The Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) which includes myself, have a very different way of defining health outcomes compared to western medicine. Te Wheke (the octopus) is often used as a symbol to define integrative and holistic health. This holistic approach to health encompasses ten elements in Maori life. Funnily enough this holistic approach tends to mirror a lot of the new ways that preventative medicine aims to help people, by taking a look at the person as a whole and what that person needs, rather than simply treating disease and sickness. Of course, a lot of these elements aren’t quantifiable by Western medicine, and so Maori health approaches and methodologies are thought by some people to be wishy-washy. The Te Wheke model relies on the individual’s self-reporting of their health and wellbeing, rather than using empirically quantifiable methods.
Also the Te Wheke model relies strongly upon the interactions of an individual in relation to the broader whanau (family), Whanaungatanga (extended family) and iwi (tribe). This is where Western medicine tends to drop the ball.
The areas of social sciences, psychology and general practice are all separate disciplines. And an individual’s social life, psychological and spiritual wellbeing are all disconnected from their physical wellbeing.
When people are ill in the Western world, they are seen by their standard Physician/GP. Yet their problem may not stem from a physical illness, but may be psychosomatic. And yet the person may have an ineffable and overwhelming sense of something wrong. Deep-seated anxieties are seen by psychologists as being symptomatic of a nervous disposition or someone with mild OCD, or Generalised Anxiety Disorder or whatever other diagnosis they give.
This diagnosis fails to recognise and assess other aspects of the person’s life like the health of their relationships, connection with other people and their local community. These aspects can be critical to someone’s health (or lack thereof).
Although don’t get me wrong, GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists aren’t the enemy. They are simply working within a diagnostic model that’s far too limited and too black and white to encompass the broad and varying ways that as person can become unbalanced or fall ill.
This is where an understanding of the ineffable and hard to pinpoint feelings one has about one’s own life become important. The Maori model of Te Wheke allows people to focus on their own lived experience of health and so it’s a very powerful method for deeper and broader self-awareness and self-reporting of health.
This makes a lot of sense to me, its framework of understanding focuses on the inner world of lived experience rather than the outer world of empirical data.
The Te Wheke Octopus model for health
The head of the octopus represents te whānau, the eyes of the octopus as waiora (total wellbeing for the individual and family) and each of the eight tentacles representing a specific dimension of health. The dimensions are interwoven and this represents the close relationship of the tentacles.
- Te whānau – the family
- Waiora – total wellbeing for the individual and family
- Wairuatanga – spirituality
- Hinengaro – the mind
- Taha tinana – physical wellbeing
- Whanaungatanga – extended family
- Mauri – life force in people and objects
- Mana ake – unique identity of individuals and family
- Hā a koro ma, a kui ma – breath of life from forbearers
- Whatumanawa – the open and healthy expression of emotion
I turned this model into an infographic
Infact I was so inspired by this alternative health model that I turned it into an infographic, using the principles along with a photo of a carving of an Octopus which I found in the Hawkes Bay recently. Creating this infographic was a great way for me to better understand my own culture and in turn explain this to people who would never have any exposure to Maori culture, throughout the world. See more of my infographics. You are welcome to share and reuse this image as you please.