The first rongoā - Karakia (prayers, chants, incantations)

"the FIRST and most important rongoā [IS]the connection we have with Atua (God) and this is realised through the power of karakia "

Māori rongoā healers and spiritual practitioners who were interviewed in the Pae Herenga study spoke about the FIRST and most important rongoā being [IS]the connection we have with Atua (God) and this is realised through the power of karakia (prayer, incantation, chants). We will cover this more in the section on Spiritual Care. However, for our purposes here it is important to state that no matter what healing is being sought or used, the most important tikanga (customs) that covers this is karakia. It is important before any treatment such as mirimiri (massage), or romiromi (deep tissue massage) or before any plants are sourced to make a rongoā rākau (plant medicine) that prayers are said because the connection with the Divine element is what activates the healing potential.


Mauri mahi (energy healers), will invoke energy healing by drawing on sound vibrations, often through their voice or through some form of instrument (such as a wind instrument or a musical instrument as its tone will have its own vibrational frequency). However, before the healing starts the mauri mahi will call upon Atua (God, Divine beings, and ancestors who walk alongside the person that is receiving healing as well as the practitioner asking for healing to be transmitted), to petition the clearance of unwanted negative energies.

Karakia ensures the healing channel is activated and open to transmute the clearing/healing to take place. Divine healing energy is transmitted from Atua (higher vibrational frequency source) through the healer to cleanse, clear, remove and uplift the person seeking healing. The faith of each mauri mahi will determine whom the karakia is addressed to and the form their petition will take. Knowing that guidance and protection will be granted (via the channel of the healer), brings deep humility that is expressed back to Atua (Divine beings and tūpuna that each healer is connected to) with sincere and heartfelt gratitude. We provide some examples of the healing power that karakia bring.

Kaumātua Wii spoke about how karakia was very important to his work as a rongoā healer and also in providing care for his wife at the end of her life in his Pae Herenga interview. His whānau would gather and have karakia and waiata which he believed had a healing power. He mentioned that karakia would be carried out in te reo Māori as all their mokopuna were able to say karakia in te reo Māori as well as English:

… when I have my karakia and everything like this, to our Heavenly Father. And I like to thank Him or when I’m working on a patient or anything like you know, it’s always to our Heavenly Father. And also, around me also is our ancestors. They always around you all the time and with you [and] what you’re working on, yeah.


[A]lso the whānau and all that around [my wife] and like you know, then we have our prayers you know at night before she went to sleep and all that, yeah. All the whānau around her and everything like that. Yeah and also in the morning also we used to have [karakia and waiata].

Kuia Raewyn and Kaumātua Hugh commented on their definition of rongoā highlighting the spiritual quality of the plants and their healing properties in their Pae Herenga interview:

Raewyn: I think the rongoā is more than just medicine. I think it’s spirit, the spirituality that goes along with it because, usually it’s used in conjunction with karakia, wairua, and all those things. So, it’s not just this specific [thing]’ it’s not like taking a tablet.

Hugh: Well, take a kawakawa leaf for instance, and a pill. A pill got no wairua as far as I’m concerned, where you’re taking off a tree that’s got its own mauri, that’s got its own whakapapa. So, what you’re calling on, you’re calling on…the wairua of that tree to give support and sustenance to your wairua.

Kuia Raewyn also commented on rongoā being able to be used in different ways:

And it can be used in so many different ways. It’s not just oh okay boil it up and take this. You can put it on bruises, you can make it into pastes, you can use it as a wash for this or that or the other thing. This table is for blood pressure full stop.

In his Pae Herenga interview kaumātua and rongoā healer Kaumātua Ned, said that karakia is the most important rongoā of all:

I found that karakia [is] most probably number one. The knowledge of medicine is number two. And who to go to and ask for support is number three…

In her Pae Herenga interview rongoā healer, Karlene spoke about the wairua of rongoā being beneficial for people at end of life:

Kawakawa - that’s the wairua! Kawakawa is the wairua and the kawakawa comes straight through to Io [name of Supreme Being]. He makes seven plants - seven plants and I’ve only found two… [the other plant] it’s called white vine… My Nani used to use it… so she used to go out there, my uncle was telling me. He’s going to take me out there to teach me about it and then I will share it [with my healer friend].

In Kaumātua Ned’s Pae Herenga interview he spoke about how he became very ill when he was four years old and was told by the doctors there was ‘nothing more that could be done’. He was sent home to spend his last hours with his family. Kaumātua Ned’s father took him to see a tohunga (healer/spiritual expert) while he went home to prepare the whare for the grieving process. When he returned, he found his son Ned had been healed by the tohunga and was well again:

… Well my dad didn’t like it because she was a tohunga. He was trying to bring his family into the new world. Knowing that we had to survive, and the new world was on us. And he didn’t want to have anything to do with tohunga. But this kuia kept calling him with her hand. So, he obeyed her because his son was not too long for this world. So, him and my mum, ah, ventured up towards the marae and she said I’ve been waiting for four days for this boy, give him here. [She] put me in her nikau house and sent them off. So, her healing was done with karakia and with her hands…

[The doctor] said there was no more that he could do. So [the kuia/tohunga] overnight healed me. Ah the next morning my dad came to pick my corpse up, take home and breathe over it. He got the home ready for the grieving process. And she beckoned him to go sideways [to the side of the house]. Because she knew he was coming; she went, and she beckoned him to go sideways. So, he climbed over the fence, kept on beckoning him in sideways... And he looked down and there was a, a turkey sitting on a nest in the gorse. So, my dad chased the turkey away and she put her hand up and signalled to bring the one [egg]. So, my dad got all the eggs out, put them up, [she] told him, told him to cook it. He cooked it on an outside fire, brought it in, ‘now feed him.’ I was sitting there looking at him.

Kaumātua Ned’s sister identified that aroha is healing and that it is important to have faith. She believes that this was key in their mother’s making a recovery following her stroke:

And I think a lot of it too was the love that was there you know, surrounding her and our Lord Jesus Christ. You know. He was there with our mum right through it because there was a point in time where the doctors had no hope for her. You know, it was just a wipe out. And they said they would stop all the rongoā and all this and that and two of the brothers, you know all the emotions were high. So, two of them reacted to that, to that thinking. And I said to the doctor, he was only a young doctor, very nice. But I looked at he was the messenger. And, and I said to him, ‘You know, we’ve been around our mum a long time, and this is not her time.’ I said, ‘Somewhere, somehow, she’s going to pull through this.’ You know there was ‘no hope for her’, coming from them. And I said, ‘There’s, there’s a lot of hope. I said our mum’s going to pull through this.’ I said, ‘That fella upstairs, He’s the one that knows. And she’s going to come out of it.’ And blow me down, you know, and everybody’s aroha I think, you know, that surrounded Mum at that time, and the people that came in, every person, you know…

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