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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/practice-approach/our-practice-approach/whakapapa-for-pacific-peoples/
Printed: 18/07/2024
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Last updated: 07/08/2023

Whakapapa for Pacific peoples

Aotearoa New Zealand holds the world’s largest population of Pacific peoples. Pacific NZers have strong ties back to the richly diverse cultures and places of their islands of origin while their lived experience often combines Pacific and NZ influences.

Knowledge needed by practitioners

Applying the principle of whakapapa for Pacific peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand requires an understanding of:

  • the history and context of the Pacific
  • the impact and influence of European contact
  • ties to Aotearoa New Zealand through migration
  • their relationship with the Crown based on citizenship rights
  • their relationship with tangata whenua based on a shared cultural heritage and origin
  • identity and belonging, including to their place of origin, even if they don’t live on that land.

Weaving self and the collective

For Pacific peoples, identity and belonging are linked to a weave of genealogy, geography, cultural narratives and events, and upheld through spaces for relationships that maintain and strengthen connections. Whakapapa is a person’s first point of identity, their place and responsibility to self and the collective. Whakapapa informs a range of relationships and connections across generations and between lines of kin that affirm an individual’s position, place and status. In turn, these aspects of the individual shape their relationships and connections.

Practitioners need to understand that:

  • a child is seen as a gift from God to a Pacific family, the realisation and embodiment of the next generation – they are immediately associated with the identities and legacies of their parents, ancestors, people, lands and cultures, and they traditionally belong to a collective and, by birth right, are entitled to kin and vice versa
  • intertwining threads between the child and their collective form an environment that nurtures, protects, mentors and develops them – severing these ties can result in spiritual and emotional harm, and the collective may be prevented from fulfilling its responsibilities for the child.

The ‘collective’ is usually made up of kin, such as parents, stepparents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and so forth, but can also include island associations or involve those related through caregiver partnerships depending on the intimacy of the relationship, especially in a context like Aotearoa New Zealand.

We need to understand:

  • the extent of collective attachment for each Pacific child we work with – and how this varies between families and cultures
  • the child’s perception of who they belong with – and how this may differ from the adults’ perceptions.

We also need to:

  • listen to how Pacific children and young people express and define their identity – for example, it is not unusual for a young person to say they are firstly afakasi (Samoan term for mixed race), New Zealand-born, or from Otara, Southside or Canterbury before specifying ethnicity
  • understand that Pacific children and young people may be negotiating the conflict between the worldviews of their island-born elders and that of pākehā New Zealand, as well as assumptions and prejudice from others about who they are or should be.