Māori researcher to study how whakamā affects mental health

By Jessica Tyson

A Ngāti Porou woman has won a scholarship to research the area of Māori emotions, particularly whakamā (shame or embarrassment).

Karis Knight from the University of Auckland has been awarded the Karahipi Tumuaki President's Scholarship which recognises Māori-centred research.

She decided to study Māori emotions after working as a councillor when patients often used the word whakamā to describe how they felt.

"As Māori whakamā is a kupu that’s used quite often in te ao Māori".

She says Māori concepts of emotions and their presentation is a growing area in kaupapa Māori research, particularly as a way of addressing the effects of intergenerational and historic trauma on mental health.

However, she says more needs to be done to understand how it applies to mental health.

"There’s not a lot of research if any on whakamā. I’m hoping that we can kind of build whakaaro on what it looks like, especially in a mental health context, so clinicians are better able to provide support to our Māori tāngata whaiora in a way that’s going to be meaningful and mana enhancing," she says. 

Positioned within a kaupapa Māori framework, Knight's research also seeks to utilise Māori ways of knowing how to deconstruct Western assumptions of what it means to experience whakamā and its consequences.

Her method includes in-depth interviews with Māori mental health professionals and Māori consumers.