The meaning of Whānau - A definition by Karaitiana Taiuru (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rārua).
To fully understand the concept of whānau, a brief explanation of Māori society may be helpful.
Multiple groupings of whānau makeup clans or sub tribes called hapū. Multiple groupings of hapū makeup tribes called Iwi. Groups of Hapū and Iwi all have multiple ancestral houses called marae. Multiple Iwi make up Māori society.
Literally, whānau translates into the English word family. But in Māori society a family is not the nucleus family that western society define. Whānau is the collective of people connected through a common ancestor. Hapū and iwi are also called whānau by a person who is a member of the same hapū or iwi.
In modern day society, whānau can also be described as a group of people who are not related, but who are bound together to fulfill a common purpose, share a common cause or interest. Examples are a kindergarten, church, support groups, team-mates, colleagues, sports groups etc. A group of friends may be referred to as a whānau as there is a common interest of friends.
Whānau recognise that each member of the whānau is supported by the other members of the whānau and are united as one. Knowledge and resources are shared within the whānau to empower each other, therefore to empower the whānau.
A physically and mentally healthy whānau empowers the whānau to succeed and overcome issues with greater support. There is no feeling of isolation within a whānau.
To provide an example of the term whānau, I will provide a personal real-life scenario. This example shows how a new whānau with people who are not related by a common ancestor can naturally form and the strong bonds that are created.
I belong to a western based international organisation that in New Zealand is predominantly European New Zealanders. Māori are significantly under represented. Several years ago, I sought professional advice from a friend who I only knew through that organisation. That person is European Australian, and his nucleus family are European New Zealanders who have had limited interaction with Māori.
Our friendship grew as we worked together in a number of professional situations and then assisting each other in personal and organisation situations. I was often at his house and met his family on a regular basis. Our friendship grew very strong over the months as did my relationship with his family. My friend and his nucleus family socialise together with my nucleus family and extended family. Our children refer to the adults as Uncle and Aunty.
There have been a numerous opportunities and situations when we have all empowered each other as a whānau. We all openly refer to ourselves as whānau and it is accepted by our society and communities.