Are you thinking about using rongoā?

"Everyone has the right to choose their own pathway of healing. "

It is your right to want the best treatment that is available, from both an Indigenous and a Western approach. Everyone has the right to choose their own pathway of healing. Rongoā practitioners can be found via word of mouth, some healers have small clinics and others websites. Ask someone in your area who to go to for help.

Many adults and kaumātua wish to use rongoā (including rongoā rākau) in their care plan and there are those who do not. You may be thinking about how to add or include rongoā for yourself or your whānau member in addition to the medical treatment provided by a medical doctor. An important point raised by experienced rongoā practitioners interviewed in the Pae Herenga study, was whether those seeking healing from rongoā really ‘believed’ in the power of the wairua (spirit) within the life-force of rongoā to bring about the healing.

A growing number of kaumātua and their whānau prefer to use rongoā Māori and rongoā rākau, but they may not wish to discuss this with their doctor or  health care team. Kaumātua and whānau manaaki may not be very trusting of health professionals. However, some organisations and health professionals are supporting Indigenous forms of healing, but they are required to observe the policy guidelines of that organisation.

Some participants in the Pae Herenga study used various forms of rongoā (including rongoā rākau) with Western medicines; they used this combined approach to get the best care that they believed both cultural frameworks could offer them. However, some people do not want any treatment at all, and this also needs to be acknowledged and supported (see Dr S.’s story about her aunty). There are things to consider when opting to use rongoā (and rongoā rākau). For example, have you discussed the rongoā you are using, or want to use, and the Western medicine or treatments you are having, with your rongoā practitioner and health care team? We offer some stories told to us by kaumātua and whānau manaaki to help you think through these important things, should you wish to use rongoā.

Dr S. (General Practitioner) commented on the right of kaumātua to exercise their own tino rangatiratanga (independence) and refuse any form of medical help or intervention or rongoā support:

My Aunty recently passed away. She didn’t want anything, any treatment at all. And so, there’s that opportunity as well. And that’s another rongoā, I suppose, is like ‘my time’s up. It’s time for me to go; it will happen how it happens’.

GP A. who is also an experienced rongoā practitioner explained that she is happy to recommend her patients use rongoā rākau:

I would say, ‘Oh if you’re wanting to do rongoā rākau, these are your options.’ So, I’d highlight to them what they might be able to use. And then, because I’m not going to have the time to go and make that. And then I would say, ‘Oh I know somebody if you’re interested,’ you know, ‘this is somebody that you could get that from.’ So, I’ve already kind of said what I think would be good, and especially if I start them on something else and I’ve kind of had anecdotal evidence that that’s okay, then I know that these are the ones that I’m going to be okay with them having with a certain medicine. So, I would say, ‘Oh and you can go to this person and they’ll be able to do that…Keeps me safe from that perspective, and I’m just saying ‘these are your options’. I’m not saying, ‘Oh you should go and have that,’ you know so I’m saying, ‘these are options.’ So, I think that keeps it safe. I haven’t actually had any problems with it.

That’s right, so, but if I was to say, ‘you need to take that,’ you know that could be a problem. ‘You’re going to take that, and this is what you’re going to take’, that could be a problem. So, but I leave that to those who do that every day. And that’s the beauty of rongoā, it’s not about who does it, who provides it for you… it’s about gaining the access to those who are willing to give the healing, or those who are willing to help them, because the true healing is not from the tohunga. It’s not even from, you know, it is from Io [God], but it’s actually within yourself. And so, it’s being able to find that pathway to be able to heal within yourself… like if someone says, ‘oh I go to the chiropractor, osteopath,’ whatever they [want], I’m like ‘whatever’s going to get you better. My job is to get you never to come back to my room because you’re so good,’ you know. ‘My job is I don’t want to see you again,’ you know.

In her Pae Herenga interview, GP A. explained what ‘rongoā’ means to her, and how it can work alongside Western medicine:

I think there are some doubts around some of the chemotherapy and interactions with rongoā. I don’t have enough knowledge around that, but I think what people forget is that rongoā Māori is based on a spiritual side first and foremost. You can’t go to the ngāhere, the bush and get the children of Tāne without doing a karakia first, and without tikanga all the way through and taking it back.

So, I think it can be complementary, but I also think there are fears that it is different. And there are fears for those that utilise it and who are maybe not doing it in the right ways. So, there’s a little bit of that in the background. But if we were to take that away, then absolutely it’s the wairua of the plants, of Tāne, that is the healer. So, yes that has medicinal properties, but first and foremost it is the wairua. So it is around understanding that- is you know, like before we focus too much into the interactions of everything else, you know, that someone thought about that kuia, went out to the bush, dedicate that time, did exactly the tikanga and thought about that person in their mind to bring that back…that’s where all the healing is from. It’s not around getting a panipani of kawakawa and giving that to them, it’s the whole journey that is the healing, right.

And so, it can align with Western medicine, but there are fears around that of course. The spiritual side Te Oomai-reia. So, I generally talk about rongoā rākau in Te Oomai Reia. Rākau being Tāne’s stuff where we’ve got kawakawa’s all those things, and then we’ve got the Te Oomai Reia which is the spiritual realms, which go through different phases…all the different ways. And so through that, you know, with kōmiri, tamiri, mirimiri, there are different ways you can interlink with those wairua and, shift the entities, or shift the pain, or change the pain, dampen it down, or, you know. Because we do believe that some of this, the pain that we have, the diseases we attribute, the illnesses, are from the wairua eh, and the psychological parts that contribute to that.

So, if we can work with that, we can help in some ways, and to the point that it may not be, you know, at end-of-life. So, part of that is believing though. And I always say when I’ve done rongoā, in the space where it’s just doing rongoā, and, that it’s no use someone walking to my door if they don’t believe in it. Because the belief is part of that healing. You know, being able to believe that lifts their wairua to different a part so that you can work with that wairua; doesn’t mean that you can’t help them, but there’s only going to be so much you can do. So that knowing that, you know, that they believe in it in some way, or that it’s aligned with some of their thoughts, doesn’t have to be, because over time that can change, absolutely. But at some point, that’s really important.

Matua Jeff highlighted that rongoā Māori was not always used by his wife in her adult life, but this changed when Whaea Ripeka became unwell:

Probably at this stage if I look at [my] whānau or both whānau [rongoā is] probably not important. We know it’s there but we’re not really putting it into practice apart from when Ripeka got sick. That’s the only time where she tried a bit, when it was down our street. We just picked it on our own terms, that’s the only contact I’ve had with it. But I knew a farmer once who used it big time. [Ripeka] was brought up with it but she come down to Wellington [and] she sort of lost that side of it or she didn’t do it. Anyway, she was willing to try, back to the traditional [healing] when māuiui. I took her back to a couple of healers once one long weekend. You couldn’t go away much, you could for one weekend with the healers up in [name], we went one weekend so that was probably the only outside help that we had.

Rongoā healer Kaumātua Wii, in his Pae Herenga interview, spoke about using kawakawa poultice to support his wife between her chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments as he believed this helped to draw the cancer out. He explained that he made sure that she was not receiving the kawakawa treatment at the same time she was having chemotherapy:

“When she had her chemo, I stopped doing the kawakawa, yeah rongoā [rākau].”

Kuia Raewyn, in her Pae Herenga interview, acknowledged that karakia and rongoā are important to draw on when providing end of life care to a whānau member. The use of rongoā, from her perspective, depended on whether they have come from a whānau that uses [rongoā] or a whānau that doesn’t.” She noted that some whānau “do and some don’t…” use rongoā Māori and that “…not everybody believes in it.” When asked why, Kuia Raewyn responded:

Because it’s whether, whether they’ve had that path. Not everybody’s had that path… Because they’ve never had, had it. They’ve never had the introduction to it. They’ve never used it. So, they’re used to the pharmacy, the doctor, the chemicals, right? Whereas you or I, or other people who know about these things would first of all think to that [rongoā] and then if it really is not responding and we can’t find something… to make it respond then you would go to the scientific [Western bio-medical] way…

Some whānau believe in rongoā and others do not. A male Māori Chaplin reflected on his own whānau and their varying views about rongoā and its use:

Oh, I’d say depends what part of the whānau [you’re from], but our whānau believes in rongoā. So, we have all these kids that know how that works. That’s my immediate family. We’re so diverse now. Some people just say, ‘Oh it’s rubbish.’ you know. My own family, okay. Ah but other parts of the family… they wouldn’t [use it].

Kaumātua Hugh, in his Pae Herenga interview, felt that it was important from a whānau perspective, that whatever form of rongoā would bring comfort to that Māori family, should be used:

From a Māori family point of view, where they come from, it I think it’s absolutely important that they utilise whatever rongoā that makes them comfortable to bring them to a space where they need to be.

Some whānau were told about rongoā from other whānau members. A male Māori Chaplain highlighted that it is not always easy to know who to go to for support (see ‘recommendations’ for information about contacting a rongoā healer in your area):

Word of mouth again, eh?... they are [using it], you know, because cousin said, ‘Oh, you should try this [rongoā].’ You know?


  • If you want to find someone who provides rongoā healing in your area (all forms of rongoā including rongoā rākau/plant medicines), contact a Māori health provider, a local marae, or perhaps ask the Māori health team at the District Health Board (DHB). Rongoā healers can be found via word of mouth, some healers have their own small businesses, clinics and websites (you may be able to find a healer through an internet search, for example).
  • If you are using rongoā rākau, it is advisable to discuss what you are doing with your health care team and ask to have your rongoā practitioner included as part of your health care team.
  • If you are taking medication given to you by your doctor then you may have some undesired side effects.
  • It is important to make sure that you are aware of any interactions (changes) that may happen if you combine medicines and rongoā rākau, for example some plants can affect the heart rate and the way the heart beats. Some plants can thin the blood, and if you are on pharmaceutical medication to do this as well, this can impact on the amount of medication you need.
  • It is best to seek specialist advice before commencing any treatments. Topical treatments often have less risk of interaction with other treatments however, it is still best to have expert advice.
  • If you are unsure about anything you are taking, or want to take, talk to your doctor and rongoā practitioner.

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