Maramataka is the Māori lunar calendar, translating as “the turning of the moon”. It’s a thousand years of indigenous knowledge that was originally meant for survival – how to observe the ebb and flow of the natural world in order to optimise crucial activities like fishing and growing vegetables. But for a while now, the team at Healthy Families Rotorua has been testing it out by “stretching its legs a bit” as part of their workplace wellbeing initiative.
The programme faced quite the test when New Zealand went into noho rāhui / lockdown and the small team had to carry out their essential work all while working remotely.
Mapihi Raharuhi, the manager of Healthy Families Rotorua, said that one of the key qualities of Maramataka is that it added both structure and purpose to the day for their team of fourteen.
“We initiated a morning karakia,” she says. “In that karakia, it was about keeping us and our loved ones safe but there’s also a section in there around Maramataka and what day in this cycle it is. Each day represents a different atua – or god – and the god provides the essential backdrop of the day.”
“As an example, rākaunui, which is the full moon… the god that is prevalent on that day is Tāne. He’s the God of the Forest but he’s also a god that has a lot more energy. So, if the karakia that morning was about acknowledging rākaunui, some of the tasks we would talk about for that day would be about activity, or planning, or designing.”
In the general fog of lockdown, where so many days could blend together, having these changing days and gods added something to focus on. “It made you observe your environment, what’s happening around you and how it affects you and your family and your workspace,” says Canaan Tuhura, the systems innovator at Health Families Rotorua. “Maramataka is really about those observations and the reflections on them, and then planning using those reflections.”
It’s the kind of language that you often see mentioned in ideas like a gratitude practice: tuning into the world around you and noticing how it affects your emotional and mental state. But the fact that Maramataka revolves around the idea of high energy days and then low energy days meant that it gave the team a stronger ability to manage their own energy levels and their workflow, as well as how they worked together.
“It’s about working with the highs and lows and knowing that tomorrow is another day, and it’ll be a different day,” Mapihi says. “So Maramataka, from a mental health perspective, helps us to readjust within that calendar and also know that it’s actually okay to not have a great day, because that phase will shift and you’ll come back up to that higher energy, to optimise the activities you do accordingly.”
It also helped the team feel less alone in riding that emotional cycle. “By using Maramataka, it recognises that you’re not in that space by yourself,” Mapihi says. “If it’s a rākaunui day and a Tāne day, then what a great day to go out in the bush and sit in the bush and use all that natural energy.”
For Canaan, who was in lockdown with his two small children and his wife, it also helped him manage not only his workload but their remote classroom schedule as well.
For example, for the task his son’s teacher had organised, where he had to go outside and look at bugs, they moved that task to a high energy day. When it came to exercise, on high energy days in the Maramataka calendar, they would go outside on their bikes or run around. On low energy days, the kids did yoga or online Jump Jam classes. Interestingly – but perhaps unsurprisingly – the weather often mirrored this. “On those low intensity days, the weather wasn’t great anyway.”
Maramataka offered a template, Mapihi says, for how to do things. “It allowed you to accept your days for what they were and plan your work accordingly.”
Now that everyone is back in the office, the team are still using the practices of Maramataka to inform their schedules. Now that they have some breathing space from the organised chaos that was noho rāhui, they’re going to investigate what the overall learnings are. But there are a few crucial ones they know already.
“We haven’t been able to effectively prove high productivity yet but we can prove people fare well, mentally and within themselves, when they’re following Maramataka,” Mapihi says. “It’s a thousand years of indigenous knowledge – it’s not a quick fix, it’s a lifestyle. But it’s a lifestyle that allows you to gain wins on days when you feel like you’re not winning.”