The team at Toi Tangata are working to support leadership development within the area of Atuatanga approaches to physical activity, nutrition and hauora. We will be working with Dr. Ihirangi Heke to support growth in understanding and ability to implement approaches building on Atua to Matua with different communities. We would also love to hear and share your experiences as we learn collectively around Atuatanga approaches.

Dr. Ihirangi Heke (Waikato/Tainui)

Dr. Ihirangi Heke (Waikato/Tainui) has been working to develop the Atua Matua Framework to provide an alternative to the current Maori health frameworks utilising a strength-based, culturally appropriate system via Atuatanga (environmentally based information), Kaitiakitanga (indigenous role models) and Tipua (esoteric knowledge).

Dr. Ihirangi Heke is currently a Maori health and physical activity consultant involved in a number of projects ranging from national health and physical activity initiatives funded by the Ministries of Education and Health to working in applied roles with elite athletes as asport psychologist and strength/conditioner. Previously he has held lecturing roles in the School of Physical Education at the University of Otago, the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Prince Sultan University in Saudia Arabia and the Wananga o Raukawa. Dr. Heke is also a consultant to the New Zealand Academy of Sport delivering to several national sporting bodies including; Motorsport New Zealand, Cycling New Zealand, Motorcycling New Zealand and New Zealand Swimming Federation.

Dr. Heke believes it is time we reassessed both Physical and outdoor education processes to include a much higher level of Maori related information. Currently, the messages and strategies used to inform PE & EOTC lack the specificity to encompass the diversity of Māori views of the environment or more specifically environmental deities and how they contributed to perpetuating whakapapa. A continued focus on non-Maori engagement with PE & EOTC has not and will not be enough to recognise the huge range of Maori-information connected to the environment. Currently Dr Heke is working on a framework that will provide an alternative to the current Maori health frameworks utilising a strength-based, culturally appropriate system via atuatanga (environmentally based information), Kaitiakitanga (indigenous role models) and Tipua (esoteric knowledge).

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What is Atua Matua?

The essence of an Atua Matua approach is to improve Māori health innovation through culturally relevant interpretations of Māori informatio: 140 atua (environmental deities), 20 tipua (various mythological beings), 40 different kaitiaki (animal guardians). It is an attempt to refocus Māori on environmental deities, both  male  and female, that have ensured successful outcomes from their past as models for how to conduct themselves in contemporary situations.

Download the Atua Matua Maori Health Framework

Download the Ministry of Health Activity Guide

This process has required a move back toward Māori knowledge first and health and physical activity as incidental outcomes of increased knowledge. Ngā Atua are the providers of a form of science that values the role of environments in ensuring that certain whakapapa is perpetuated. In this format, the Atua Matua approach pre-empts a shift back to Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), whakapapa connections and consequent wisdom i.e., from knowledge to enlightenment with health as an incidental outcome. Therefore, the Atua Matua approach has been developed as an attempt to provide a set of environmentally-based Māori health concepts that can help Māori move from the current deficit mainstream model to a Māori ancestral framework. The rationale for taking this step was an attempt to assist Māori in recognising their historical connection to the environment, especially as a form that has sustained Māori for centuries. In addition, the Atua Matua approach is more consistent with other Māori practices that have hierarchical constructs.

The Atua Matua approach was developed to accede the large amount of ancestral information that hasn’t, as yet, been interpreted in terms of health or physical activity processes [e.g., whakatauki (proverbs), mōteatea (ancestral chants), karakia (Māori prayer), haka (performance pieces)] as commentaries on how an individual should act to ensure whakapapa is perpetuated. Also, the Atua Matua approach is an attempt to build on previous Māori health models such as; Whare Tapa Wha (Durie, 1985), Ngā Pou Mana (Henare, 1988) and Te Wheke (Pere, 1991). Where the Atua Matua approach differs from previous models is its’ primary focus on Māori environmental knowledge with an important, albeit, incidental, focus on health and physical activity.

What this means for Māori is a reduction in the negative connotations associated with health that are common in contemporary Māori initiatives aimed at improving Māori health. 

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Atua Matua Kaitiaki Videos

Toi Tangata has recently had the chance to work with Dr. Ihirangi Heke alongside Te Papa Takaro o Te Arawa to produce new Atua Kaitiaki Matua videos. These clips give an insight into the whakapapa of different Atua and the connection to contemporary physical activity.

Older kaitiaki videos created during the Summer of 2013/14 are available on our YouTube channel. This playlist  hosts Kaitiaki videos that were developed with Dr. Ihirangi Heke and  Toi Tangata student interns, Emma Iwikau and Hariata Grace Tai Rakena, over the 2013/14 summer. 

Want to know more?

There are several wānanga planned to support the understanding, application and leadership of this mātauranga in communities. Check out our events page for upcoming wānanga.

If you would like to know more, would like to discuss planning a wānanga in your rohe, or if you have any questions please contact