Whanaungatanga: The manaakitanga of Jesus

Culture has the ability to reshape our wisdom, faith and understanding of ourselves, our creator and the created world we live in. Western culture has dominated that formation process within me. However as I have spent the year learning te reo Māori, I have discovered a richness of thought and wisdom embedded in the fabric of the Māori world view that is breathing new life and offering breadth to my theological understanding. A wonderful by-product of this journey has been that I now feel more at home within Aoteatoa. 

A few months ago we shaped a speaking series around the word manaakitanga. This word is usually translated to mean hospitality, however I’ve discovered it means more than offering someone a comfy seat and cup of tea when they come over for a visit. It is more accurately defined as duty of care.

Two of the root words in Manaakitanga are Mana and Aki. Mana in itself is quite a large concept. It generally means prestige, status and authority. But it also refers to an energy and essence that we all have within us. Māori believe it is the enduring, indestrucible power of Atua (God) that is inherited at birth. Almost every activity we undertake has a link with the maintenance of mana and tapu; to increase, enhance or to decrease it. Aki means to place upon.   

A visual representation of Manaakitanga would be the interplay of waves on the shore. With its repetitive flow the wave’s mana leaves its mark. In the same way, through our duty of care we share our inner presence and mana with others, and in doing so mana increases. Duty of care is a necessary reciprocal and continual relationship between individuals (although not solely confined to humanity, but the includes all of creation) and then further into a wider community.

When I read and reflect on the life of Jesus I see manaakitanga demonstrated through his words and actions, and therefore presented at the heart of Christianity. In the story of the ‘woman at the well’ in John chapter 4, the author comments on the exclusivist, sexist, and racist attitudes of the day. The central character in the narrative had loved and lost enough to have earned herself a reputation which saw her shunned from the communal water drawing circle at dawn and dusk by the other woman of the village. Consequently she was forced to venture out alone at noon in the heat of the day to draw water from the well that the Jewish Patriarch Jacob had dug and then passed on to his son Joseph, her ancestor.

Meeting Jesus at the well, she is invited into a discussion with him that slowly enhances her mana through the duty of care (manaakitanga) Jesus displays. Throughout the course of the conversation she constantly highlights the barriers that culturally separate her, a Samaritan, from Jesus, a Jew.  In his wisdom, Jesus focuses not on the things that isolate and separate them but rather invites her into understanding, and therefore sharing in the secrets he carries; that he is the living water, a prophet and the Messiah she is waiting for.  This knowledge ultimately increases her mana within her village, closing the gap prejudice has created.  

As the conversation climaxes Jesus shares these empowering words with her:

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” John 4:23-24 (msg) 

I would like to suggest that Maanakitanga is an aspect of true worship.  It comes from who we are and the way we live, how we bring our presence/mana into the world we live in and therefore increase the mana of those around us by being ourselves in everyday life. “Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” Jesus modelled this by offering himself completely, the living water to the Samaritan woman. The story draws to a close with the disciples, who were in the local village looking for some lunch, and returned to find Jesus talking to the woman. They looked on her with disdain, potentially diminishing the mana Jesus had carefully laid upon her through his duty of care.

On reflection I can find myself in all 3 characters in this story. I sometimes see myself as the woman who is excluded within society. I see myself in Jesus who brings care and mana. And I also see myself as a disciple who can carelessly trample on peoples’ dignity and status.    

This story reflects the power of Manaakitanga. It holds the message that everyone needs the same essential elements to grow, flourish and be fruitful, dispite the diversity of  background, ethnicity, social standing and education. It is also this diversity, however, that requires a duty by us to seek out and understand how to best apply this care. 

Like the story of the Samaritan woman, through the duty of care, we have the power Jesus demonstrated to close the gap between people, to look beyond the differences and prejudices to the very nature and essence of the other with the intent to increase mana and honour the true self within. Manaakitanga offers us new language for the traditional words of worship and mission and what it means to be a part of community and foster a sense of belonging.

Clint Gibson

WhanaungatangaClint Gibson