Mahi Aroha: Māori perspectives on volunteering and cultural obligations
This research identifies motivators and cultural drivers for Māori, which contribute to maintaining mana for the whānau, hapu- and iwi. This research indicates that Māori volunteering is based significantly on the notion of whanaungatanga (kinship). The report on the findings from this research, Mahi Aroha: Māori Perspectives on Volunteering and Cultural Obligations, was launched on 30 April 2007.
Mahi aroha is the term that most closely translates to the concept of voluntary work.
Mahi aroha is the unpaid activity performed out of sympathy and caring for others in accordance with the principles of tikanga to maintain mana and rangatiratanga, rather than for financial or personal reward.
Mahi aroha is one aspect of tohu aroha – an expression that incorporates the spiritual and temporal aspects of volunteering.
He tohu aroha is an expression or manifestation of love, sympathy or caring.
A different world view
Within a collectivist cultural tradition such as Māori culture, conceptions of self are intrinsically linked to aspects of nature, wairua, mauri, whānau and mana, and all are intertwined. Hence, personal wellbeing depends, both immediately and ultimately, on the wellbeing of the community as a whole.
For many Māori interviewed for this research, the usual concept of “volunteering” did not accurately reflect their world view or their own experiences of and motivations for carrying out unpaid work for whänau, hapü, iwi and other Māori organisations and individuals.
For many Māori, mahi aroha carried out for the benefit of whänau, hapū and iwi is often seen as an essential part of fulfilling their cultural obligations to the wider collective. It is also central to their own sense of identity and for maintaining their culture and traditions. Māori language and culture, incorporating principles of tikanga, mana, manaaki and whanaungatanga, provide a rich framework for understanding Māori perspectives on and motivations for undertaking mahi aroha.
Research participants identified a broad range of motives for the mahi aroha they undertook. The common concept underlying people’s motives was tikanga Māori – doing the right thing according to their customs and beliefs handed down through generations. For kaumätua, there was a clear link to mana – both personal and that of the whänau, hapū and iwi. Research participants talked about the satisfaction they gained through mahi aroha – as an expression of aroha and manaakitanga, and through the contribution they were able to make to the greater well-being of whānau.
For many, being involved in mahi aroha activity contributed towards their self-image and sense of self-worth. Mahi aroha was seen as an important aspect of cultural identity and survival, which, in turn, contributed to people’s overall social and economic wellbeing.
Kaumātua were seen as the acknowledged repository of the kaupapa of mahi aroha. The absence of kaumätua, especially kuia, from the lives of many urban Māori (who in many cases were often also distanced physically and spiritually from their marae) was believed to be the primary reason for the erosion of the sense of duty and desire to undertake mahi aroha.
Range of activities
The range of mahi aroha activities undertaken by research participants was extremely diverse and drew on a wide range of skills. Much of the activity was whānau, häpu and iwi related and was based around marae. Advisory work in relation to government-led consultations and policy processes, including work on Treaty of Waitangi matters such as Treaty claims, was also a significant part of mahi aroha activity.
Several of the participants were also involved in the establishment, management or delivery of kaupapa Māori projects, programmes and services.
Mahi aroha contributed by research participants ranged from five to 60 hours per week. While some of the participants were involved in volunteer work for mainstream organisations, mahi aroha related to participants’ whānau was their first priority. This mahi aroha included work for household members and also assistance to whanaunga and others.
Many of the research participants talked about the significant personal costs of mahi aroha for themselves and their immediate whānau. They mentioned specifically the heavy workloads and the stress this could cause when they were unable to spend time with their children and partners. The demands on personal resources – time, money and energy – were often draining, with key people such as kuia and kaumätua often bearing the burden of much of the mahi aroha because of their particular skills and knowledge. All research participants, however, felt that the benefits and importance of mahi aroha activities outweighed the costs and disadvantages. Most simply considered it essential to Māori cultural survival.
The contemporary diversity of Māori experiences and views means that there is not a single framework of understanding that will fit with Māori perspectives of and participation in volunteering, helping or mahi aroha.