Tikanga Works

Whanau Tautoko – Tikanga Works
Anahera Herbert-Graves (CEO, Te Runanga o Ngati Kahu)


All Present and Correct

The first thing to grasp about tikangā is that it is a body of practice which works best when the fundamental principles of tika, pono and aroha are all present and in balance with each other.

Tika is the root of many Māori words which, when translated into English, all derive from the verb, right. Hence we have hunga tika (the righteous), whakatika (make right), tōtika (definitely right), tūtika (upright), and of course tika (right, either as in ‘you are right‘ or ‘you have the right‘).

Pono is the root of many other words which, when translated into English, have to do with truth. Hence whakapono (faith, belief, credence), kī pono (certify to be true), ngākau pono (true-heart), ponongā (honesty), and of course pono (straight up, straightforward, true, truth, truthful).

Aroha has to do with love unfeigned, pure and simple. It needs no further explanation. Whenever any one or more of these principles is not present, or is in conflict with another, then we have a problem.

I was once asked to facilitate a hui between a whānau who were fighting. The wife had died and her estranged husband had returned to live in the home he’d built and paid for on her whānau land. The whānau wanted him off their land entirely, and he wanted them out of his house. The first thing I did was check to see if tika, pono and aroha were all present. It quickly became clear that the whānau represented tika in that they were there through heke tika (birthright), while the husband represented aroha because his wife had once loved him enough to bring him on to the land, and he’d once loved her enough to build her the house. But pono did not seem to be there at all, and so the two parties were at each other’s throats. I laid all this out to the family and asked, “Where is pono to challenge you, and bring you back into balance with each other?” Well, no-one answered me. Instead they carried on arguing until, finally, the wife’s brother stood up. He was angry. He told his nieces and nephews off to standstill for trying to kick their uncle out of his house. He told off his brother-in-law for being a useless husband. He even told me off just for being there. He let us all know that he was bloody annoyed at having to say these things. But, most importantly, he told the truth and everyone there knew it. Pono was in the house! At that point, I knew my job was all but done. With tika, pono and aroha all present and active, this family were able to resolve their conflict. The husband stayed in his home until he died five years later, and the family gave him a send off full of love and laughter before burying him beside his wife.

Always remember, tikanga is a three-legged stool. If there’s a leg missing or not working, it’s going to fall over. Find and use that leg, and anything is possible.


Use Common Sense

The second thing to understand is that it’s not necessary to be steeped in tikangā in order to live it, no more than it’s necessary to be steeped in Pākehā law in order to live by that. In fact, given that there are currently almost 2000 separate Acts in this country, I reckon it’s simpler to live by tikanga.

An ordinary, middleclass pākehā family were going insane. It had started with sleeplessness, progressed to smelling rotting meat, hearing voices, seeing phantasms, and having suicidal thoughts. Finally they called on the local kaumātua who quickly ascertained that they had dug up and taken into their home several artefacts that they had no business tampering with. Aroha was present in their love for each other and for the land on which they lived. Pono came with their willingness to tell the full truth about what they’d done. But tika was missing. The kaumātua gave them very precise instructions. They returned to the place where they’d uncovered the artefacts. There they dug the ground with their hands and reburied the items, apologised out loud, begged forgiveness from those they had offended, and immersed themselves fully in the nearby river. They kept doing the last three steps daily until they stopped being insane.

Tikanga does not require a degree or a qualification to practice, it just needs common sense. Of course, it’s better to use common sense before and not after an event. If the pākehā family had done that, they would have left the artefacts alone and saved themselves a lot of grief.


Reach Out for Help

Māori society is based on whānau, hapū and iwi. Under tikangā if a whānau come up against something that’s beyond their ability to fix, they combine with their related whānau and act as a hapū to push their cause. If they can’t get what they want as a hapū, they combine with other hapū and work as an iwi to progress it. Should they still fail, they may aggregate further and combine with their waka grouping to finish it off.

Under tikanga, whānau are expected to reach out for help when they need it, and keep reaching until they find it.


Stay in the Moment

The final thing to know is that tikangā isn’t an airy-fairy, outmoded mystery. Instead it is a way of “doing”, moment by moment, that which is right in order to enhance our state of “being” from moment to moment.

At a hui the facilitator called for a volunteer. A big woman, well-known for her front-line activism, stood. He asked her to hold her hands straight out in front of her at shoulder height and recall a time in the past when she’d been badly hurt. When she had recaptured that feeling, she was to nod and he would push down on her hands while she resisted him to the max. She gave the nod and, after a brief struggle, her hands went down. Next he asked her to again hold her hands out. But this time she was to think of the hopes she had for the future of a specially loved child, and what it would feel like seeing those hopes fulfilled. When she had captured that feeling she was to nod and he would again push down on her hands while she resisted. This time, to all our amazement, her hands went down even more quickly! Finally he told her to hold her hands out and focus on resisting him. It took him a long time to get her hands down that time. He called it ‘the leaping of the spirit.’ Where ever our thoughts are focused, there also goes our very essence, our spirit, and our power.

It is the same with tikanga. It can only be practiced in the present.


Tikanga Works

We can use tikanga in our daily lives to avoid or fix up any problem by restoring balance where it has been lost, attending to common sense where it has been neglected, strengthening relationships where they’ve been weakened, and acting in the ever present “now”.

We can use tikanga at any time, in any place and under any circumstance. It does work..