Forms of rongoā

Rongoā has many forms; it can be anything that helps to increase energy, restore balance and bring oranga (wellness/wellbeing) to mind, body and spirit. The following examples highlight some forms of rongoā that the Pae Herenga participants spoke about in their interviews; using creative energy, mirimiri (massage), being with whānau (particularly those people who kaumātua felt deeply connected to such as tamariki (children) and mokopuna (grandchildren), and rongoā rākau (plant medicines).


The following list contains a broad range of rongoā healing forms that the Pae Herenga study participants identified they found helpful to care for an adult or kaumātua (older adult), and each other:

  • Te Reo (Māori language)
  • Karakia (Prayers, incantations, chants)
  • Karanga (‘calling’ traditions)
  • Whaikōrero (Speech making)
  • Whakakata (Humour)
  • Kai (food) & wai (beverages)
  • Haka (traditional action dance)
  • Waiata (Singing)
  • Kanikani (Dancing)
  • Tāniko (Weave, embroider)
  • Rongoā rākau (Wai, kai, balms, inhalations, teas, infusions, baths etc.)
  • Matakite (“Scanning & assessments”; talking with tūpuna)
  • Kāhui takitini (Artwork; panel dragon painting)
  • Mirimiri (Massage)
  • Tioata (Crystals)
  • Hui - Kōrerorero (Preparation, planning, resolving problems, negotiating end of life issues).

Kuia K. discussed the different ways whānau prepare for the passing of a loved one; this is a form of rongoā as it helps to prepare the kaumātua and whānau for what is to come. She talked about the support that whānau give each other by staying close together, discussing the older person’s end of life wishes and asking the māuiui person about their tangihanga preferences, and communicating with these to the broader whānau:

You know, I believe staying close to one another [is important]. Supporting them, giving that whānau your support. Sometimes there’s not a lot of words like, like you say from the time the doctors say, ‘Well I’m sorry you don’t have much time’ or whatever, then you start planning. ‘Where do you want, where do you want to lie? Where do you want to be buried?’ You know? Ask them what their wishes are so, so that you’re, so that you can follow through…with their wishes. And then you start letting whānau [know]. See they may say, ‘Oh don’t let that whānau [know]. Don’t let that whānau [know].’…

Kuia Pat’s husband had Alzheimer’s and his (hinengaro) mind was an aspect of care that she discussed in her Pae Herenga interview. Her husband had certain activities throughout the different stages of his illness that helped to settle his wairua (spirit). Kuia Pat described these, and how she would support her husband with those activities: For example, he liked to spend time with his whānau as this was important for him and he still wanted to participate when they visited:

He can’t… he can’t converse, because it’s just… he knows he’s saying something [but] we have no idea what he’s saying. But he knows. Because when there are others here, he does not want to go to bed… Yeah, he likes the company…they’re normally just watching TV, or talking, or playing cards or whatever. But he just wants to be amongst them.

Kuia Pat’s husband’s enjoyment of looking at things also brought him comfort:

He’s not doing it so much now, but not long after he came home [from the rest home], he’d always go and get his photo … take it off the wall, walk around the house with it.

Fortunately [he] still likes looking at books. When he gets sick of reading one, he’ll start tearing the pages out, one by one. So… I have to make sure that they are just... old magazines or ones you’re not trying to keep [laughs].

Well quite often he does wake during the night. He’s obviously unsettled, he’s obviously… something has woken him. And I just let him turn the lights on, we walk through the house, he goes back to bed… he’s happy.

Whaea Rawi and Matua Ngawati are rongoā healers who use mirimiri (massage) to help “unblock” stuck energy to bring some relief to people. They said that unwell people who go to them at end of life are often feeling desperate and are searching for a miracle to help them. They explained that they provide relief from symptoms and comfort through mirimiri and wairua support as this helps to ease the pain and it allows the wairua to settle:

Ngawati: With the mirimiri and the wairua too… Yeah. I guess if they’re having physical pain when they [come to see us] …

Rawi: It eases [the symptoms].

Ngawati: Just putting them in a better ah, space, I guess.

In her Pae Herenga interview, Yvonne talked about how her whānau chose a Māori organisation, which also employed some wider whānau members as carers, to help with caring for her sister. She spoke about how the service included Māori care practices:

… we chose [name of Māori service] over [Western health service]. We chose to go with a Māori organisation. We chose to have Māori carers who, coincidentally, are whānaunga… two are close relatives, and the other one is ah, is a [family name]… Engari, still a whanaunga… and that, that understanding of things Māori… even though my sister’s not Māori-Māori, but we are… and so we do that, and they’re beautiful with their mirimiri and their care of my sister.

They come out every day… It’s just an hour and a half in the morning, an hour and a half at night. But we’re gonna reshuffle that again, because [name of sister] said, ‘You know, in my normal life I didn’t bath twice a day.’… she feels cold. It’s scorching hot, we’re sweating and she’s cold when she’s woken up. She don’t wanna be… So, we’ve gotta concentrate that more to the evening because what those carers do is, they mirimiri with the kawakawa oil and they actually exercise her limbs for me. They get stretched, because she was in pain before. And now she can do yoga moves…

When asked by the interviewer about the importance of rongoā to Māori, Whaea Rihi explained that they knew rongoā practitioners in the area they could refer people to if they needed:

Yeah, they [patients/whānau] do ask…if they do and we need somewhere we’d probably like, you know, get in contact with one of the rongoā practitioners. Because Aunty Marilyn and Aunty Christine and all of them, they’re seen as rongoā practitioners. My cousin who’s coming tomorrow, Rochelle, you know, so they’re kind of like the resources that we all use. And they use us and vice versa in regards to working with whānau and the family so well you know, [we] connect… We’ve all got contacts.

Ivy-Lee in her Pae Herenga interview spoke about the importance of having young people in the whānau house to help strengthen her father:

Dad loves the kids coming through the house. [Quoting father] “Come here! Come and get a lolly!” He invites them in. “That’s fine, Dad... sweet as”. So, we make, we make sure his lolly container’s full. Just to keep that vibrance, ya know, that vitality in the house and that wairua... that, that young, youthful wairua running through the house. And that feeds him, ya know. Sometimes I feel like he’s draining them... because he does that, you know, he has to pull it from somewhere.

Yvonne also spoke about how she uses rongoā medicines such as kawakawa oil and wairua spray, as well as mirimiri in her care for [name of sister]. She also expressed that this strengthens her and helps her with part of her self-care process:

[Name of rongoā healer] had given us… kawakawa oil. So, I use that on my sister and mirimiri her, and in that I try to release her stuff and mine… she gave us some wairua spray, which is a lemon… and I’m not sure what else is in there, but a wairua spray to help cleanse out the whare [house], and helps me to release [tension/tiredness].

GP K. referred to the healing energy that arrives when whanau gather together, there is singing and speaking in te reo Māori (Indigenous language):

Absolutely. Yeah waiata, the reo… you know hearing stories, tamariki running around … Happy, sad, hea ha (nevertheless), it’s you know… I can speak, te reo. I wouldn’t say I am, tino matatau (proficient) in te reo but look if whanau come in here and they want to have a conversation, a consult in the reo we can do that.

When asked how people find out about him and the wairua work he does, Matua Tau responded:

Okay. Ha. I laugh because usually I’m the last one because people have tried everything else before me! [Laughter] They’ve rung up different ones and they’ve gone down, rang different people, different contacts before they get, get to me so. And a lot of places around cleansing, and stuff like people when they’re sick and that, I’m the last one that they get in touch with! [Laughs] Yeah. Yeah. They’ve tried other things and then they’ve got my number. One of the things that I always commit to is being there as soon as possible because I know that they must of gone through a lot before it got to me, you know? Yeah, they’re desperate, they’re in desperate mode.

Kuia K. commented on the importance of whakataukī (Māori proverbs):

Our whakataukī are so valuable for Māori if we would understand the value of them. The one about, with all this māuiuitanga [illness] and pōuritanga [sadness], with all this what we talked about, it comes down to the individual:

‘Kia kaha, kia māia, kia manawanui’ [Be strong, be brave, be steadfast]. That is what we have to be.

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