As Māori, we don’t deal well with shame or whakamā.
Yet, our people are riddled with it. Whakamā impacts our social, spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing. It sits at the birthing place for our addictions, obesity, violence, aggression, depression and therefore I would call it the number one killer in Māori society.
Let me say that again, the number one killer of Māori people. So why are we not looking at it?
Whakamā is often transmitted intergenerationally, and can stem from past trauma, which is why Māori carry so much whakamā. The attempted cultural genocide at the hands of colonization, sought to rid us of our inner being and our identity. They then tried to replace our core strength by teaching us that Māori people inherently have an inner defect and to fix it, is to learn the white way. Colonization has done a wonderful job at making us feel ugly about ourselves.
Whakamā doesn’t have an exact equivalent in Western words, but is referred to as shame, feeling inadequate or with self doubt. Whakamā
“…represents the feeling state in a person when he or she has felt dishonoured in the eyes of others”
“…the sense of feeling ‘inferior, inadequate, diffident and with self-doubt”
Whakamā is a very uncomfortable feeling. People develop quite unconscious behaviors around whakamā, and they seek to hide perceived ugly or defective parts of themselves.
Read more here:
“Canadian indigenous children’s experience”
It wasn’t until Amy Bombay was an adult that she found out her grandparents had survived an abusive system — government-sponsored religious schools designed to assimilate thousands of indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Even though she grew up off the reserve, Bombay, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University, says she was scarred by the pain of the past brought on by a dark legacy of Canada’s residential schools. “Many parents would only talk about residential schools when they were drinking — and they would cry,” Bombay recalls. “That was the only time we’d hear about it.”