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Ngā Kaumātua, ō Mātou Taonga

A feasiblity study to support kaumātua health in a changing world

Research Team

  • Marama Muru-Lanning
  • Dr Tia Dawes

Māori look forward to ageing. Becoming a kaumātua (Māori 55 or older) is to be venerated by whānau, hapū, and iwi alike. Yet despite Māori greeting ageing positively, there is a significant discrepancy between their views on growing older and their actual health. In fact, by any metric, kaumātua are not ageing well. And it is important, as a nation, to know the reasons why.

Embarking on a short feasibility study funded by Ageing Well, Co-Principal Investigators Associate Professor Marama Muru-Lanning and Dr Tia Dawes, of the University of Auckland, wanted to explore this apparent discrepancy between positive Māori attitudes to ageing and their negative health statistics.

A critical aspect of this pilot project was to ensure that the methods employed to gather data and select participants from a diverse geographical region were fit-for-purpose. Researchers conducted the pilot study with kaumātua from two Māori communities in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland), Patuharakeke and Ngātiwai. Employing a kaupapa Māori approach (research by, and for, Māori) proved critical. Drawing upon Māori customs (tikanga) and knowledge (mātauranga), researchers collaborated with participants to design, develop and evaluate the project. This meant the project was reciprocal in nature.

The engagement process exceeded expectations. The majority of kaumātua within the Ngātiwai Kāhui Kaumātua participated in the data collection and the research team created a waitlist in an attempt to accommodate as many participants as possible.

The first noho wānanga (2-day workshop) involved eight kaumātua of Patuharakeke descent and two support people; the second involved fifteen Ngātiwai kaumātua and three support people. The participants were fully engaged in the event, providing positive feedback and suggestions of co-design for future projects.

Associate professor Marama Muru-Lanning

Despite Māori greeting ageing positively, there is a significant discrepancy between their views on growing older and their actual health . . . and it is important to understand why.

Participants had the opportunity to define what it means to age well for Māori within the context of their own community and to contribute their understandings of ageing to broader discussions around ageing within New Zealand. They also had an opportunity to voice their concerns around ageing and how they are managing both older age and the transition into older age within tribal rohe (areas).

In turn, the researchers learnt about health as kaumātua understand it, what strategies they use to maintain health, and their outlook on life. They also got an insight into the role that kaumātua play within their communities as a means of wellbeing.

Findings suggest that the methods of information gathering were effective, and the data were enlightening. A koroua (elder) taking part told researchers he had a clear understanding of the purpose of the noho wānanga and, more importantly, he felt his contribution was respected by the team and his fellow contributors. For the research team, looking to build a bridge of trust to older kaumātua, there could be no greater compliment.

Based on the success of this pilot study, Ageing Well funded the larger study, ‘Mā mua ka kite a muri; mā muri ka ora a mua’, as part of an Emergent Opportunities grant.

This follow-on project will explore intergenerational support for kaumātua health in the two Tai Tokerau communities, using a kaupapa Māori approach and including qualitative, ethnographic and oral history techniques. It seeks to examine kaumātua, whānau, iwi and health services discourse on responsibility for kaumātua health. The research also aims to probe more deeply into historic, cultural and social context of wellbeing, health and health service usage in these rohe.