Monday, 21 March 2022

A Pasifika model of career practice

In Aotearoa New Zealand, Pasifika peoples - Cook Islanders, Fijians, Niueans, Samoans, Tokelauans, Tongans - make up 8.1% of the population, with Samoans forming 50% (Pasefika Proud, 2016; Statistics New Zealand, 2019). Pasifika peoples form the fourth largest population cluster in Aotearoa, with the top three being Pākehā, Māori, and Asian ethnic groups.

With such a large population group, it seems appropriate to develop some understanding of cultural practice. Pasifika cultures tend to be collectivist groups, with a community approach to decisions and living (Hughes & Thomas, 2005). A model which encompasses Pasifika value systems is the Fonofale Model (Pulotu-Endemann, 2001). While developed in the health sector, this model is now in wider use across a range of Pasifika contexts, including education, career practice and development (Iaone & Tudor, 2017; Pulotu-Endemann, 2001).

The Fonofale model recreates the important elements of Pasifika life, centred on the fale (home). The external environment includes physical and metaphysical elements (time, environment, context) and all is surrounded by Vā, or the relationships between people and groups (Anae, 2019; Iaone & Tudor, 2017; Tuagalu, 2008). Vā is stronger than simply family ties: this is a value of human connection, responsibility, collectiveness, and obligation. It is the ‘space between’, implying the need for mutual respect and responsibility between dyads and dyad groups. Vā is present in any social or professional relationship, including between we practitioners and our clients. If cultural appropriateness is not taken into account in assessments with Pasifika clients, the Vā is at risk. When the Vā is damaged, it must either be mended through means of forgiveness and apology, or the relationship will be broken (Anae, 2019). 

As the Fonofale model implies by having the fale at the centre, the fale provides shelter for our holistic being, in order for us to be well. The elements of the fale - similar to the Te Whare Tapa Wha model (Durie, 2003; Te Karere TVNZ, 2021) - consist of the 'sheltering sky' of the roof, the four pillars which support it (Iaone & Tudor, 2017; Pulotu-Endemann, 2001), and the foundations from which it is grounded (Pulotu-Endemann, 2001):

  • Roof: Culture. The roof forms the beliefs and values systems of the individuals sheltered by it. These may be traditional Pasifika values and beliefs, or may also encompass Palagi identities and perspectives. Although Vā implies kinship, Fonofale takes an expansive enough lens of a broad human connection, rather than a narrow lens (Pulotu-Endemann, 2001). 
  • Foundations: Family (Aiga). The fale foundations include immediate and extended family, close friends and those whom those in the fale are in close partnership and agreement with (Pulotu-Endemann, 2001). Career assessment must be done with respect and consideration for the client's Aiga, as the client will consider work prospects and decisions with family in mind (Hughes & Thomas, 2005).
  • The Pillars: Pou (Physical, Spiritual, Mental and Other). Each of the pillars are essential to ensure wellbeing, with no one pou able to stand in isolation. Damage to one pou will damage another. Further, the elements considered under the ‘Other’ pillar including gender, sexuality, socio-economic status and so forth (Anae, 2019). The spaces between each pou are also filled with Vā, reinforcing the systematic support and balance needed for a rounded life (Iaone & Tudor, 2017; Tuagalu, 2008).

In a final note, we need to be careful in assuming that all Pasifika people will hold the same belief and value systems. For example, while Cook Island values are more casual, Tongan values are more formal. When working with the Tongan community, we will require a stronger and deeper understanding of Aiga traditions and beliefs (Athanasou & Torrance, 2002).

We hope you find this brief overview useful. 

Sam, Daniel & Clare


  • Anae, M. (2019). Pacific Research Methodologies and Relational Ethics. Oxford Research Encyclopedia: Education.
  • Durie, M. (2003). Whaiora: Maori health development (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. 
  • Feu’u, P. J. A. (2013). Ia e Ola Malamalama I lou Fa’asinomaga: A comparative study of the fa’afafine of Samoa and the whakawahine of Aotearoa/New Zealand (Master’s thesis: Victoria University of Wellington). http://hdl. handle. net/10063/3179).
  • Hughes, C., & Thomas, T. (2005). Individualism and collectivism: A framework for examining career programs through a cultural lens. Australian Journal of Career Development, 14(1), 41-50.
  • Ioane, J., & Tudor, K. (2017). The fa’asamoa, person-centered theory and cross-cultural practice. Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 16(4), 287-302.
  • Pasefika Proud. (2016). The profile of Pacific peoples in New Zealand.
  • Pulotu-Endemann, F. K. (2001). Fonofale: Model of Health. Pacific Models for Health Promotion Workshop at Massey University, Wellington Campus, 7 September 2009.
  • Statistics New Zealand. (2019). New Zealand’s population reflects growing diversity.
  • Te Karere TVNZ. (3 January 2021). EXTRA | Full interview with Sir Mason Durie [video].
  • Thomsen, S., Tavita, J. & Levi-Teu, Z. (2018). A Pacific Perspective on the Living Standards Framework and Wellbeing [Discussion Paper 18/09]. New Zealand Treasury.
  • Tuagalu, I. (2008). Heuristics of the va. AlterNative, 4(1), 107–126.
* Daniel Haurua, and Clare Crawshaw from Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology, kindly prepared much of the material for this post

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