Within te ao Māori, there are numerous ways that men are relearning and reconnecting to their culture and Māori identity. This dissertation is focussed on investigating the benefits of attending wānanga mau taiaha. The art of mau taiaha, traditional Māori weaponry, has become a tool of engagement for men to relearn their warrior traditions, to reconnect to their whakapapa, and to wānanga collectively alongside other men to rediscover the value of their roles as Māori men within whānau and local communities. Taiaha wānanga have been taking place in Ōtautahi since the 1990s.
A kaupapa Māori approach was used to privilege the voices and experiences of Māori men. Principles such as mana, tapu, he kanohi i kitea, whakawhanaungatanga, koha and aroha ki te tangata were guided by kaumātua support from within the Ngāi Tahu and the mau taiaha community here in Ōtautahi. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six kaiako ‘kanohi ki te kanohi’ (face to face) from within Tū Toka Tū Āriki, a local organisation in Waitaha that has been involved in running taiaha wānanga for almost thirty years. An inductive thematic analysis was then used to help identify the key themes. I was also able to draw on my own experiences as a kaiako within Tū Toka Tū Āriki during the analysis.
The key findings are that a sense of cultural disconnection often preceded a desire within Māori men to seek out their Māori identities. From feelings of cultural loss and the sense ‘that there has to be more to being Māori’ than what some participants had experienced during their lives, taiaha wānanga are one avenue where the mana and identity of Māori men could be restored. The connection between secure cultural identities and Māori health outcomes also suggests, that kaupapa Māori activities such as mau taiaha have the potential to improve men’s lives through stronger connection to ao Māori. Finding ways to reach Māori men, however, where the stigma of cultural disconnection and of ‘not knowing’ excludes them from participation remains a challenge. Valuing kaupapa Māori activities within New Zealand society connected to identity and health, including stronger collaboration between the education and health sectors are theorised as one possible solution.