Tuesday, March 08, 2005


A significant and special part of our indoctrination into the Maori culture was our visit to the Waiwhetu Marae outside of Wellington in the Hutt Valley. If you're already confused as to what's a Marae, pause here and go to Blockbuster and rent Whale Rider.

Welcome back, as you now know, the traditional carved marae, in this case, the Te Ati Awa serves as a special meeting place for the Maori. Our evening included a miki (greeting), a powhori (welcoming), a hui (meeting) a hakari (feast) and an after dinner discussion from the respected elder, Terry. We all slept overnight at the Marae. Twin mattresses are a generous description of our beds that were lovingly placed on the Marae floor and lined up side by side for about fifty people. If you are someone with a must need for personal space, let me recommend here, this is not your idea of a Holiday Inn. Don't get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I don't care all that must about my personal space and appreciated this as being a very special experience. Most people started settling into to their ramdomly selected bunk around 11:00 PM. It became really interesting around 3:00 AM when you had the harmonizing of snoring, snorting, breathing, wheezing, whistling, tossing and talking. Lets just say if Snow White were being remade by the emerging New Zealand film industry, they would have had a perfect opportunity to audition an interesting cast of sleeping characters.

I’ve found that some traditions in New Zealand are common across all cultures. For example, eating seems to know no boundaries whether you identify with being Maori, Pakeha, or anything in between. So it was understandable that food would also be and integral part of our visit to the Marae including dinner, tea, pausing for five hours of breathing noises to start up again with breakfast followed by tea. It is important to know that “tea time” has less to do with sipping and more to do with indulging and typically in an assortment of goodies, sweeties and delicious desserts. I have somehow lost all willpower during these moments and foods that I would normally never considering having before I know it I have happily piled onto my plate. I think it’s my hands that are failing me—they seem to know no boundaries during the 30 minutes that are dedicated to tea-time twice each day.

I spent the second day visiting the community based Primary Health Organization (PHO). The PHO model is fairly new in New Zealand but already has a particiaption rate of about 95% of the general practitioners. The vision for the PHO is to have a holistic approach to treating people for their well-being and health care needs. This type of model has very strong parralle to how the Maori iwis (tribes) have been caring for their people throughout history. The PHO, Te Runanganui O Taranaki Whanui of Waiwhetu in Lower Hutt, is adjacent to the marae, made a decision in 2000 to expand a previously existing part time marae health clinic service. A new medical centre was opened in 2000 and has continued to increase in size since then. The good relationship between the local community and medical centre has created an excellent working environment for medical centre staff, all of whom are employed by the Runanga.

The practice has a large proportion of Maori patients, most from the local Waiwhetu area. As well as this original group of patients, the expansion of the practice has meant that it has become a significant community health centre for patients from Wainuiomata, Waiwhetu and Lower Hutt, now numbering over 5000. The medical centre forms an integral part of the Waiwhetu Marae/Runanga community operations with the meeting house, kohanga reo, Atiawa Toa FM radio station, Tamaiti Whangai centre of learning and gymnasium in close proximity.

The doctors have access to both Tamariki Ora nurses and Maori disease management specialist nurses. They walked us through their various initiatives and also shared with us their tools for data collection and monitoring participation and outcomes.


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