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Wahakura as a model for Whānau Ora

This weekend (3 -5 Aug), Te Kohanga Whakawhaiti Marae in Pahiatua will host a wahakura wānanga focusing on hapū māmā and their whānau. This is a first for the Pahiatua community with all the health and social service providers working together to ensure its success.

Jenny Firmin (rāranga teacher, nō Whanganui) and Hakui Ataneta Paewai will be teaching whānau and other kairāranga (weavers) the wahakura waikawa style. Ten whānau including hapū māmā will be learning to make wahakura.

Hauora is also a focus of the wānanga, with kaihāpai providing opportunities for whānau to be active in their own journey to wellbeing. The interest has been so high that not everyone has been able to attend. However, there will be more wānanga in the next year.

This collaboration draws on the skills, knowledge and support of all sectors in Tamaki nui a Rua including the farming and business communities, but most importantly whānau and families themselves.

Wahakura are unique, lovingly hand-woven sleep spaces for pepi made out of harakeke and using the tradition of rāranga. The wahakura is the first kaupapa Māori safe-sleeping device. It is a contemporary solution to help combat Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) based on the customary practice of weaving harakeke.

Wahakura also support Māori cultural values of co-sleeping, promote bonding and breastfeeding, and allow for parents to respond instantaneously to their pēpi during the first few weeks of life.

Ms Firmin has developed a method to teach the waikawa style of weaving wahakura with non-weavers, particularly whānau who are expecting a pepi. Teaching whānau how to make their own wahakura will empower whānau to create their own pathways to whānau ora or wellbeing.

Ms Firmin believes that teaching whānau how to weave rather than do it for them creates further opportunties for whānau to think about how they are preparing to welcome their new pēpi into the world, while producing a wahakura that is unique and reflects the aspirations of the whānau.

Ms Firmin learnt the waikawa style of weaving wahakura from Dawn Kereru from Gisborne five years ago. “It’s where I developed a strong passion and aroha for the kaupapa,” she says, by using customary weaving practice to create a beautiful safe sleep space for whānau and their pēpi.

The understandings and tikanga (cultural practices) associated with harakeke; weaving and wahakura have many similarities with pregnancy, birth and raising tamariki. For example, Hineteiwaiwa is the goddess of both weaving and childbirth. The harakeke plant is made up of a fan with a rito (pēpi) in the centre, surrounded by the mātua rau (parent leaf) and then the kaumātua rau (grandparent leaves). The rito and mātua rau are always nurtured and never harvested as they ensure the future survival and wellbeing of the plant.

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