National | Hauora

Whakairo, karakia to improve brain health - focus of new research

Dr Rāwiri Tinirau says tūpuna has a very deep understanding about brain health and wellbeing. Photo: LDR/Moana Ellis

By Moana Ellis, local democracy reporter

A national science challenge study of Māori brain health will draw on whakairo (carving), karakia (prayer and incantation), mōteatea (chanted song-poetry) and other traditional sources to understand how Māori view the brain.

The study is being led by Whanganui-based Māori health and environmental research institute, Te Atawhai o te Ao, in collaboration with the Ageing Well National Science Challenge.

The two organisations said they were committed to "doing science differently".

Te Atawhai o te Ao, an independent research institute with a focus on intergenerational trauma and recovery, said the long-term outcome of Te Roro: A Mātauranga Māori Study was to revive mātauranga Māori relating to the brain and help whānau Māori to maintain or improve brain health throughout their lifespans.

"From the time that we come into being, we are ageing. This research project will take into account brain development from before our birth right through to when we depart the physical world," Te Atawhai o te Ao director Dr Rāwiri Tinirau said.

The research would approach brain health and wellbeing from a Māori perspective, he said.

"The Ageing Well National Science Challenge is being done quite differently to others, which tend to be in that medical or science arena," Tinirau said. "This kaupapa really puts mātauranga Māori and kaupapa Māori ways of doing research at its core.

"It takes into account what we might call mātauranga Māori insights, drawing on various kōrero tuku iho within mōteatea and whakataukī."

Tinirau said the research would also draw on information from tūpuna manuscripts held by institutions and whānau, to develop an understanding of the brain and how that knowledge could be used in everyday life today.

"Kōrero we have been able to gather prior to the research suggests our tūpuna had a very deep understanding about brain health and wellbeing, and about the functions of our roro," Tinirau said.

Ageing Well said most New Zealand research had contributed to western frameworks and treatments for brain conditions such as dementia, stroke, traumatic brain injury and neurodiversity. Te Roro would use kaupapa Māori methods to explore a holistic approach.

"Te Roro is a unique opportunity for two organisations to build on our strengths and collaborate in world-class brain research that directly addresses the inequality Māori face in the health and medical system," said Ageing Well director, Associate Professor Louise Parr-Brownlie.

Co-director Professor David Baxter said the research would embrace opportunities to put out information and findings in new ways.

"This innovative research study puts traditional Māori methods, such as wānanga, whakairo, and whaikōrero, on an even footing with the outputs of western academic science, such as publications and reports," Baxter said.

Tinirau said the research team would develop culturally grounded ways of sharing the findings so they would be relevant and useful for Māori.

"Those might include the creation of whakairo, the writing of waiata and the development of toolkits for kōhanga and kura," Tinirau said.

The Ageing Well National Science Challenge is one of 11 Challenges funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The programme takes a strategic approach to investment in science by drawing scientists and researchers together across disciplines and focusing on projects that could have enduring benefits for the country.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting