Vā Conceptual Framework

‘Vā is the space between, the betweenness, not empty space, not space that separates, but space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the Unity-that-is-All, the space that is context, giving meaning to things.’
Emeritus Professor, Albert Wendt

Significance of Language

Vā is an indigenous Polynesian term, which translates to “the space between us”. Whilst our conceptual framework is inspired by the work of Samoan writer Albert Wendt, at its core it is not a Polynesian framework. Instead, it is an intentional and aspirational model, inspired by indigenous wisdom, which is more applicable than ever to contemporary culture and collective healing. According to Wendt, vā is a space which encompasses and acknowledges our dynamic and ever-evolving identities and perspectives, he states “we read one another through what we believe, through the mirrors of who and what we are” (Va‘ai, 1999). At Mahana Culture, this concept is interpreted as a relational space which can be nurtured at the individual, cultural and institutional level. 

Purpose & Symbolism

Our vā consists of an array of past and lived experiences which form our personal and cultural stories of identity and belonging. The purpose of vā is to offer a critically reflective and relational lens with which to develop a deeper understanding of self and other. The wave imagery represents the dynamic nature of two distinct elements; water and earth. When the wave hits the sand, it creates an entirely new entity, the froth. The elements change each other; this exchange can be transforming, eroding, evolving, expanding and healing. This is vā.

Practice Model Rationale 

When interpreted as a practice model, vā can be applied at the personal, cultural and institutional level. Fundamentally, vā explores how cultural intelligence contributes to cultural participation, maintenance and dignity by nurturing the relational core of all entities.

Process Model Rationale
(see below)

When interpreted as a process model, vā signposts Mahana’s professional learning structure and stages. Vā as a personal journey represents the dynamic and ongoing process of becoming culturally aware and responsive at an individual level. It awakens what individuals bring to the process and explores what it means to stand at the threshold of new understanding, with curiosity and humility. The vā offers participants a lens and a framework for nurturing and protecting this newfound awareness, so that it may be embedded at the cultural and institutional level.


Vā – the space between us
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE: To recognise the ‘space’ and establish a shared value position.


Tu le vā – to stand in the space
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE: To awaken a deeper understanding of self, including inherent value systems and unconscious biases.


Iloa – to understand the space
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE: To explore cultural ideologies and diverse worldviews.


Teu le vā – to nurture, beautify, cherish and protect the space
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE: To acknowledge trauma (cultural, intergenerational, institutional) and nurture shared values, culturally safe environments, professional competencies and standards.


Puga mai – what emerges from the space between us?
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE: Emerge with a new lens based on what we have learned from the space between us. How can this new lens strengthen our individual and collective cultural dignity?

Want to find out more about how this framework can be applied in your professional relationship with clients and team members? Learn more…