Historical trauma and whānau violence

Issues Paper 15, October 2019

Authors: Leonie Pihama1, Ngaropi Cameron2 and Rihi Te Nana3 

1 Director, Māori And Indigenous Analysis Ltd

2 CEO, Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki Inc

3 Director, Kakariki Consulting Ltd


Key Messages

  • Prior to colonisation Māori people lived within whānau, hapū and iwi collectives that supported wellbeing, with whānau as the primary source of support within Māori society
  • Traditional knowledge forms within tikanga, te reo and mātauranga Māori provide clear guidance for wellbeing and appropriate behaviours within relationships.
  • It is well documented that acts of whānau violence were not accepted by our ancestors.
  • Central to the colonisation of Aotearoa (New Zealand) is the dispossession of land and resources of whānau, hapū and iwi.
  • The position, and wellbeing of Māori women and children is central to ensuring the wellbeing of whānau.
  • In Aotearoa, colonisation is characterised by extensive acts of violence upon Māori.
  • Colonial ideologies and practices of gender, race and class that have been imported to Aotearoa have impacted significantly in the undermining of Māori structures, beliefs and ways of living.
  • Colonisation is both a series of events and an ongoing system of oppression that has disrupted may aspects of Māori social structures and ways of being.
  • Understanding both the impact of colonisation and Historical trauma is critical to understanding the origins of family violence in Aotearoa.
  • Historical trauma relates to the collective trauma experienced through “massive cataclysmic” historical events that have been perpetrated intentionally by one group of people upon another.
  • Historical trauma is perpetrated through deliberate and intentional acts of violence and oppression upon one group of people by another group of people.
  • Historical trauma can be viewed as a ‘soul wound,’ which sits at the core of generations of Indigenous suffering.
  • Māori views of whānau violence recognise the need for political, cultural and spiritual understandings and explanations.
  • A range of Māori concepts such as ‘patu ngākau’, ‘pouri’ and ‘mamae’ provide understandings of trauma and its impact upon Māori.
  • Healing must take place on both individual and collective levels to prevent intergenerational transmission of trauma.
  • Māori healing must be based on the restoration of the Māori cultural and healing paradigms that colonisation sought to destroy.
  • Kaupapa Māori approaches to trauma and healing must be defined, controlled and undertaken by Māori for Māori.


We also hosted author Professor Leonie Pihama to present a webinar on this topic on Thursday 31 October 2019.

Recommended citation 

Pihama, L., Cameron, N., & Te Nana, R. (2019). Historical trauma and whānau violence. Issues Paper 15. Auckland, New Zealand: New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, University of Auckland.

ISSN: 2253-3222, published online only.


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