Living the Tokelauan Way in New Zealand: Teenagers’ perspectives on extended-family living

Living the Tokelauan Way in New Zealand: Teenagers...
01 Nov 2009
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This study aimed to understand how Tokelauan youth feel about living in extended-family households, and to describe their experiences of extended-family living and their understanding of its impact on their health and wellbeing.

Tokelauan people are proportionally one of the smallest Pacific groups in New Zealand and also one of the most socio-economically deprived. The Tokelauan community has a higher proportion of three-generation families living in one household than any other ethnic group in New Zealand, and consequently a high level of household crowding. Household crowding raises the risk of close-contact infectious diseases, such as skin diseases, rheumatic fever, tuberculosis and meningococcal disease, which occur at a higher rate in the Pacific community. (Baker et al 2000).

This study was conducted in two parts. The first was designed to explore the impact on young Tokelauan people of living in extended families. The second part of the study evaluates the domestic experiences of a Tokelauan extended family selected, through an income and social allocation process, to live in a Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC) purpose-built extended-family house in Porirua. The design process and principles of the extended family house are also described and analysed.

 

Purpose

Tokelauan people are proportionally one of the smallest Pacific groups in New Zealand and also one of the most socio-economically deprived. The Tokelauan community has a higher proportion of three-generation families living in one household than any other ethnic group in New Zealand, and consequently a high level of household crowding. Household crowding raises the risk of close-contact infectious diseases, such as skin diseases, rheumatic fever, tuberculosis and meningococcal disease, which occur at a higher rate in the Pacific community. (Baker, McNicholas et al 2000)

Methodology

The aims of the study were to understand how Tokelauan youth feel about living in extended-family households, and to describe their experiences of extended-family living and their understanding of its impact on their health and wellbeing.

The first part of this qualitative study, therefore, was designed to explore the impact on young Tokelauan people of living in extended families. With the support of the Wellington Tokelau Association we contacted 20 young people in the Hutt Valley and Porirua, who were currently living, or had lived, in extended families with grandparents.

The second part of the study evaluates the domestic experiences of a Tokelauan extended family, who originally lived in a conventional state house. They were selected, through an income and social allocation process, to live in a Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC) purpose-built extended-family house in Porirua. The design process and principles of the extended family house are also described and analysed. We also interviewed all members of the family before and after they moved into the extended family house.

Interviews and focus groups, which were carried out in Tokelauan and English, were taped, transcribed and translated into English where necessary. We thematically analysed the texts separately and then discussed our findings.

Key Results

The young people had a predominantly broad view of health. They had lived, or were currently living, with their grandparents in households that often involved one or more other families; there was often considerable fluidity as to the people who lived in the house. All the young people said their grandparents had been very important in their upbringing.

A number of the young people said they had a great deal of autonomy as to whether they lived with their parents or grandparents, particularly in the holidays. All the grandparents were Tokelau-born and spoke fluent Tokelauan. The young people felt that living with their grandparents helped to improve their Tokelauan, even if they were not as fluent as them. They also learnt traditional values, such as showing respect and religious observation, from grandparents, as well as traditional craft skills. Indeed, several young people spoke explicitly about how they felt their grandparents had helped to shape their cultural identity, which was reinforced by their occasional trips back to Tokelau.

Several of the girls explained the differences between the behaviour of young people in Tokelau and New Zealand, stating that young people in Tokelau behaved more respectfully. Several of the young people wanted to bring up their children more traditionally, as their grandparents had been brought up. They also empathised with the sense of confinement, dependency and restrictions their grandparents faced in New Zealand compared to Tokelau.

However, a number also spoke of the disadvantages of living in extended families with their grandparents – mainly that their movements and behaviour were restricted and they were expected to do a lot of chores. Some young people expressed concern about the physical downsides of crowded households, including concerns about privacy, noise and smoking. Many commented on the poor state of the houses they lived in and had clear ideas of how they could be improved.

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