Wero Your Tero Blog

The other day my nine year old son came home from school, eyes downcast and shuffling from foot to foot.   He told us he had some bad news, about something he had done at the after-school club he went to; and that we wouldn’t be pleased.

It seems that afternoon, instead of signing in with his name, he had followed the lead of some of the older boys and signed in by drawing a rather large phallus.

While I was quietly impressed at his artistic ability on an ipad, more importantly it gave me another insight into the fascination that young boys have with their genitalia; their buttocks and the range of bodily functions associated.   Their obsession with flatulence – the louder the better – appears to be connected to pride and personal status – in ways that I had not really connected to either as a mother of daughters – or once upon a long time ago, a young girl myself.

In preparing for the parakuihi on Wednesday morning for the launch of the new Wero Your Tero campaign, I had been thinking about the euphemisms we too quickly turn to, when talking about an area such as prostate cancer.

We talk awkwardly about genitalia and the urinary system “down there”; ‘my basement”; “my private parts”’ “down below”.  It appears we are nervous of being judged as rude, offensive or profane when we talk about these bits of our anatomy that are so pivotal to pleasure; to health; to reproduction; to the capacity of our body to function.

And yet we have an enormous vocabulary of slang: - as eloquently articulated in Monty Python’s the Penis Song.

The vulgarity and vagueness associated with our discussions around our lower bodies, is entirely unhelpful when one considers the cold, hard facts around prostate cancer in Maori men.

Preliminary research indicates that general practitioners are:

  • Less likely to screen Maori men for prostate cancer than non-Maori men

  • Maori men are also less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than non-Māori men.

  • When they are diagnosed they are more likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage and therefore less likely to be cured.

  • Once diagnosed with prostate cancer, and taking account of age and stage of the cancer at diagnosis, Māori men are 60% more likely to die of their prostate cancer than non-Maori men.   In other words, while their incidence rate is lower than for all men; their mortality rate is higher.

These statistics are hardly reason for celebration over breakfast.

But there is one fact that stands out amongst the rest.

There is no evidence that Maori men are less likely than non-Māori men to accept an offer of screening or testing for prostate cancer.

 This is one of the key reasons why Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu was so keen to respond to the initiative of the tane who have been meeting in Otautahi to create and conceive of this campaign Wero your Tero.

Before I speak directly about Wero Your Tero, I want to acknowledge the enormous legacy of Talei Morrison who mobilised a movement to improve Māori women’s health, one kapa at a time.   Her leadership of hashtag; Smear your mea, to encourage women to get their smear test and prevent the on-set of cervical cancer has been both influential and inspirational.

Faced with the prospect of her own mortality, Talei wanted to make a change in the ways in which the messaging around cervical screening had failed to connect with her as a Māori woman.

Her courage to face fear with facts; to use the medium of kapa haka to connect with wahine Maori was brave, it was bold, and it has made us all pay attention to the vital issues of wellness, and indeed of Whānau Ora.   She was a leader of hauora.  We remember her with great sadness – but also an overwhelming gratitude for the sacrifices she made, to make us think.

This then, is part of the context in which some valiant men came together a couple of months ago– to defy the odds of 3000 men being diagnosed every year – to stand up and be counted.

As I started thinking about what I would say today, I came across a release issued on Monday entitled Cultural amnesia: the price of lost perspectives in New Zealand history.    The article referred to doctoral student Madison Williams and her primary supervisor, Associate professor Te Maire Tau, Director of the Ngai Tahu Research Centre.

Associate Professor Tau said: “The danger in New Zealand currently is that our identity flies too freely, like a kite in the wind.  It needs to be grounded by string or it floats away.   This is what history can do for New Zealand: it can be the string to the kite.

A fully rounded New Zealand history would reveal to us the messaging explicitly conveyed in the cultural heritage of this land.   The Ngati Porou haka, Ruamoko, for instance – referring to the experience of earthquakes resembling the sexual experience.  Many carvings included ornate female and male sexual organs, traditional waiata and karakia openly referred to sexual terms and body parts.

In Whanganui and Taranaki we have a call to the food that includes the phrase Toro Ti; Toro Ta  - that when the food is laid out on the table it will be as sweet as any sexual pleasure.

Indeed, as Uncle Rangatihi Tahuparae used to say (often): it was all about the orgasm: complete and utter satisfaction.

So going back to the concept that Te Maire floated, of the string to the kite; referring back to the multiple concepts known for naming different parts of the genitalia; may well be part of the strategy we pick up to Wero Your Tero; to Smear your Mea; to normalise and describe the parts of our anatomy as easily as we may talk about food of the table.

As I understand it, one of the commonly practiced rituals in earlier days, was the rites of passage for young men and young women.

For females, the moment of menstruation might be celebrated with a huge whānau dinner; with karakia to follow dedicated to Hina – the full moon.   The message was around our young women drawing on the strength of the moon during her period of coming into womanhood.

For young men, the dedication was to be committed to te ra; to know that the essence of the sun can help to combat the onslaught of depression.  

Both young men and women would learn the taiaha between the ages of 7 and 12; to train their bodies to be flexible.    At 14 they would be separated – the young men presented with a toki; the women with a turuturu – the frame to weave a korowai; both symbolic of the need for clarity about their unique strengths.

How then does cultural amnesia related to the purpose of ‘Wero Your Tero’?

Are we prepared to challenge the judgements that came in from ethnographers and anthropologists who chose to characterise the discussion about our bodies and our anatomy in ways that implied that the beauty and complexity of te reo rangatira was somehow dirty or forbidden.

Are we ready to challenge the Victorian attitudes of 19th century morality; the activities of missionaries who chose to cover up, to place taboo on something as natural as our bodies.

For whānau it is all about our ability to be well.

As a mother, I want to know how to talk about prostate cancer with my children so they know – know NOT to be scared – but know to watch out for each other.  

It is about how we talk about our bodies openly.   Do we know our own smell – and do we know when something is not quite right?    

Do we appreciate the rites of passage for our sons and daughters?   Are we consistent in checking ourselves out – to make our health a priority?

What would we prefer – to continue to experience the trauma of late diagnosis – or to haka about hauora; to take our responsibilities seriously; to tirohia to toto : get a blood test done; to wero your tero.

I am so proud to be part of the Wero Your Tero campaign; and delighted that we have two reknown experts sharing their knowledge with whānau about it: Dr Georgia Brownlee and Matua Norm Brown.  

Their expertise – and the leadership of men like Huata and Komene, Aaron and Corey – and all those tane who have been involved in this campaign by giving us strength through their words on the video has been launched – give us confidence that we can do what is needed.

That we can establish a sense of urgency;

That we get it right for all – and that means getting access to and quality of prostate care - right for Māori.

That we consider the value of active surveillance; that we inform ourselves about acceptable wait times for treatment; and some detail about basic prostate anatomy and pathology; that if diagnosed, we demand the opportunity as whānau to discuss options with both a urologist and a radiation oncologist;

And that ultimately what we are doing by creating campaigns like ‘Wero Your Tero’ is to make the goal of hauora a priority for all of our whānau; to increase Māori life expectancy and to ensure all our loved ones live a full and healthy life.

Written by Helen Leahy - Pouarahi of Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency in Te Waipounamu




ranae niven1 Comment