practice of whangai

New Zealand is a multi cultural country which encompasses strong Maori and Pacific Island communites. Within these cultures, the practice of whangai is very common, and is the tradition of whanau raising other whanau member’s children. Child, Youth and Family do not need to be involved in whangai  placements. You can read about it below. Alternatively you watch what Vania has to say about Whangai, and what Renata has to say about maori experience of adoption.  

What is Whangai?

Within Maori culture it is common if the birth parents feel they cannot raise their child for the child to be raised by a member of their whanau or extended family. This is called whangai. The term whangai literally means ‘to feed and nourish’. Whangai occurs within the child’s own whanau, which means whakapapa (genealogy) is acknowledged, and placements are arranged to secure and strengthen whanau and kin links (Bradley, 1997).

The practice of whangai embraces openness. The whangai institution recognises the interests of the child and is also concerned with establishing, nurturing and strengthening relationships between whanau members and the broader kin group (McRae and Nikora, 2006). The whangai child knows about his/her birth parents and is provided the opportunity to establish intimate relationships with them.

Benefits of the whangai system can be experienced by;

1) whanau members who are childless,

2) whanau members whose children have matured and left home,

3) young mothers or parents who do not have the resources to raise a child.

Grandparents will often whangai their grandchildren to keep the extended family together. The whangai system involves both transient and permanent child placements and in most cases whangai takes place at birth; however the term whangai still applies when a placement occurs at a later age or lasts for a shorter period of time.

Whangai was common practice in my whanau. It was both short term and permanent. Age was irrelevant in terms of the whangai child and I remember those whangai that stayed short term were never happy about leaving.”    – Wairaka

Is whangai different from formal adoption?

Whangai is not a legal process, so the main difference around the two processes is that once the adoption papers have been signed in a formal adoption,  the adoptive parents have all the legal rights and responsibilities for that child or tamariki.

However, there are many similarities between an open adoption and whangai. With open adoption the tamariki have the opportunity to know who their birth mothers, fathers and extended birth whanau are to maintain those links to their genealogy and whakapapa.  There is the opportunity for an ongoing relationship and contact to be forged.  This is the same underlying principle with whangai. The child knows exactly who their birth family is and in both processes,  no secrets or shame surround the experience.