Harvesting for Rongoā to improve health and wellbeing

  • Published Date 17 Apr 2020

A collective of Rongoā Māori practitioners recently harvested from plants across the Wellington region to produce traditional medicines for whānau, hapū, iwi and the broader community.

Iwi Rongoā practitioner Sharlene Maoate-Davis, says the Collective she is part of provides services on behalf of Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira who have a contract with the Ministry of Health for the Capital and Coast District Health Board area.

"Health and wellbeing is at the front of everybody's minds at the moment while we all deal with this pandemic together. Rongoā is a Māori traditional body of knowledge specific to holistic healing and well living. This knowledge, or mātauranga Māori, works through people taking ownership of their own health and wellbeing and learning from whānau, hapū and iwi who have upheld these practices successively over generations."

"Rongoā was severely affected and saw a noted decline through the implementation of the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907, which was a government response to Māori mortality in previous pandemics. Today, it is about empowering people to take control of their health and wellbeing as part of a Rongoā based lifestyle approach," Sharlene says.

Sharlene, along with other Rongoā practitioners, recently harvested from plants across the region, including from regional parks known to the Collective.

"It is important people understand where the plants come from, and whether they are endemic or were introduced. People need to explore these things before using Māori medicine because its potency lies in having a connection and understanding this whakapapa (genealogy)."

"Greater Wellington Regional Council provides the opportunity, through its regional parks, for people to explore the plants in their own area, sight them and learn more about them; it's all about relationships."

One of the plants used as a medicine is kawakawa (macropiper excelsum) which has energetic and medicinal properties and is found in most areas. This can be used as a blood tonic as it can help with digestion, expelling toxins, is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial which is good for healing sore throats and skin related issues.

"Rongoā should only be used after consulting an experienced practitioner to ensure the right tikanga is followed. This includes being shown how to administer it correctly and ensure it doesn't react with any other medications," Sharlene says.

The harvesting process is done in a traditional, sustainable way that ensures the health of the plants is maintained. For example not harvesting when it's raining or from unwell plants. 

"We only harvest as much as we need and we must be aware of when plants might be in areas that have been sprayed or affected by pollution. This is all part of being a Kaitiaki Rongoā, a guardian and protector of our traditional practices. Our ancestors observed the lore of our rākau (trees) and how they heal the land and us. That's our ancestral wisdom, mātauranga Māori, and how our scientific knowledge is retained."

"Addressing this pandemic isn't just about healing the physical, it is also about spiritual, emotional, mental and social issues that may challenge us. Our Tohunga (specialists) always look at what is happening in the broader environment as a direct reflection of what is happening for and to the people."

"Rongoā Māori has much to offer us in the 21st Century. We acknowledge the wisdom and customs our ancestors have left us, and ensure we safely share it with the next generation. These are some of the obligations and responsibilities required to ensure Rongoā is succeeded into the future," Sharlene says.

Greater Wellington parks Manager Amanda Cox says the regional council is on a journey to strengthen their learning of mātauranga Māori, in particular the harvesting of Rongoā. 

"My team applies a significant effort to native tree planting across the parks network. It is enormously rewarding to know that along with supporting our ecosystems, we are also building relationships through meeting the wellbeing needs of our mana whenua partners," Amanda says.

For more information on Rongoā, email: sharlene@mokopunasolutions.co.nz

Updated February 24, 2022 at 11:45 AM

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