Living in Papakāinga benefits whānau during COVID-19

After the experience of the last few months, Hinewai Ormsby is more convinced than ever of the holistic benefits to Māori of living on their whenua and being closely connected to whānau

Published: Rātū, 12 Haratua, 2020 | Tuesday, 12 May 2020

The Hawaikirangi whānau live in a new papakāinga in the rural Māori community of Waiohiki, 10km south of Napier and had to take account of the health and safety of three generations in three whare – 11 whānau members altogether, including four tamariki and a new-born pēpi.

Hinewai says the whānau started planning for the COVID-19 lockdown well before it was announced. As a Hawkes Bay regional councillor Hinewai was familiar with the vital need for good planning in emergencies like this.

“At Alert Level 2 we got together and systematically went through what our response was going to be and how to make sure it was timely,” she says.

Fortunately, they had not only the experience of Hinewai to draw on but also the knowledge and skills of two public health experts, her husband Cam Ormsby and her mother Karen Skipper-Hawaikirangi.

The number one risk was to her brother’s 10-week premature pēpi. During Level 4 baby Mākoha stayed in hospital. His only contact was with his mother Nat Hawaikirangi who constantly went between him and home.

“The greatest risk to our whānau was our sister-in-law not having contact with baby. Whenever one of us went out of the bubble that risk would increase,” says Hinewai.

Cam, a Health Protection officer focused “100 per cent” on COVID-19, was the only one to leave their whare for supermarket shopping and work.

The relaxation of restrictions during Alert Level 3 brought the three whare together into one large mirumiru (bubble). The pēpi came home from hospital and they could live as a physically close papakāinga again. This has enabled Hinewai, Cam and her brother Te Kaha to focus more on their work.

“To have my mum and my sisters help with the tamariki has provided security and allowed all of us to balance our responsibilities. That’s been a huge benefit,” says Hinewai.

“We’re sharing kai, having dinners together. It’s about having social time and helping each other with resources.”

The tamariki are having sleepovers at their nan Karen’s again, cuddling up to her in the mornings. Physical closeness like this has been good for mental wellbeing. 

The return to Waiohiki to develop the papakāinga was a conscious decision by the whānau to live according to kaupapa Māori values. The family marae, Waiohiki

Marae, is nearby and although they haven’t been able to use it, Karen noticed the lockdown highlighted other tikanga values like manaakitanga.

“Different ones have dropped off kai at the gate to share in the neighbourhood. Those practices are still there in a way that you’re still maintaining that tapu to keep each other safe – around kai and staying connected,” she says.

Feeling connected, especially through a period when there has been high risk of isolation generally, is one of the advantages of papakāinga.

“Usually you’re really close with your maunga, your awa, your marae, other whānau. So you don’t feel isolated at all. You just feel like you’re in a village bubble without the physical aspect,” says Hinewai.

Each day of the lockdown the whānau could still walk up to the ancient pā site of their hapū and historic reserve above their marae. 

“Going up to Ōtātara Pā has been lovely. Being on your own land is a huge benefit of papakāinga living. This aspect is really important to your mental and spiritual wellbeing.

“Also just knowing you have people to turn to if you need something, you don’t have so much anxiety. During the restrictions we’ve had more time to live our tikanga, still making sure we’re putting safety first.”

“Papakāinga achieves that. It’s about the whole Whare Tapa Whā (Māori model of wellbeing). Through healthy families you’ll have healthy communities, you’ll have healthy iwi and a healthier country.”

The lockdown has also highlighted the benefits of papakāinga living to Māori mental health – conditions, Hinewai observes, that are sometimes overlooked.

“Living like this helps to alleviate anxiety or lack of security and control over your life and the life of your whānau.

“It’s one very effective way to solve some of the inequalities that exist for Māori. With the general lack of quality housing, the Papakāinga Fund from Te Puni Kōkiri helps to achieve otherwise almost unachievable goals,” she says.


Photo 1: Cam and Hinewai Ormsby with their tamariki, Kaea (7) and Kipa (5)

Photo 2: Hawaikirangi and newborn Mākoha safe at home with the extended whānau

Photo 3: Karen (Māmā to Hinewai) and her two younger daughters, Te Pō Mārie and Horiana, play games behind ‘invisible fences’ with the other whānau in the papakāinga during Alert Level 4