Rongoā healing

Rongoā healing is used for different purposes and there are different forms

Kaumātua who have a life limiting illness and whānau manaaki who provide end of life care can often experience different symptoms including, swelling, pain, tiredness and fatigue; natural healing can do wonders for bringing relief from pain and symptoms and for helping to restore energy levels. Rongoā healers can provide comfort and relief to someone at the end of their life, and their whānau manaaki. We provide some definitions and examples of rongoā and how practitioners of rongoā work.

Vanessa provided a definition of wairākau:

Wairākau; liquids, or solids, that have healing ingredients withdrawn from plant material, which has a healing vibration, or which can restore balance to the tinana or the hinengaro, you know, or the wairua in a way.

Whaea Aggie described her ‘ringa wairua’ [healing hands] and how she uses them:

… The ringa wairua is, when you’ve done all your karakia, and you’ve done all your protections and everything. And then you’re asking the Lord, you’re asking that divine light to come through you. So, this is my [left] hand that comes through, so I’m like a vessel, and it enters through, it can enter through the crown, and through the heart as well, should I need those ones. And then it comes through, and this is my working [right] hand, and it will be the same if I was left-handed. This would be the entrance hand [left] and this will be the working [right] hand. So as soon as I ask for the mana, from the runga rawa, and then I can sort of go like this [demonstrates using her hands in a sweeping motion just above the physical body], and then just feel anything, you know? … because you’ve got an outer aura and you’ve got an inner aura…You cleanse the outer aura first. And then that allows you to come into the inner aura and then feel.

Whaea Rawi also talked about whānau asking to be shown how to help their loved one with mirimiri without hurting them:

We have been asked, you know, at some point where the, the whānau’s come and asked you know, ‘Show us how to miri’ you know, [quoting whānau], ‘How can we do it without having to hurt them?...’ So, I’ll go and show them how, how to.’

If Whaea Rawi knows the person she will ask them about their condition:

Rawi: … You know, we had a, a relative who, who it is… yeah, his last [days]. And all he wanted was ah, because he didn’t tell us that he was sick until I said to him, “Look, how sick are you?”, and he goes, “Oh! I told you!”, but all he wanted was to get rid of his cough.

Ngawati: Yeah, but it was deeper than just a cough.

Rawi: And I said, “But your cough is more than that”, you know, and he says, “But can’t you give me a rongoā?”

Matua Ngawati explained that not everyone who comes to see them will tell them about their health condition:

Ah, we give them a consultation sheet to fill in the various, just for them to fill in whatever um sickness, illness, injuries or whatever that they’ve got. But a lot of times…a lot of what they’re carrying, they don’t bring it forward. And those are the ones we normally pick out for them.

When asked if it was because the manuhiri were told that “there was nothing more that the doctors could do for them,” Matua Ngawati replied:

That, and also, during their better part of their life as well, you know, when they find an ongoing problem that’s not gonna go away, then they’ll…come to us.

People with a life limiting illness who come to see Whaea Rawi and Matua Ngawati seek alternative support. Matua Ngawati explained manuhiri had often been told by doctors that there was nothing more they could do for them, so they sought their help:

‘Well they, they come for, for one and everything that… that they feel that ah… sorry to put it this way, that their doctors are not able to, to help.’

Following on from the case above, Vanessa described enlisting the help of a matakite (spiritual seer/visionary):

So, I would do things like obtain wairākau from another Practitioner at the request of a patient and deliver it to them. Or in this instance I would get hold of my friend, Mary, who does mahi wairua [spiritual healing], or mirimiri wairua [energy healing], great energy work. And Mary would occasionally come and see a patient with me. So, on this day, I had a look at the history, and I thought ‘no I’ll fess up and I’ll go and talk to the Medical Director.’ So, I went to visit him, and I said, ‘Look this is happening with this patient, can you have a look at the history? This is what the nurse has asked me. Are you happy for me to go and see what I can do and administer what I can?’

And, he had a look. So, he could act- he could see that she was actively dying and all the interventions that the hospice had tried. And he said, ‘Oh, yep, yep. It won’t do any harm.’ So, I thought ‘okay.’ I called ‘Mary, Mary’ and I went up to see the woman, who was in a fairly, intense pain lying on the ground, couldn’t get onto the couch. She was vomiting a lot and her daughter was, you know, taking care of that. She was kind of in and out of consciousness at that time, I had no chance of being able to get anything orally down her. Physically she wouldn’t of taken much, ah, hands on, so that wouldn’t of worked for her.

So really, we shared karakia and Mary was able to give some comfort with hands-on energy work. Mary shared with her a vision I suppose. Mary just had a sense of a horse galloping through the room, and so she put it out there and asked the woman. And she said, ‘Yes, I love horses, I did this with horses,’ and blah, blah, blah, ‘and when I was young,’ she was able to go into a moemoe remembrance time I suppose, which was nice for her and got her daughter to laugh a bit. So, I think we were able to leave her in a calmer space than when we’d arrived.

Rongoā can be used as a supportive ‘natural’ resource to help people who do not wish to take Western medications at end of life. Vanessa [hospice worker and rongoā healer] spoke about being asked by a senior nurse to help a Māori woman who had refused pain medication but was experiencing severe pain at end of life:

So, I’ll talk about one patient that I saw as the Māori Liaison, and she was at home. She didn’t necessarily use wairākau in her history. She had very, very advanced cancer. She was a very natural woman. She didn’t want medication, she didn’t want morphine, she didn’t want syringe drivers, she didn’t want all of those sorts of things, and as a result she was in excruciating pain in the last few days of her life. So, I got a call from Palliative Care Coordinator in her area and said, ‘Look Ness, there’s- what can I do? What can I offer this woman? She’s not, you know, accepting,’ and so the absolute last straw, like a Senior Nurse reached out to say, ‘is there anything you can do?’ Knowing that I knew a little bit about, about rongoā Māori. So, I knew of a few things that might help. The methods that I knew though meant ingesting [rongoā] so, a certain amount of fluid in water, and this person was getting close to the time of no swallowing. So, then I thought ‘right what else can I do? If she’s agitated what can I do to bring her some peace from the outside?’ At that point I still had a sense that I needed to keep some of that mahi separate from my role.

Vanessa [hospice worker and rongoā healer] provided her definition of rongoā:

My definition of rongoā, probably has changed. I think it used to be, you know, simpler- simply we talk about anything that brings peace. Rongo is the God of Peace so it would be peaceful activity, sharing of that for the benefit of others. We had a Kahui Rongoā gathering, gosh it might be a good five, six years ago now at Parihaka. And at that hui, [name] was present and he talked about what his definition of it was. He was kind enough to give us all a page of rationale. So, he talked about ‘rongo’ senses, being attentive with senses but also about the ‘ā’ at the end, it was about the potentiality. So rongoā was about the potentiality of peace is what he said. So, I liked that. Held on to that definition. At the time, it was plant medicine that interested me.

Wairuatanga and manaakitanga have always been really important kaupapa in our whānau. So, to me- and I always loved entertaining people and cooking and kai. So nursing, healing, combined with cooking seemed like the best combo for me. And I really like the lotions and potions and the creating things side.

We have a broad interpretation of rongoā. So, for me, rongoā is traditional Māori healing which for me includes mirimiri, wairua, kōrero, plant medicine and the rest of it. So we say rongoā, but for us it’s very, very broad, definitely not just plant medicine.

A male Māori Chaplain provided a holistic definition of rongoā Māori:

I see rongoā - whakarongo. Yeah so rongoā is a recognition that we are created and a part of the one universe and of nature. So, humanity is only part of creation and a junior part of that creation story. Ah that, rongoā connects us, between us, and the natural world, of creation. So, that I can take a bit of tōtara bark, put it in a bit of water and drink from that and restore my health proves the fact that we are all at one with creation. That is the first part.

‘Rongo’ to me, like the word whakarongo, is about senses. So kei te whakarongo au ki a koe (I’m listening to you), but it’s more than that. I’m, I’m seeing you, I’m hearing you, I’m smelling you, I’m tasting you, I’m feeling you. That’s the rongo, that’s the senses. So, I’m listening, but I’m listening with all my senses. Rongoā means that I’m restoring those senses. Yeah, I don’t know how to explain that in a small sentence. So rongo, rongoā… It could be the mita, smell or the senses I’m picking up…

Whaea Lynne said the goal is “For us to re ascend back to our divinity.” She explains why whānau become fearful at end of life:

Because most people think this life is ‘it’. A lot of people think that’s it. And that’s why they get fearful when they come to the end of their lifetime. They’re fearful because they don’t know what’s going to happen to them. You know? They don’t, they don’t, they’ve heard that there’s life after death, but they don’t know that there’s life after death.

I believe that we’re very, very colonised. And it is a real, a real effort for us to bring our people back into line with our own traditional way of thinking. All the time. It, it’s heart-breaking sometimes. And it’s heart-breaking having to sit and listen to some of the kōrero that people have and that they’re teaching their children, that it’s like I just want to cry sometimes. I think, ‘Do you not know who you are? No clearly you don’t, how can I get in there and just, give you some glimpse, just the tiniest little glimpse of the light that you have within you.

And once you get a tiny glimpse of, of how glorious you actually are, and how amazing you actually are, there’s no turning back.’ And the reason why I say that is because that’s how it was for me. Once I saw that, it was just the tiniest little sliver of light and I went, ‘Wow!’ So, I, I’m on that journey myself. I’m not saying I’m there. I’m on that journey myself but I’m moving forward and upwards, that’s what I want to do I want, I want it all. I want it all and I want everybody to have it all. Because it’s our birth right.

In her interview Whaea Lynne explains how she uses her rongoā knowledge and knowledge of the spiritual realm to help whānau:

So for me, my goal in wherever it is that I’m working is to bring people, to empower people in whatever way I can, to empower people to bring themselves up out of the 3rd dimensional energies, come up into the 5th dimensional energies which is what runs the world now. And just gradually bring them out of that and they can feel that because as they come out of those energies, the sickness drops off, the pain drops off. You know they can see clearly, a bit more a clearly about their own divinity and who they actually are. They start to release old energies and stuff that isn’t going to be helpful for them. They start understanding a bit more about their own divinity and you know, and you want to get them to this point where they’re just like, ‘Far this is awesome!’ And want to just carry on in that and just carry on ascending… Their divinity. Because we’re all divine beings. It’s a journey we’re all on, all of us.

Whaea Marama (tohunga/rongoā healer) said that in her role she provides care for people who are māuiui as well as their whānau. Whaea Marama expressed that the person who is receiving the healing may not be the only person affected by it, as their māuiui is likely to have an impact on those around them as well:

And so, they might come with a support person, they might come with their whole whānau or they might come on their own. But you still need to look at ‘how is it affecting your immediate [family], who lives with you and how you’re being supported at home?’


Whaea Lynne responded with this definition of rongoā:

So, my definition of rongoā. [Pauses]. So, to me it is such a massively huge [thing]. It’s a little word but it’s huge. It’s huge. Rongoā, to me, is about being observant. It’s about observing. It’s about observing ourselves and our environment. It’s about observing others. It’s about observing your relationship with other beings, your relationship with other human beings. Your relationship with those beings, your pets. Your relationship with the environment. Your relationship with the rākau and you know with the earth and what comes from the earth. The relationship you have with the sea. With the awa. The relationship you have with your maunga. That to me is rongoā. And then we go into rongoā wairākau which is the rongoā that you can get from the trees, from the moana, different things, whatever you can, whatever you can use that can help your wellness. It’s about a mutual respect. It’s about understanding the tuākana-tēina [older sibling-young sibling] relationship.

It’s about understanding that we are the tēina, not the tuākana. We are the tēina. It’s about understanding that. It’s about understanding that when I look up there and I see that harakeke [flax] out there, I understand my relationship to that harakeke. That harakeke is my tuākana. That harakeke is here to give me what I need, what I need to sustain myself. So, when I look at that, I know that I can harvest that, and I can make clothing. I know I can harvest that, and I can make kete. I know I can harvest that, and I can pull ointment out of it. I know I can dig it up and I can create rākau. I can create rongoā that helps with things like cancer- I know that now, I didn’t know that when my mum [was here]. So, I look at that, that harakeke bush out there and I see a lot of things, I see a lot of things that it does.

It reminds me of the whakataukī ‘Hutia te rito o te harakeke’. So, every time I see that rito come up, and the one that comes up with the seed and things on, it always reminds me of that. Reminds me of when I see the seeds in there, I can use those seeds and I can put them in parāoa so it feeds me. And that is just from that harakeke. So, I also know that as the tēina, the tuākana takes care of me. As the tēina it’s my job also to take care of the tuākana because the tuākana has a big job, big job to take care of me. And so, homai-hoatu. You, I receive, and I offer. That’s what it’s all about. That for me is rongoā.

Rongoā healer and matakite (seer, visionary) Whaea Mary spoke about her role in supporting whānau at end of life in her Pae Herenga interview. She highlights the most important things she likes to take into account when she is working in this healing, wairua space:

It is about what they need and, you know, some of the experiences that I’ve had with hospice patients, for instance, have been quite profound.

So, 1) I find people need to be, to feel comfortable and safe. So that’s about not imposing, or, not rushing too soon, or, just being respectful really of where they are in their life, at this point in time, yeah.

2) Is clarity. So, explaining to them how you work and reconfirming that they’re in charge of this process.

3) I think is integrity. Maintaining their dignity and maintaining your own. So that’s about mutual respect, I suppose, of boundaries. Ah some people are very, very reserved, very, yeah, like to keep things to themselves. And they can put up barriers so that you, you can’t, you don’t know anything. You’re working but you absolutely get nothing. Other people sort of put up barriers, but you absolutely know that they’re not ready to talk about anything, so you don’t. Very much guided by whoever’s in, in the space that we’ve created at the time. So [I mean] our tūpuna, really.

When asked for a short definition of rongoā Kuia Marilyn replied:

It’s not just one thing. It’s not just one thing because everybody’s needs are different. So, whatever you have to offer to soothe that need is rongoā. Doesn’t matter what it is, you know? If the need is physical, then you might have to have a panipani (ointment). Or you might have to have he inu rongoā rākau (herbal medicine). But if the need is [the] heart, then just kōrero, just crying. Allowing the tears. Sitting with someone and allowing them to cry is a huge rongoā. Some of the old customs are coming back now and some people are frowning at them. A classic example is ‘the puna roimata’ at a tangi. This is such an important part of our healing because once the tears begin, the healing begins.

The definition of rongoā is very broad. Kuia Marilyn provided this description:

Don’t limit us; [don’t] limit it (rongoā). We can’t limit ourselves to just this little box of being Māori and in Aotearoa, because that’s not who we are. We are universal. We are universal, and I can call on my Irishness to help me. I can call on my Welshness to help me. More often than not my Tūwharetoatanga will help me. And the Awa Tupuatanga will help me. But don’t limit yourself to, this tiny whakapapa that people put us in, this little box. No way. Nobody’s going to do that to me or mine ever again.

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