29 Sep 2020

Dr Hinemoa Elder - The life benefits of ancient Maori wisdom

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:10 pm on 29 September 2020

Psychiatrist Dr Hinemoa Elder has always been fascinated by the "nuggets of ancient wisdom" that are Māori whakataukī (traditional proverbs). Now she's written a book about them – Aroha: Mā​ori Wisdom for a Contented Life Lived in Harmony with Our Planet.

Dr Hinemoa Elder

Photo: Penguin Random House

Whakataukī can provide a road map for modern stress and trauma, she tells Jesse Mulligan.

The te reo Māori word 'aroha' doesn't exactly translate to 'love' but encompasses compassion, empathy and fierce protection, Elder says. The essence of aroha flows through all whakataukī which is why she gave the book that name.

"Whakataukī give us almost like a Māori Da Vinci Code through which we can experience aroha in all its forms, through ourselves and others."

The proverbs often contain exquisite and uniquely Māori observations of the natural world, she says.

"They're really speaking to encourage us to be more connected to the natural world and bring back the sense of kaitiakitanga [guardianship] that I think we're missing at the moment."

Elder says whakataukī have helped her through challenging periods in her own life, including acute appendicitis and her younger brother's suicide.

This year, as many people experience new kinds of stress, she invites people – particularly if they're facing a time of change or a new situation – to take time to be in nature for reflection about their lives.

"What I'm also encouraging people to do is be very kind with themselves … it's about being flexible with yourself, checking in with yourself."

At the end of Aroha, Elder challenges her readers to write their own whakataukī.

"It's a practice that I would like people to try out … the action of stopping and noticing the natural world. [I might] notice the way those birds fly past my window or notice the way on a windy day like today in Tāmaki [Makaurau] the leaves in the trees are rustling. What does that mean to me? What comes into my mind about some experiences I've had? Whats a lesson there? What's a reminder that I can infuse into that picture that I paint in my mind that can help me today or maybe on another day... as a kind of talisman or a line in the sand. It's a fun thing to do, too."

Where to get help:

  • Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

  • Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

  • What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

  • Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

  • Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

  • Healthline: 0800 611 116

  • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

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