Mau rakau: laying the challenge
14 September 2010
A mau rakau wānanga, held for the first time earlier this year at Otago Corrections Facility and attended by a group of prisoners, took the men's learning to new levels and gave them a strong sense of pride.
Taken by the organisation Te Roopu Mau Rakau Te Tohu o Tu ki Te Waipounamu, mau rakau (traditional weaponry) wÄnanga aim to rekindle strength in the mind, the will, the emotions and the physical body.
The ancient whakatauki (proverb) “Ka takoto te manuka. Mauri tu! Mauri oho! Mauri ake! The challenge has been laid. Arise! Stir! Step up!” is the underlying principle of the mau rakau wÄnanga. It also reflects the Department of Corrections’ rehabilitative goals for the prisoners.
For more than 20 years, Te Roopu Mau Rakau Te Tohu o Tu ki Te Waipounamu has developed the practice of mau rakau in MÄori communities and South Island institutions: for example, the New Zealand Defence Force, New Zealand Police, Probation, Child Youth and Family, the Department of Corrections and schools throughout Waitaha (Canterbury).
The wÄnanga noho live-in style of learning over three or four days teaches traditional values of te ao Māori, te reo me ona tikanga and te whariki tapu – deep foundations of Māori thought. These wānanga establish a platform for ongoing learning among Māori.
A profound impact on the men
Dorothy Crofts, Programmes Manager, Otago Corrections Facility, says the wānanga had a profound impact on the men.
“When our MÄori prisoners are offered the chance to learn about their culture, their heads go up, their interactions and behaviour improve dramatically, and the mana they feel is huge. It gives them hope for the future and the knowledge that they can make positive choices and take control of their lives.”
Dorothy says that the involvement of Te Runanga o Otakou at the Otago Corrections Facility is important in ensuring the success of the programmes for MÄori and for their re-integration into the community after they are released.
Kaiako Te Mairiki Williams (Ngai Tahu, Kati Mamoe, Waitaha, Te Ati Haunui a Paparangi, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, and Ngāti Hauiti ki Rata) says that mau rakau, and the tikanga that accompanies it, rekindles strengths that are already there.
“Where there is potential for leadership, there is the opportunity to challenge and develop it,” he says.
New levels of learning
There’s no room to perform half-heartedly or to fail. The work is paced and intense at times, starting at 6am and continuing until late. Te Mairiki is known to challenge the men to push forward, to extend themselves to new taumata – new levels of learning and rangatiratanga.
“This is for the men who are ready to step up and meet the challenges to be free of drugs, and free of violence and smoke addictions,” he says.
“We encourage and offer leadership development as it presents itself. The support is there for men to mentor others through the same processes and disciplines they’ve come through.”
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is where the work starts. The core business of Te Tohu a Tu is to uphold the values of whānau, hapū and iwi.
"That’s the work we initiate among the men. We’re not prepared to do this work unless we can maintain the threads of relationship as whÄnau, hapū and iwi, alongside the men and with the Department. We must be able to provide them with a secure pathway.”