The gifting of our name

An expert advisory group, headed by pou tikanga Rahui Papa, was responsible for the development of te reo Māori names for both Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand and Te Aka Whai Ora - Māori Health Authority.

The process of naming both entities was initiated by Tā Mason Durie and the Steering Group advising the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the establishment of the interim board of the Māori Health Authority.

These two names, while distinctly different to each other, share a close relationship founded in the ancient legend of Tāwhaki. The video below explains the legends behind our names.


Video transcript

[pou tikanga Rahui Papa does a karakia in te reo Māori, translated here.]

Elevate and celebrate the gifts of the Sky Father
Elevate and celebrate the gifts of the Earth Mother
People are bound by the spiritual forces of ancestry
Uplift the Spirit! Support the Spirit!
Rise up the health of people, of family, of all.
A spirit that guides me.
Hold fast! Uphold the essence.
Bring it together!
It is complete!

Te Kohinga o ngā whakairo a tēnā, a tēnā | The coming together of minds

[pou tikanga Rahui Papa begins speaking in conversation, still in te reo Māori, translated here]

During the term of the appointments committee, known as the Steering Group, led by Sir Mason Durie, we were asked to consider and recommend appropriate names for Health New Zealand and the Māori health Authority.

In considering names, Sir Mason Durie urged the group to anchor our thinking in Te Ao Māori, imbued with its essence.

After I reached out to consult with a number of people, it was Selwyn Parata – one of the leaders of Tairawhiti – that volunteered to help, along with Moe Milne of Te Tai Tokerau. To ensure we canvassed the West, East, North and South, Hana O’Regan and Rikirangi Gage were co-opted onto the working group.

All members of the group were forthcoming with their thoughts and views and after a series of stimulating debates a narrative emerged that resonated with everyone. It was inspiring to listen to all the ideas being shared, culminating in the narrative of Tāwhaki - that ancestor that binds all of the tribes of Aotearoa together.

In the sharing of narratives of the ancestor Tāwhaki, from Southern, Eastern, Northern, and Tainui perspectives it was evident that we were united in recognition of this ancestor and that is what excites me about undertakings like these.

Te taunga mai o te korero mō Tāwhaki | Landing on the story of Tawhaki

The challenge for the group was how to weave together the name for a large organisation like Health New Zealand and a smaller organisation like the Māori Health Authority, so the names a compatible rather than disparate.

Therefore, we needed to find names that, while distinct, were complementary. It was decided that we would look to the Tāwhiki narrative for the names for both of the organisations.

Te ito o te whakairo | The essence of the creative process

To bring wellness to the people; that was the essence of the idea. The names needed to reflect unity in thinking and purpose, so that we can collectivise our efforts and resources to provide wellbeing for all New Zealanders. That was the driving force behind the naming of these organisations.

Te aranga mai o ngā ingoa | The confirmation of the names

So, it is the ancestor Tāwhaki who, in some of our histories, ascended to the skies to seek the baskets of knowledge. After extensive discussion ‘Whatu’ was the concept selected Te Whatu Ora, was chosen with its many interpretations including: a stone, to show, to observe, to see, and its reference to the practice of weaving.

Te Aka Whai Ora is a reference to the method of ascendancy. The instructions Tāwhaki received from his grandmother was to adhere to the main line. Thus, if we embrace the main line, we will embrace wellness for all people.

So, this group decided to strictly adhere to the narrative around Tāwhaki, for his retrieval of the whatu and his adherence to the main line.


The meaning of Te Whatu Ora

Te Whatu Ora is ‘the weaving of wellness’.

Though there can be other conceptual interpretations of the name, one context for Te Whatu Ora is found in the weaving of culture – bringing two or more strands together to weave a basket; a basket of life.

In the weaving tradition, the whatu is the weaving process that brings together the aho (horizontal thread) and whenu (vertical thread).

Te Whatu Ora is the combining together of people, resources, organisations, thoughts and actions for the betterment and wellbeing of all.

Whatu is also a direct reference to the pupil of the eye, and the visionour new organisation and new system requires. The whatu provides a new and fresh perspective to how health services are planned, delivered, and changed in the future. This perspective lays down the foundations for a new health system that delivers better outcomes for all.

According to the expert advisory group who gifted it to us, there is a strong spiritual and practical foundation in the name Te Whatu Ora, which is easy to pronounce and remember, and also provides the opportunity to embrace a future-focused vision.

Our Tohu

An illustration of the tohu pattern used by Te Whatu Ora to represent 'the weaving of wellness'. An illustration of the tohu pattern used by Te Whatu Ora to represent 'the weaving of wellness'. An illustration of the tohu pattern used by Te Whatu Ora to represent 'the weaving of wellness'.

Image containing Pātiki and Waharua Kōpito patterns.

Our tohu consists of a Tāniko (ornamental border) with hanging strands below it.

The Tāniko contains multiple symbols, such as:

  • Pātiki / Pātikitiki - pātiki (the flounder) symbolises providing for all, abundance. Pātikitiki is a pattern used on tukutuku panels, kits and mats, originating from lashing together the framework timbers of houses.
  • Waharua Kōpito represents 'a point where people/events cross'. Waharua is a tukutuku pattern with small double diamond shapes representing commitment and courage.

This design also represents three eyes, and the three baskets of knowledge (see 'The legend' below).

The hanging strands below the Tāniko represent wellness reaching us all.

The legend

In the pūrakau (ancient legend), when Tāwhaki ascended into heaven to attain the three baskets of knowledge, he also collected two mauri stones named ‘Hōkai nuku’ and ‘Hōkai rangi’. These stones were seen as supporting the three baskets of knowledge, with one having the ability to look back into the past, while the other provided vision into the future.

This story also provides the link between the names ‘Te Whatu Ora’ for Health New Zealand and ‘Te Aka Whai Ora’ for the Māori Health Authority.