedded in Western psychology and encourages deeper understanding of indigenous perspectives (Koch & Leary, 1985). Consequently, indigenous psychology provides a useful foundation for exploring the fundamental value, meaning and relevance of indigenous spirituality to various indigenous communities.

Indigenous Spirituality

Spirituality is inextricably linked to ways of being for many indigenous people. Indigenous leaders have acknowledged commonalities in indigenous notions of spirituality, which can be differentiated from religion and are based on a sense of connectedness and respect for the "earth, ancestors, family and peaceful existence" (Christakis & Harris, 2004, p. 251). The importance of nature and a reverence for all living things is a primary guiding principle and takes on deep significance (Cohen, 1998; Portilla, 1980; Wright, 2013). The land is considered a portal or link to the original life-force energy of ancestors. At the cosmological level, life is considered to have emerged through the actions of primordial beings, ancestral spirits and deities, who bestowed upon humans the role of steward and guardian to their creations (Wright, 2013).

From an ontological perspective, indigenous spirituality is foundational to the construction of social relationships, and is manifest in cultural beliefs, practices, and values (Sue & Sue, 2008). Providing a lens for viewing and understanding reality, it gives existence meaning and purpose (Furbish & Reid, 2003). In that sense, spirituality from an indigenous perspective acknowledges the interconnectedness between the human situation and the natural environment, as well as the human situation and an esoteric realm. It acknowledges a wider connection to the universe as a living entity. The United Nations (2009) recognizes the role of spirituality in the maintenance of traditional knowledge and resources, which were "managed by indigenous and local communities since time immemorial, using customary law embedded in spiritual cosmology" (p. 66). Accepted as fundamental to human existence, indigenous spirituality "is not separated but is an integral, infused part of the whole in the indigenous worldview" (United Nations, 2009, p. 61). Indeed, intimately intertwined with a multitude of Maori cultural institutions, spirituality is of primary importance to the tangata whenua (indigenous people) of Aotearoa New Zealand (Furbish & Reid, 2003; Kennedy, Cram, Paipa, Pipi, & Baker, 2015).

Maori Spirituality

The term 'wairua' is typically used by Maori in reference to the spiritual dimension of existence. Etymologically, wairua is comprised of two separate words--wai meaning water and rua meaning two--implying the existence of two entities, which paradoxically may be oppositional while at the same time complementary, thus hinting at the notion of a balanced wholeness. Wai can also be defined as unique, special, and unprecedented; while rua can also mean abyss or container. With this in mind, Bidois (2016) says wairua can mean that which is unique, special, and contained within. Although many would acknowledge a specific definition of wairua is near impossible, its fundamental role to Maori ways of being is widely endorsed. The tohunga (Maori specialist) Maori Marsden (as cited in Royal, 2003) eloquently captured the salience of wairua, stating: "... ultimate reality is for Maori the reality of the spirit" (p. 47). Other notable Maori scholars have also highlighted the importance of wairua, with Rose Pere (1982) noting: "Every act, natural phenomena, and other influences were considered to have both physical and spiritual implications" (p. 12), and Henare (2001) suggesting it is "necessary for the existence of the body" (p. 209). Maori Marsden (as cited in Royal, 2003) further describes it as "the source of existent being and life" (p. 47), while Sir Mason Durie (1985) asserted: "Without a spiritual awareness, the individual is considered to be lacking in well-being" (p. 483).

Traditional notions of Maori well-being were very much dependent on beliefs, practices and behaviours related to wairua. For pre-European Maori, well-being was primarily the domain of tohunga, who were spiritually sanctioned individuals with expertise in aspects of well-being, and utilised a variety of remedies and practices such as karakia and rongoa (Durie, 1998). Because Maori realities primarily revolved around interconnectedness with a spiritual realm, conceptualisations of illness and healing practices were influenced by such understandings, resulting in beliefs that "illness was a result of wrong living" or intervention from the spirit world (Parsons, 1985, p. 217). The role of tohunga, as individuals with direct connection with the spirit dimension, was to restore balance to one's sense of spirituality. While the esteem with which tohunga are held in Maori society has not diminished over time, punitive legislative practices such as the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907, which may have been motivated by goodwill and the desire to achieve enhanced well-being outcomes for Maori, at least from the perspective of prominent Maori, like Maui Pomare, who supported the Act, ultimately saw the outlawing of traditional Maori healing methods and the invalidation of tohunga, as well-being practitioners (Durie, 2001; Jones, 2000). Consequently, wairua as a strong component of well-being for Maori was relegated to a less than favourable position, at least within the psyche of the ethnic majority and the dominant health care system (Durie, 2001; Jones, 2000; Walker, 2004).

Because of this history, wairua and its association with ill health is little understood within Western psychology, despite being the most widely cited aspect of Maori well-being (Cram, Smith, & Johnstone, 2003). While endorsement from Western psychology is not necessary for wairua to have meaning, value and legitimacy for Maori, its fundamental role in well-being suggests greater understanding of wairua is essential for a more culturally relevant psychology--particularly within the bicultural milieu of Aotearoa New Zealand, which obliges a standard of cultural awareness. However, this does not suggest Western psychology should be the lens through which a notion such as wairua must be examined and understood.

Traditionally, research about Maori-specific constructs was primarily conducted by non-Maori researchers, whose purpose in most cases was not to enhance the well-being of Maori (Ihimaera, 2004; Pere, 2006; Smith, 1999). Factors such as knowledge boundaries, who defines and owns the knowledge, and cultural differences, all served to misrepresent Maori ways of understanding the world (Ihimaera, 2004; Johnston, 1999; Smith, 1991). These historic incidences, combined with the materialist, reductionist philosophy inherent to Western psychology, demands contemporary attempts to understand wairua be done with a great deal of consideration and care. "Maori view ... knowledge as highly valued, specialised and tapu (i.e., that it contains culturally-based restrictions around its use) and therefore must be treated with respect and protected" (Walker, Eketone, & Gibbs, 2006, p. 334).

Striving to find a comfortable location to explore wairua from an indigenous Maori psychological perspective was difficult. While we are firmly of the position an indigenous psychological approach is the best way to explore wairua, we were also aware our [HV and NTM] own worldviews and those of other individuals that identify as Maori, have been influenced--consciously, unconsciously and to varying degrees--by the cultural milieu we live in, which is dominated by Pakeha values. These "diverse realities" of contemporary Maori (Durie, 1994, p. 214) mean individuals, whanau, hapu and iwi have varied understandings of Te Ao Maori, and of wairua. Additionally, for many Maori, wairua is considered a delicate taonga (treasure) imbued with tapu (spiritual restrictions), which invoke certain restrictions in its utilisation and understanding, as well as raising issues of Maori intellectual property. Aware of these concerns, and the diverse ways wairua has and continues to manifest in our own lives, we did not wish to privilege any views of wairua over others, nor did we intend to misappropriate knowledge relating to wairua, lest we whakaiti (belittle) the mana (spiritual integrity) of other Maori, as well as the construct of wairua.

Therefore, the only way to proceed was with caution and humility. Durie (2004) suggests it is not uncommon for Western science and indigenous knowledge paradigms to find some common ground without compromising the foundations they are situated, stating "Research at the interface aims to harness the energy from two systems of understanding in order to create new knowledge that can then be used to advance understanding in two worlds" (Durie, 2005, p. 306). While we did not utilise an interface approach, we were aware our positions as Maori individuals [HV and NTM] enculturated to Pakeha society might, by implication, result in an interface approach being non-consciously adopted. We did, however, believe our exploration would not compromise or minimise the importance of wairua.

In the updated edition of her seminal work, Decolonising Methodologies, Linda Smith (2012) speaks to the power of the written word, and how training in academia develops adherence to particular styles of writing, with little critical reflection of how the style may perpetuate a particular worldview. In writing this manuscript, we had to question why we were writing it and indeed who we were writing it for. We also had to question whether we wished to perpetuate a particular worldview, or whether our writing about wairua was our attempt to enlighten others about a worldview less written about.

Therefore, rather than adhere to a format typical of APA style academic journals, we wrote this manuscript in a way suiting our notions of indigeneity. We wanted to write in a way that potentially provides the most benefit to the most amount of people--especially those engaged in the discipline of psychology in Aotearoa New Zealand, irrespective of cultural or ethnic affiliation. The belief wairua should be understood more fully for advancing indigenous psychology, as well as empowering Maori within the discipline of Western psychology, and Te Ao Hurihuri (the modern/contemporary world) more generally to achieve and maintain well-being, further fuelled our motivation and guided our current exploration of this most sacred of constructs.

Our Search for Wairua

As part of her research to fulfil the requirements of a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (Valentine, 2009), the first author Hukarere, supervised by the third author Ross, obtained knowledge about wairua from eight individuals who identified as Maori. Three were female and five were male, and ranged in age from 38 to 70 years old. Some held roles including university lecturers, Maori mental health workers, Maori ministers, Iwi representatives, and healers. Te reo Maori proficiency ranged from fluent to no fluency. Academic qualifications ranged from no qualifications to a PhD. Three were raised in urban environments and five in rural Maori environments. Participants were affiliated with Ngati Kahungunu ki Heretaunga, Ngati Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, Tuhoe, Te Whanau a Apanui, Rangitane and Waikato. All participants were known to Hukarere, and we felt their personal circumstances and characteristics provided a range of understandings about wairua that reflect the 'diverse realities' of modern Maori.

Literature states qualitative enquiries allow an understanding of experiences through language, a more intimate connection with the knowledge being gathered, while also being more appropriate for complex topics of inquiry (Mason, 2002; Polkinghorne, 2005; Smith, 2003; Smith, Michie, Stephenson, & Quarrell, 2002). As wairua has not previously been widely written about, korero (talking, communicating) with individuals who identify as Maori was considered the most appropriate way of gaining knowledge, and was justified by the fact Maori hold knowledge transmission through mediums of language in high regard (Pere, 1982).

Of the eight contacts, two provided written responses, due to their geographical distance from Hukarere and their limited availability. Murray and Harrison (2004) found the use of email interviews to be effective, and for us they were a pragmatic solution that avoided the loss of two important contacts. Six people were interviewed face-to-face, in a place and at a time of their convenience. These korero lasted between thirty minutes and three hours. Guided by an indigenous psychology position that assumed Maori knowledge as equally valuable and worthy as other knowledge bases, an unstructured tikanga Maori (Maori process) approach ensuring tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) was utilised during communications. Although not all Maori may want or know how to engage in ways incorporating tikanga Maori (Edwards, McManus, & McCreanor, 2005), where deemed appropriate by those Hukarere engaged with, karakia (prayers, incantations), te reo Maori, whakawhanaungatanga (rapport building), and whakapapa (connecting via genealogy) were incorporated.

A purpose of this exploration was to ascertain how Maori conceptualise wairua. Although the Maori individuals described a range of information relating to wairua throughout their korero with Hukarere, here we detail their responses to the question: "Based on your experiences, how would you describe wairua?" Smith (2003) stated "qualitative analysis is a personal process" and there is no specific "prescriptive methodology" to the analysis of the data (p. 66). However, Smith (2003, 2004) also notes four stages to qualitative data analysis, including transcribing interviews, establishing themes, connecting the themes, and finally creating a summary table. This process was largely followed as a means for examining the korero from each individual, and how they reflected our overall purpose of better understanding what wairua is to Maori. We felt four primary themes were consistently alluded to throughout each korero, and included:

1. Wairua is fundamental,

2. Wairua knows no boundaries,

3. Wairua is a perceived sensation, and

4. Wairua is relational.

These primary themes are discussed below with the use of quotes to reflect each. Importantly, these descriptions of wairua and their thematic grouping, is not exhaustive. Any number of themes could have emerged, and our interpretation of the data explicitly and implicitly reflects our own varied histories, circumstances, and understandings.

Wairua is fundamental to Maori existence

Throughout the korero, many spoke of wairua as fundamental to Maori existence, indicating it is a necessary part of what it means to be Maori and what it means to be human. In that sense, wairua is not negotiable, but an innate quality or entity; an active ingredient in the constitution of all Maori:
   ... it's not a concept but a practice that is part of being
   Maori ... wairua can't be isolated from the rest of our

   ... it is important for Maori because it is one of the
   dimensions of being.

   ... every Maori have potential to have wairua. Whether
   they can understand what it is or not, it's still there.

   It's part of me, it's part of my whanau, it's part of my
   whanau whanui, part of who I am, and so, for me it's
   just there.

Some korero constructed the fundamental property of wairua in terms related to well-being. Because it is perceived as an essential part of being Maori, without an awareness or sense of wairua, there is no 'wholeness', and situations and circumstances become difficult to manage and/or negotiate, and so have the potential to adversely affect well-being:
   Wairua is our ... kind of like the cement between
   everything. If we don't have that then we become

   Wairua is a more instinctive way of dealing with
   situations and will determine what is tapu and noa for
   any given event.

   You can't talk Maori health unless you talk wairua, it's
   as simple as that. There are healthy Maori and Maori
   health, but they are not necessarily the same thing.

One particular korero highlighted the importance of nurturing wairua as a means of maintaining physical wellbeing, indicating again the essentiality of wairua for Maori:
   Kare au e wehewehe i tenei mea te wairua. Ehara i te
   mea wairua tawhito tena he wairua hou tenei mo tenei
   Ao. A, ki a au nei orite katoa, orite katoa te wairua, a
   mo tenei mea mo te hauora tinana me manaaki ra te
   wairua ka tika. Engari e rua nga wahanga e wha pea nga
   wahanga me manaaki hoki tinana whangai i te tinana
   ka kai pai, ki nga korero pai, katahi ka whangai te hoki
   wairua o te ngakau, a me nga korero o roto i nga momo
   karakia kia tae ai te whakatutuki ki nga mahi.

   [I am unable to separate this concept of wairua. I am not
   referring to an ancient wairua, but wairua that relates
   to this present world. Personally it is all the same, but
   in relation to the well-being of the physical self, one
   must nurture wairua appropriately. However, physical
   health is dependent on nurturing the wairua and certain
   aspects aid this process they are: eating proper food,
   using appropriate language, applying wairua to the
   soul along with collective/respective/extensive prayers/
   rituals in order to meet the desired outcomes].

Wairua knows no boundaries

Throughout the korero, many conceived of wairua as existing outside of normal sensory modalities, implying it is an immaterial entity that cannot be seen or touched. In many ways, wairua was positioned as having an existence far greater in volume, essence and structure than human beings can conceive of:
   Wairua is a lot bigger than people can imagine.

   Wairua is so huge. It's just like everything we are. We
   can't separate it.

   I've never even considered to define it, you know it's too
   narrow for me because it's there.

   ... I think as Maori we all have the wairua, but sometimes
   we don't understand the extent of wairua.

   ... how it connects to everything we are ... it's um, pretty

   much how our whole essence spiritually, and how it
   connects from the spiritual to the physical.

Some korero acknowledged wairua can exist separately from individuals, and has the ability to operate without a person's explicit knowledge:
   I also realise that wairua works without me even
   knowing. You know it's always in place and um it's a
   thing that happens, not between the physical and the
   physical, but the spiritual and the spiritual.

   Each one of us is made up of two components ... the
   physical me that you can see, that can talk, that you can
   hear, and then there is that identical one of me sitting
   beside me that you can't see but you can feel.

Wairua is a perceived sensation

Wairua was often described with words such as feelings, senses, impressions, awareness, and consciousness. In that sense, wairua was positioned as a particular type of knowing, almost a type of 'sixth sense', which may not lend itself to rational or logical understandings or explanations:
   Wairua is ... it's something that, you can't describe it,
   you can't see it, but you certainly can feel it.

   ... it comes to your mind, it's a little voice ... some people
   see. I don't see ... greater are those who don't see but
   believe ... you feel.

   ... everyone has wairua, but some are more in tune than

Some korero implied wairua remains constant, and only as we become more aware of ourselves, do we understand what wairua may be and are able to perceive it more readily:
   I'm aware most of the time where my wairua is and
   what impact it has on me at any given time, but also
   what effect it has on others.

   You know how you grow up and like with the wairua
   you've got it ... it's about you know always being aware,
   what to do with your wairua when you know it.

   I can't say I understood it then, but I'm coming to
   understand what those things are now.

   ... a lot of times is it's about, yeah, learning from inside.
   Learning wairua from wairua, it's really hard, yeah,
   but the knowledge of wairua I find it's different ... it's
   not a physical thing, so you're not gonna learn about it
   physically. You're learning and your knowledge of wairua
   is in that spiritual realm.

Wairua is relational

Wairua was positioned as having a relationship to everything in existence--past, present, and future. Korero implied it transcends space-time boundaries, and is a vital link to ancestors:
   ... how it connects to everything we are ... how it's um
   pretty much our whole essence spiritually, and how it
   connects from the spiritual to the physical.

   ... it interconnects with everything we are, everything
   that we do, or what's in the past, and all that's going
   to be in the future.

   ... it connects our past with our present and with our
   future, and it um, and it connects individual well-being
   as well, as we, as our ... you know the well-being of our
   hapu and our iwi.

Highlighting its complex and multi-dimensional nature, one korero positioned wairua as relational through its many and varied forms:
   He maha nga peka o te wairua maha nga peka.. te
   wairua a te tangata, te wairua o te whenua, te wairua
   o te korero, te wairua o te tamaiti, te wairua o tena
   whakatipuranga o tena whakatipuranga, te wairua o
   tatou matua tipuna, te wairua whakahaere te tangata
   kia tau te wairua.

   [There are many different dimensions of wairua ...
   wairua of the people, wairua of the land, wairua of the
   spoken word, wairua of the child, wairua of different
   generations, wairua of our ancestors, the wairua that
   directs and inspires a person to engage].

Returning to Wairua

Our primary objective was to explore how wairua is conceptualised by those who value the construct most--Maori. Although we engaged in korero with Maori individuals who reflect the 'diverse realities' of modern Maori, many commonalities were noted regarding how this important construct is perceived, and it is hoped these korero will enhance understandings of what wairua is and means for Maori. Keeping with our indigenous psychology lens, we do not wish to over-interpret or analyse the korero in any way that imposes a meaning not necessarily intended by those we spoke to. However, a greater understanding of wairua is essential for a more culturally relevant and culturally responsive psychology, especially within the bicultural milieu of Aotearoa New Zealand. So, here we offer several implications of these korero for psychology in this country.

Threading wairua throughout psychology

Across the korero, wairua was positioned as necessary for existence. The notion of a spiritual reality being of primary importance to and for Maori is not new, and has been espoused by numerous Maori scholars for decades. So, it comes as no surprise [to HV and NTM] wairua continues to be discussed in this way, and by Maori of varying affiliation and/ or immersion in Te Ao Maori. It was also suggested wairua is necessary for well-being, as well as providing a link to Maori history and ancestors, and in that sense, is a major constituent of one's Maori identity. Despite this, wairua remains little understood within the discipline of Western psychology. Indigenous models of well-being, such as the widely cited and well-known Te Whare Tapa Wha (Durie, 2001), reflect wairua as an essential element of holistic health, and various works attest to the positive association between cultural identity and positive psychological outcomes (e.g., Ministry of Social Development, 2016). Yet, the fact spirituality in general is little acknowledged or catered for in psychology, suggests wairua is not overtly or explicitly addressed within psychological selfings Maori come into contact with, which means Maori well-being and identity are being compromised. As a discipline with the enhancement of others as an underlying ethos, such a dearth of attention to wairua is concerning, particularly in light of its prominent role in the maintenance of well-being and cultural identity for many Maori.

A way to address the lack of attention to wairua, is to incorporate it as a fundamental component of psychological education, training, and development, as well as a necessary aspect of any psychological practice. How this is done will vary depending on the psychological context, and should be guided by appropriate advice and consultation with knowledgeable Maori. Within clinical contexts for example, given the limited number of Maori psychologists compared to the need for psychological services by Maori, non-Maori psychologists will likely be the main points of contact for Maori for some time. Professional development for all psychologists is important to, at the very least, be aware of the importance of wairua for a client and their whanau. Most importantly, any attempts to interpret or define wairua for use in clinical contexts must be dealt with based on a Maori worldview. Our greatest aspiration would be to have a sufficient number of Maori trained in Western psychology who are also comfortable, proficient and positioned in indigenous psychology, working in clinical contexts with Maori clients. Until this becomes a pragmatic reality, up-skilling and development of clinical psychologists is important.

From an educational and training perspective, injecting indigenous psychological perspectives into university psychology curricula would be a fruitful and important way of ensuring the value of wairua is portrayed to those aspiring to become psychologists. Levy and Waitoki (2016) suggest "course content is a key indicator of commitment to increasing Maori visibility in psychology" (p. 28), yet their report (Levy & Waitoki, 2015) found only two undergraduate courses across psychology departments throughout New Zealand universities, were specifically Maori-focussed.

Given this almost complete lack of exposure to Maori worldviews, it is highly likely most students studying undergraduate psychology will not encounter the term wairua throughout their degrees, let alone have a firm or even loose grasp of what wairua means and its influence on the lived psychological realities of Maori. Such a claim is not an exaggeration, as Natasha experienced in the postgraduate course she teaches on culture and psychology. When introducing the topic of spirituality and wairua, it is not uncommon for students who have been born and raised in Aotearoa New Zealand to ask: "What is wairua?" Other than reflecting a wider societal issue related to exposure and understanding of Maori worldviews, this example highlights the dearth of visibility to wairua in psychological training, and begs the question of whether psychology trainees are adequately prepared to work in psychological contexts with Maori, without being aware of such a fundamental aspect of Maori well-being, identity, and reality.

Adjusting the Psychological Lens

A major impediment to the incorporation of wairua throughout all areas of psychology rests with the inherent value-base of Western academic scientific psychology (Love, 2003). As noted throughout the korero, wairua was described as manifesting in a variety of ways, which has been previously alluded to by Maori scholars, and was more recently encapsulated by Valentine (2016, p. 168), who suggests:

Wairua is not static, it exists on a continuum with many facets. For some, wairua comes in a small subtle voice. For some, a persistent overwhelming thought, impression or feeling that needs to be acted on. For some, wairua can be seen, heard or felt, and for others wairua is exemplified in their environment and their interactions. Dreaming is also an aspect of te ao wairua; the list is endless.

Across the korero there was notable emphasis on the ineffability, immateriality, and experiential nature of wairua. This is particularly important, in light of the ethos of Western psychology and its scientific ideals regarding objective reality. Wairua is substantiated based on Maori cultural understandings and is considered a fundamental part of normal, everyday reality for Maori. A pertinent issue for psychology is how to reconcile these Maori realities of wairua with the materialistic reductionist perspective dominating Western psychology. From a Maori perspective, wairua is intimately linked to a Maori psychology. Within this paradigm wairua as a necessity for Maori is legitimate.

A further issue relates to how Western psychology views, but also informs, societal views about normality and abnormality. Prevailing Western psychological perspectives about normal and abnormal behaviour typically rest on the extent experiences are verifiable, as well as being accepted by and understandable to, others. Yet, as our korero suggest, the subjective, immaterial, scientifically non-verifiable, and varied manifestation of wairua can be at odds with sanctioned notions of normality espoused by Western psychology. Often cited examples of this are claims of speaking to deceased others or spirits (e.g., Stewart, 1997), or specific occurrences in nature being causative of or explanations for certain behaviours (e.g., Tassell-Matamua & Steadman, 2015).

For Maori, such occurrences are typically unquestioned, and accepted as real and valid manifestations of wairua. Yet, from a Western psychological perspective, these occurrences would be considered as more closely aligned with some psychopathological conditions, rather than normative and acceptable explanations for certain behaviours. We are not suggesting such behaviours, when manifest in individuals who identify as Maori, should be uncritically accepted as culturally normative. Clearly, a reasoned assessment inclusive of cultural consultation about a presenting behaviour, is the ideal. The challenge within this country is to implement a psychology that is effective for the dominant non-Maori majority, and to implement the many and varied forms of behaviour epitomised by wairua and normalised by Maori.

He whakamutunga mo tenei wall A conclusion for now

The history of psychology in this country often begins with the introduction and perpetuation of Western academic scientific psychology, with Maori contributions being invisible and/or minimised (Levy & Waitoki, 2016). Such marginalisation is no longer acceptable--especially when it comes to such a fundamental aspect of lived reality as wairua. While wairua may not align so readily with Western psychological perspectives of reality based on Western scientific ideals, this does not make wairua invalid or irrelevant. The message of our manuscript is not new--many dedicated people have and continue to champion the incorporation of Maori perspectives into the discipline of psychology (e.g., Love, 2008; Milne, 2005). But, it is our hope this manuscript plays a part in introducing and perpetuating a new way of doing psychology. One that proactively considers the fundamental importance of wairua to lived realities and the advancement of psychological wellbeing; always remembering that for Maori--wairua is culturally defined, it is real, it is relevant, it is everything. Without wairua, there is no well-being.


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Corresponding Author

Hukarere Valentine

Massey University, Palmerston North

New Zealand


Hukarere Valentine, Natasha Tassell-Mataamua and Ross Flett Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
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Author:Valentine, Hukarere; Tassell-Mataamua, Natasha; Flett, Ross
Publication:New Zealand Journal of Psychology
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Nov 1, 2017
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