Maori and Polynesian people are constantly reminded that we’re becoming more overweight and obese.
But our recent research suggests that weight loss, and biological health measures just aren’t relevant to us culturally. Being told we need to lose weight just doesn’t motivate us to change our lifestyle. In fact, the focus on weight may do more harm than good.
Instead, our connection with culture, akapapa, and our attachment to the enua, moana, maunga etc. have far greater meaning. Our tupuna understood that our health and well-being was the result of much more than individual choices about the food we eat, or getting off the couch to exercise.
Our tupuna observed the movement of the sun, moon, and stars, the ebbing of tides, the flowering of plants, and the activities of birds and animals, as indicators of the optimal time to plant, fish, hunt, sail, and perform many activities. But the arapo (‘te maramataka’ in Aotearoa), also showed us a way to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle that was aligned with an ever-changing environment.
Modern demands on time can cause a lot of stress, and are part of the reason for growing rates of mental illness, lower rates of physical activity, and demands for quick, poor quality foods. But our tupuna understood that some days of the arapo were optimal for higher energy activities, and others were for lower energy jobs or rest
Our current study on “te maramataka” (te arapo), is aimed at reconnecting our people with traditional knowledge that was based on hundreds of years of observation, which enabled our people to thrive in difficult environments. Our early findings suggest that:
• Reconnecting our people with cultural knowledge is a stronger motivator for changing the way we eat, move, and live, than promotion of weight loss or ‘healthy eating’.
• Physical activity and kai provide an opportunity to teach te reo, and reconnect people with culturally significant places, knowledge, and akapapa.
• Te Arapo gives an indication of how we should balance our eating and physical activity levels on a daily basis, including the importance of restful days, days for fasting, and days where we give back.
• People, just like animals, are impacted directly by natural cycles and rhythms within days, months, and seasons. Living in a way that doesn’t align with these environmental cycles can lead to poor health.