Kaumātua - We Are The Fruits Of Their Labour

July 27, 2022, 7:19 p.m.



Kaumātua are important figures in te ao Māori. They preserve history and tradition, they nurture future generations, they pass on knowledge and wisdom and they provide guidance and leadership. They wrap their mokopuna in unconditional love.

But as the hour glass slowly flips, roles reverse for grandparents and mokopuna. It's like seeing a gradual time-lapse of events, acts of kindness, guidance, physical support, bath times, story-telling and goodnight kisses slowly being passed in a baton from one palm to another, as the hauora of our kaumātua diminishes. 

In te ao Māori, mokopuna were traditionally raised directly by grandparents, and the hapū as an extension. This occured for varied reasons, including the preservation of whānau whakapapa and traditional knowledge. Kaumātua wanted to pass their knowledge on to the next generation, usually through the eldest mokopuna so would spend extended amounts of time with them.

The Ministry of Health produced a paper on ‘Maori and Informal Caregiving’ which states;

“Caregiving is an ingrained value in Māori culture. Some were obligated into caregiving roles because of their position in the whānau This occurred across age groups such as for the first-born, adopted or eldest child in the whānau. These children may have been caregiving from a young age well into adulthood.”




Peter-Lucas Jones spoke to E-Tangata about his upbringing surrounded by kaumātua who helped shaped his life.

"Those kuia were really superstitious and everything meant something. They constantly observed us and the world around them — and they spent hours deliberating over what these signs or tohu meant, especially whether that was to do with the weather and the garden, which they called the mahinga.

We had a kōhanga reo at Mahimaru marae, and the kaiako were our kuia. Ma Jones, Nana Hazel, Mother Mere Henare, Nana Taha, Aunty Gugu Pivac, Aunty Myra Berghan, and many others. They were all kaikaranga and kuia."

The traditional practice of raising tamariki in te ao Māori meant that the child did not solely belong to the birth parents. Tamariki belonged to everyone in the hapū. Every key figure in a child's life played a part in raising and contributing to certain aspects of that child's upbringing.

Today we are seeing an increase in mokopuna reversing roles, in that, they are becoming their grandparents main carer as the health of their elders gradually dwindles. 

"When they got older, and at times unwell, I cared for them. I’ve had the opportunity to care for a lot of kaumātua in my lifetime. It’s a real blessing to care for kuia and kaumātua because old people are the real teachers. I’m 40 years old, and when I think about all the old people I cared for, they were the people that really gave me an education" Jones continued.




Recently, Kaumātua Puna Hauora, an event that put kaumātua at the centre of attention, was held at Te Ahu Centre. It was a clever collaboration of hauora-based providers to spoil the attendees. Kaumātua Puna Hauora was organised by Te Rūnanga o Te Rarawa with tautoko from Hokianga Health, Northland District Health Board and The Warehouse. Various hauora-based products and services such as romiromi, wellness checks, rongoā Māori, kai ora and information sharing were offered. Kaumātua were the centre of attention for the day. Joanne Murray spoke to Te Hiku Radio about the event and noted that our kaumātua are key figures in our lives as Māori, so it was good to be able to create a day all about them. And spoil them!

Mike Te Wake said it was a great day and went very well. He also spoke to Te Hiku Media's Haukāinga team about the importance of focussing on kaumātua hauora in modern society.

"We need to help them navigate this world in a way that they understand. So if they are trying to use skype, say something like hey let's call your moko on Australia on your phone using video, and then show them how" said Te Wake.

It is becoming a common focus for our community to create events that celebrate those who have spent their lives dedicated to caring for their families and safeguarding te ao Māori. Another event in celebration of kaumātua is an event organised by Maquita Lia of Whakawhiti Ora Pai where their social well-being team are spoiling their kaumātua with an outing to watch the new documentary, Whetū Mārama. Lia told Te Hiku Radio that;

“We want to allow our elders to be able to come together on a happy occasion, especially after being stuck at home for so long during COVID19. We hope to host more of these types of events and have planned this event for the 28th of July at Te Ahu. We want to give our kaumātua the opportunity to reminisce as alot of them worked alongside Uncle Hector in Aurere within his kaupapa. We will then be taking them to Beachcomber for lunch afterward” said Lia.

Lia explained that this is the first of many events planned for kaumātua. There are many outings and opportunities planned that get them out, spending time with family and friends and encourage active lifestyles.




Sometimes we wish we could pause time, create a stagnant pool of sand within the hour-glass to steal a few moments more with our loved ones. During this time, by pausing and reflecting on your upbringing, you will hopefully be able to see the dedication that kaumātua have invested in your future. And it is now our responsibility, as a community, as their mokopuna, and the fruits of their labour, to reciprocate the favour. We can do this in many ways, putting our elders at the centre of attention as the hour-glass begins to empty. We can spend more time to help them and invest our efforts into the future, as they have done for us.





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